Singapore

Singaporeans more liberal, feel less fear: DPM Tharman

He tells students at NTU dialogue that the country has become more liberal

Singapore has become a more liberal place compared to what it used to be, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on Wednesday at a dialogue with students.

He added that people now feel less fear and constraint than they did in the past.

He was speaking during the question-and-answer session at the Nanyang Technological University's Majulah Lecture.

A student had asked Mr Tharman about media control and whether the minister agreed with what he saw as "gutter politics" employed by People's Action Party leaders during the Bukit Batok by-election last year.

Mr Tharman, in reply, said he did not want to minimise the significance of what the student had said, but added that the country has "really changed".

Recounting his experience as "someone who has lived through some of Singapore's history", having grown up in the 1960s and becoming politically active in the 1970s, he said: "It is a vastly different and more liberal place compared to what it used to be.

"The sense of fear, the sense of constraint is far less now."

While he does not "agree with every tactic by every one of my colleagues", he said, the PAP's insistence on character, honesty and being true to Singaporeans is something that defines the party.

Describing this as a trait that "shows up almost all the time", he acknowledged that the PAP had, at times, fallen short of the bar it had set itself.

On these occasions, he said, action was taken against those who did not meet the party's standards.

"So just bear that in mind, that is one of the colours of the PAP - that emphasis on character," he said.

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On the media, Mr Tharman said he believed Singaporeans are discerning.

He said when people get news from the mainstream media, they "do not read blindly".

"They know some things are more likely to come up on page four than on page one; the headlines may be a slightly different size, but they read things," he added.

He also said that with the proliferation of social media, people also talk and exchange views more openly.

"I also have great faith in Singaporeans," he said.

"Singaporeans judge. Singaporeans judged us in Bukit Batok, Singaporeans judge at each general election, and they will judge the PAP in the next election.

"I do not think Singaporeans are fools," he added.

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