On the President’s Address (English Translation) – Speech by Faisal Manap


During her address on Monday last week, President Halimah touched on several issues related to the steps which we need to take so as to achieve happiness, prosperity, and progress for our nation. 

The President’s views on national politics caught my attention. I noted that she called for ‘good’ politics so as to futher advance Singapore’s progress, harmony, stability whilst warning against ‘bad’ politics that could spark polarization and rent divisions. 

I would like to share my own perspective on what would be considered as ‘good’ politics during this debate, which I believe is relevant for all participants in our domestic political process, which includes members of this house, in particular myself. I hope to spark a moment of self-reflection or introspection – to recall a contemporary phrase, “ownself check ownself” – in a positive manner. When we point a finger at someone else, we must be mindful of the other fingers that are pointed back at ourselves.


What constitutes good politics? In my view, it has to include (i) a level playing field; (ii) a willingness on all sides to agree to disagree when necessary; and, (iii) a commitment against the deployment of fear-mongering tactics during elections for the purposes of gaining greater support. 

Level Playing Field

Sir, the creation of a level playing field is fundamental so as to achieve a democratic society – as inscribed in our national pledge. 

It is publicly known that Members of Parliament who are not from the ruling party need to put in more effort at the grassroots level to meet the needs of our constituents. We have to do so because we do not have access to the resources of the People’s Association – MPs who have been elected to represent and serve their constituents but who are not from the ruling party are routinely set aside by the PA in its appointment of grassroots advisors. Rather, in constituencies not held by the ruling party, it is the losing candidate who is appointed the grassroots advisor despite having been rejected by voters through the democratic voting process. 

The reality is, for a constituency won by a non-ruling party candidate, the defeated ruling party candidate will assume the role of the grassroots advisors. Conversely, candidates from the ruling party who successfully win their seats are automatically appointed as grassroots advisors. 

Sir, our reality as opposition MPs who are not appointed grassroots advisors are unable to utilize the spaces and facilities under the purview of the PA such as the community clubs, the Residents’ Committee offices, and the like. Neither are we able to utilize the PA funds meant for the benefit of the same constituents we represent. The manpower provided by full-time constituency managers and directors is also invaluable.

 This practice is not aligned with our pledge to build a democratic society based on justice and equality.

Why do I say this?

Sir, the Grassroots Advisor is a position entrusted with the responsibility to manage public funds, taxpayers money, for the use and benefit of the residents of a constituency.

It certainly does not coincide with the values of justice and equality when the ruling party candidate who lost and was rejected during the election by the voters, was appointed by the government to hold the position of Grassroots Advisor, while the non-government party representatives elected by the voters were set aside.

I would like to illustrate the circumstances more clearly with an example. 

To date, after almost 13 years constituting two and a half terms which I have served as an MP in Aljunied GRC, I still hear my constituents and residents commenting on how the PAP seem to be organizing more events than the WP in the constituency. When I ask for details of the events they refer to, it turns out they are talking about the events held at the community club or organized by the RC. They associate these events with the PAP as it is often the grassroots advisor who is also the local PAP Branch Chairman is invited as the guest of honour or the host of such events. There are also some residents who are bemused that their children are receiving their Edusave awards from the PAP. 

Undeniably, the funds utilized by the bodies under the purview of the PA are for the benefit of the residents in a given area. It is also undeniable that the existing system creates the assumption and impression that events organized by the PA are events of the PAP. 

Sir, I have proposed in this chamber previously that the position of grassroots advisor should be granted to individuals who are not linked to any political parties so that the PA may be released from any political elements. This proposal was also part of the WP manifesto in the previous general election – Ensuring the freedom of national institutions from party politics.

I understand that efforts have been undertaken in this direction in Sengkang GRC, where the grassroots advisors appointed are not members of any political parties. Nevertheless, there remain some political aspects such as when the local PAP branch chairman is invited as a guest for the Edusave awards ceremony and took photo together with the Grassroots Advisor and Edusave recipients as recently shared in a media social posting.

