Single party rule ‘best for Singapore’

Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister, has criticised Australia and New Zealand’s liberal democratic practices, suggesting that Singapore’s system, under which a single party has ruled since independence, is more efficient.

Mr Lee made the remarks at the end of a nine-day visit to the two countries, which are attracting a growing number of immigrants from the Asian city-state.

Although the democracies of Australia and New Zealand made for “more exciting” politics, the national interest could suffer in a multi-party system, said Mr Lee.

The comments could provoke controversy, particularly as Mr Lee’s visit was meant to improve economic and defence ties in spite of criticism about Singapore’s human rights record.

“Endless debates are seldom about achieving a better grasp of the issue but to score political points,” said Mr Lee about the political systems in Australia and New Zealand.

He said John Howard, the Australian prime minister, “spends all his time dealing with this party politics. The result is you don’t have a lot of time to worry about the long-term future.”

Dominant party rule was the best system for a small, multiracial country like Singapore, Mr Lee said, as he prepared to leave New Zealand, whose population of 4m is similar in size and ethnic complexity to that of the city-state.

The People’s Action Party has governed Singapore since 1959 when Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Lee’s father, was elected prime minister.

Mr Lee blamed Australia’s multi-party system for his failure to persuade Canberra to open its aviation market to state-owned Singapore Airlines, which is seeking to fly the transpacific route from Sydney to Los Angeles.

He said Australia’s National party, the minority partner in the ruling coalition, was against opening up the route because Qantas could threaten in response to cut unprofitable routes to rural areas where the party is strong. Qantas has opposed Singapore Airline’s entry on the transpacific route.

The decision was “a net loss” for Australia because it hurt tourism, Mr Lee said.

His remarks appeared aimed at Mark Vaile, the National party leader and trade minister, who will lead negotiators next month in a review of the bilateral trade pact with Singapore.

Mr Lee was questioned about the treatment of Singapore opposition leader, Chee Soon Juan, who was charged this week with speaking in public without a police licence. He said all political leaders had to respect the law, adding that Dr Chee engaged in “destructive” policies that were meant “to impress foreign supporters”.

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