A lot will be said about constructive politics in the next few days if not weeks. The problem with big words is that they can be manipulated to suit whatever claim you want to put forward. The argument between MPs Indranee and Low in Parliament is a case in point. So let us try to at least draw the parameters on what constructive politics is or rather what it is not.
Constructive politics is not about:
- saying yes to every policies of the government
- the government saying no to every criticisms
- violent demonstrations and protests
- persecuting all dissents
- an idea that must be written and presented in papers of all colours in pristine languages
- an idea put forward only in organised discourse in hotels and ballrooms attended by experts and professionals
- ramblings containing circular arguments and half-truths
- curses and accusations that are unsubstantiated
Therefore for constructive politics to function, a few criteria must be there. Most important of all is to know the big picture. Secondly is providing alternatives and last but not least is healthy debate.
Take the issue of foreign talents that is foremost in the minds of many Singaporeans. What is the big picture? It is the fact that Singapore needs foreign workers to power its economy. It is also because Singapore is having an ageing population which will be a future tax burden on the new generation and on the government. But the thing about getting the big picture is for the one with the big picture which in most cases is the government, to be open, reasonably liberal with information and convincing in laying down the cards. If not, a made-up picture will be formed and meaningless debate will ensue. For example, the accusation that the reason why the government is generous in granting new citizenships is because it is forming a vote bank for itself. This is not helping.
After determining the big picture, detractors or critics of a policy will have to either argue against the policy or fine tune the policy by providing an alternative to it. Taking the example of the foreign talent issue again, there are already some alternatives being put forward by various parties. One is for the government to increase its efforts to re-train Singaporeans to make them relevant to the needs of the modern workforce and to increase their productivity level. Another is for the government to intensify the assistance to persuade Singaporeans to reproduce such as more tax breaks and subsidies for child care.
Finally, a discourse can then be conducted whereby all stakeholders will argue their cases backed by facts and figures. Emotional outbursts will certainly not help. And hopefully, a middle ground can be reached.
One thing for sure, constructive politics can be cumbersome and tiring. Policies will have to explained and re-explained, tweaked and re-tweaked. Tempers will flare but if handled properly and in the correct spirit, constructive politics need not be divisive.