The question here is, in what capacity was such an individual invited to attend a ceremony which was jointly organized by the PA and the Ministry of Education? What is the message that was meant to be conveyed? And why was the elected MP not invited to attend the same event or the least to have both of them invited? Fundamentally – where are the values of justice and equality? 

Sir, even with the lack of access to public resources, we the opposition MPs have served with dedication and directed our total effort to repay the trust that has been shown to us by our constituents. I do not mean to complain, rather what I want to raise is whether such a practice is in line with our efforts to build a democratic society based on justice and equality as inscribed in our national pledge? 

Agree to Disagree

I now wish to touch on the factor of “agree to disagree”. Staying respectful while navigating differences is important and fundamental in our efforts to strengthen and perpetuate unity in society. 

Differences of opinions and views is a fact of community life. In managing and balancing such differences, we must be prepared to “agree to disagree”. Failure to do so could lead to conflict and division. 

Sir, in the debate on the repeal of S377A last November, there were differences of opinion among the MPs of the Workers’ Party. Some of us supported the repeal while others did not. 

The MPs of the Workers’ Party had engaged in extensive discussions among ourselves but could not find mutual ground for agreement on this issue, and thus moved to agree to disagree with each other. As such, the decision was to allow each MP to vote on the matter as they saw fit. Despite our differences, we agreed that we needed to embrace unity in diversity. 

In my perspective, the experience of the Workers’ Party MPs is a close approximation of reality for members of the community in Singapore on this issue whereby some were supportive, and others were not. Despite the differences in opinion and principle, these differences did not cause divisions that could have damaged our society because of the existence of tolerance, mutual respect and a willingness to agree to disagree when no mutual consensus existed. This is unity in diversity.

Sir, unity in diversity is a value that we must uphold as a democratic society as we traverse and advance to a new era of living whereby differences of opinion and principle will become more widespread. Upholding these values will enable us as a community to overcome ‘Cancel Culture’, a worrying practice because it could adversely impact our unity and lead us to divisions. 

“Fear Mongering”

The final matter relates to ‘Fear Mongering’. Efforts to scare voters or the deployment of intimidation tactics are unhealthy political practices that could lead to polarization and division. For example, once upon a time, fears were raised over a scenario whereby an opposition party were to run and manage a town council, leading to piles of garbage two storeys high. It was also remarked that the prices of houses in opposition held constituencies could be adversely impacted. In the 2015 General Elections, there were last minute efforts to spread unfounded accusations to the residents of Punggol East that the Workers’ Party had failed to explain what had happened to $22.5 million worth of funds which had been transferred from Pasir-Ris Punggol Town Council to AHPETC. These are among the political practices which are unhealthy and should be rejected. 

In summary, Sir, in a healthy democracy, the decisions of voters in electing their political representatives should be made based on their considerations on the facts that have been put forward by all parties competing during the election and not because of fears which had arisen from unfounded claims. 


In conclusion, if the aspects which I have mentioned – a level playing field and agreeing to disagree can be strengthened while rejecting “fear mongering” – this can avoid political divisions and polarization, worries which had been raised by Mdm President. It can also enforce the trust held by our citizens in our political system, another important factor mentioned by Mdm President. Overall, it will strengthen our efforts to build a democratic society based on justice and equality.

Sir, I want to reiterate that my intention is not to point any fingers at any particular individuals. Rather, it is an invitation to all members of this august assembly, our elected leaders, and of course, to myself in particular, to engage in introspection and self-reflection with a view to improving what needs to be improved and achieving happiness, prosperity and progress for Singapore. 

May I say once again, we must be mindful that when pointing fingers at someone else, there are four pointing back at ourselves. Nonetheless, I would like to quote a saying in Malay “siapa yang makan cili, dia akan terasa pedas” – who eats the chilli will feel the spice. Let us self-reflect!