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Local politicians debate public engagement at Top Gun Forum

23 October 2012

Top Gun Forum panelists (from left): Mr Tee, Ms Poa, Ms Indranee, moderator Soh Yi Da (NUSPA), Dr Gomes, Mr Tong and Mr Jeyaretnam

Participants at the well-attended forum

Despite their differences, representatives from the five political parties in Singapore agreed that to engage the public, efforts by the government and all political parties are necessary and important.

The six politicians - Ms Indranee Rajah and Mr Edwin Tong of the People's Action Party (PAP), Mr Yee Jenn Jong of the Workers' Party, Dr James Gomez of the Singapore Democratic Party, Ms Hazel Poa (National Solidarity Party) and Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam (Reform Party) - were speaking at the Top Guns Forum 2012 on 17 October.

Organised by the NUS Students' Political Association (NUSPA), the forum explored the government's engagement with the public since the May 2011 General Election.

Some 200 NUS students and staff attended the event, which saw participants lining up to pose a barrage of no-holds-barred questions. Several lively debates broke out among the speakers, who generally agreed about the importance of remaining in touch with ground-level sentiment, but differed about the effectiveness of current initiatives such as the recent "National Conversation" and community-level grassroots bodies. While the PAP representatives highlighted the apolitical nature of such initiatives, several of the opposition politicians felt there was a perceived lack of inclusiveness.

The opposition representatives also voiced out the difficulties they encountered when reaching out to grassroots organisations and the public.

However, the speakers were all united that engaging young Singaporeans - even those below the voting age - was crucial in fostering greater political interest and participation among youths here. Dr Gomez encouraged students at the forum to "get engaged, through the various mechanisms", but also to aspire to further experiences beyond Singapore to broaden one's perspective, while Ms Poa urged students at the event to spread their enthusiasm for politics to their friends and fellow undergraduates.

Other issues raised at the dialogue ranged from engaging people who cannot speak English to Singapore's future as a multi-ethnic society. In a question that drew laughter from the audience, one student asked Mr Tong and Ms Indranee - both ruling party members of parliament - to assess the quality of Singapore's political opposition.

They responded that the quality of opposition parties had improved significantly over recent years, and that ultimately, the opposition is also "Singapore-centric" and united with the government in wanting to improve Singapore for its people.

By Tan Zi Tong, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Year 3