SINGAPORE – Being a good listener, and giving people a chance to speak are attributes a Speaker of Parliament needs to ensure debates in the House are civil and productive, said Mr Seah Kian Peng, who was sworn in to the role in August.
In the same way, hearing each other out and respecting differences of opinions are important in tackling tough and challenging conversations about race and religion, he added.
Mr Seah was speaking on Dec 7 to 350 students participating in this year’s OnePeople.sg Model United Nations event at Eunoia Junior College.
He was responding to a question about what it takes to be a good Speaker of Parliament during a dialogue session held under Chatham House rules, which allow the reporting of what was said but not who said it.
Besides attributes like patience, he said: “You need to conduct the sittings fairly, make sure that everyone who wants to say something, give them a chance to say it.
“But at the same time, you know you also there’s an agenda... and there’s no point debating or saying the same thing over and over and over and over again... Sometimes you don’t want things to be too disruptive.”
Mr Seah, who has presided over five Parliament sittings since being sworn in on Aug 2, said he has reminded both ruling party and opposition party MPs and backbenchers, as well as ministers, to keep their answers succinct so that there is time for more issues to be covered.
“We want to run meetings effectively; we want to achieve outcomes,” he said.
During the session, Mr Seah was also asked about minority representation in Cabinet, the evolution of Singapore’s national identity, and how young people can learn more about politics in case they are interested to step forward in future.
To the last question, he encouraged young people to watch the live stream of parliamentary sessions, or if they do not have time, to read news reports about the debates, saying that will help them understand more about politics and parliamentary proceedings here.
But he reminded them to pick “trustworthy sources”, noting that there are sites which “deliberately misinform... or spread a bit of half-truths”.
This propensity for news and information to be twisted and to inflame emotions has become more prevalent, especially amid pervasive use of social media, and th...