On Wednesday (2 Aug), Associate Professor Jamus Lim, a Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Seng Kang GRC, delivered an impassioned speech in support of a motion filed by the two Non-Constituency Members of Parliament from the Progress Singapore Party.
The motion aimed to reaffirm the commitment of the House for the need for the Speaker of Parliament to be independent and impartial, and for Parliament to be a fair arena for all.
While the motion was passed on Wednesday, this happened despite the two PSP NCMPs opposing the amendments that the People’s Action Party introduced to their motion.
The catalyst for this motion was an off-the-cuff remark made by the former Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan Jin, who had characterized Assoc Prof Lim’s earlier proposals targeted at alleviating the plight of the poor as “populist.”
As the Associate Professor noted, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, and I do not fault him for having his own views on the matter.”
Assoc Prof Lim clarified that populist policies are those designed to appeal to the broad populace who feel aggrieved by the establishment. However, his intention was not to arouse raw sentiment against an uncaring elite, but rather to voice concerns for a group that is often overlooked and voiceless.
“Debates get us closer to ideal policies in a modern society,” Assoc Prof Lim highlighted. He further added that policymaking in a modern democracy is improved with active debates and discussions, even when there are disagreements.
Speaking on the role of debate in policy making, Assoc Prof Lim stressed the importance of allowing a competition of ideas, where evidence-based policy proposals are challenged, refined, and improved.
He highlighted the importance of intellectual robustness, freedom to air alternative views, and impartiality in Parliament, stating that these elements contribute towards the successful identification of the right path for society.
Assoc Prof Lim acknowledged that Singapore’s economic success was due to the pioneering generation of leaders who established a foundation of economic openness, institutional quality, and social capital. However, he also pointed out that the challenges faced by a developed nation are different and do not present a clear-cut solution.
The Associate Professor cited examples of issues like social protection, a vibrant intellectual environment, greater equity in sharing the fruits of economic success, and tricky matters of individual liberty and sociocultural norms, which require complex tradeoffs and redistribution, rather than simple efficiency and optimization.
The speech concluded with a call for greater competition in politics, policies, and ideas, emphasizing that no single person in the House will always have the best ideas, and that these debates and discussions are what will bring Singapore forward into the next century.
This motion was raised in the aftermath of an incident where former Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan Jin was heard muttering “f***ing populist” just as Assoc Prof Lim concluded his speech during the Presidential speech debate in April 2023 in support of a poverty level established in Singapore.
Mr Tan acknowledged and apologized for his remark, and Assoc Prof Lim accepted his apology.
It was later revealed that Mr Tan had an affair with MP Cheng Li Hui, leading to his resignation from PAP.