04 May 2011

General Election — Arguments & Counter-Arguments

The general election is about Singapore's future.

This statement is self-evident.  Every general election is about Singapore's future.  Why does anyone think it is necessary to elucidate this point?

If the ruling People's Action Party ("PAP") loses one or more group representation constituencies ("GRCs"), the country will lose one or more cabinet ministers together with other incumbent and potential members of parliament.

In the outgoing government, there were 21 cabinet ministers for 16 ministries.  The prime minister's office itself had nine ministers.

Any party that seeks to form the government following a general election, whether in Singapore or elsewhere, must be prepared to do so with its candidates winning just over half the number of seats in the new parliament, and to form the new cabinet from among these winning candidates.  If it wins significantly more than half the number of seats, it is a bonus, but one that it cannot count on.

If any cabinet minister loses the contest in his GRC, it is not the end of the world for the country nor the government.  Sooner or later, every cabinet minister has to vacate his position, whether voluntarily (retirement) or involuntarily (death or defeat in an election).  A replacement may not be as effective initially as the incumbent, but he may eventually become as effective as, or more effective than, the replaced minister.  Moreover, every ministry is run by a group of senior and experienced civil servants, many of whom probably have been working in the ministry for a number of years.

The stated purpose of a GRC is to ensure the representation in Parliament of members from the Malay, Indian and other minority communities.  Each GRC will have at least one candidate belonging to a designated minority community.

Parliament should do away with GRCs.  There is no evidence that Singaporeans vote along racial or religious lines.

If the size of each GRC is reduced to a maximum of three candidates, the win or loss of any GRC will affect at most one cabinet minister.

A party's executive committee decides where its candidates will contest the general election.  If any cabinet minister's seat is vulnerable for any reason whatsoever, the party can move him to another constituency.

A cabinet minister who loses the GRC he/she is contesting in may not be doing a good enough job, at least as far as the electorate is concerned.

If the ruling People's Action Party loses more than a handful of the constituencies in which it is contesting the general election, it may affect its self-renewal and the grooming of individuals to serve as cabinet ministers in the future.

Renewal of every political party is important, but is its own responsibility primarily.  Should the electorate be asked to consider renewal of key personnel of opposition parties?

Renewal is a continuous process which takes place at every general election, not just this general election.

There are dark clouds on the horizon — the political upheavals in the Middle East, the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, serious debt problems in Europe, a crisis in government finances in the US, security challenges from extremists and terrorists in neighbouring countries, etc. — which can impact Singapore's growth, stability and security.  Therefore, Singapore needs a tried and tested team to lead it through uncertain times.

It is naive to believe that the world will be free from uncertainty.

There is not much that Singapore can do about some of these dark clouds.  That said, our sovereign wealth funds, Temasek and GIC, should be more circumspect about investing in these countries.

Challenges are better dealt with employing a diversity of views, instead of group-think.

Opposition parties are seen in the constituencies only around election time.

Some people say that they seldom see their PAP members of parliament, other than during the run-up to the general election or when they need assistance.

I don't know who my member of parliament is, if not for the billboards which appear once a year when my member of parliament conveys his National Day wishes to us.  Could the money have been better spent?

Members of parliament are paid a not insignificant monthly allowance of $16,000.  Members of opposition parties who are not members of parliament do not receive any allowance.

PAP or opposition members of parliament are expected to serve their constituents.  Non-elected personnel have no such obligation.

There is no certainty about the boundaries of constituencies, which may sometimes be changed radically.

Singaporeans should be afraid of a freak election result.

The result of the general election is a result of the collective choice of the electorate.  Any result that disappoints any political party is a disappointment to that party, its supporters and the people who voted for it, but it not a freak result for the country.  A freak result is one in which the choice of the majority of Singaporeans is thwarted.

It is unlikely that PAP will lose the general election.

If PAP loses, the non-PAP parties will have to form a government.  It will not be easy nor straightforward because in the past more than two decades, there have been only two elected non-PAP members.  The parties do not have enough incumbent members of parliament with the experience.  But they will learn.  As mentioned above, they will have the civil service to help them.  Nevertheless, this is why it is very important that the opposition parties get a number of people elected into parliament.

Of greater concern is that no opposition party is contesting the general election in sufficient constituencies to allow it to form the government on its own, or even in partnership with one other party.  The opposition is fragmented and it is difficult to see how they can even come together to form an enduring government.  This may change if one or two opposition parties establish themselves in the coming general election and build on that.

Some people consider a freak election result as one in which no opposition party is elected into parliament (excluding non-constituency members of parliament who have limited voting rights).

If an opposition party wins the election in a GRC, the voters there may suffer lower property prices, lower priority for upgrading projects, less attention to upkeep of the GRC etc.

This subject has been discussed at length by others.  Municipal funds should be used for the good of the residents in a municipality.  State funds should be used for the good of all citizens in the country.

A GRC consists of at four to six areas each of which is big enough to form a single member constituency.  It is unthinkable for the PAP government, or any government for that matter, to discriminate against the people in a GRC simply because a majority voted against it.

There is no assurance that any opposition party is able to run a GRC town council.

No People's Action Party GRC team had any experience running a GRC or any town council when the concept of town councils was introduced.

The town councils are run by professionals, rather than members of the political parties.

If the opposition parties win more constituencies, foreign companies may be frightened away from investing in Singapore.

Elections are part of the democratic process in a country and citizens elect individuals and political parties to represent and serve them in parliament.  Ensuring that foreign investors, important they may be, is not, and should not be, the primary objective.

A country where the government is elected in free and fair elections and where there are effective checks and balances in parliament and government policies are rigorously challenged may be, or may produce, a more conducive investment environment.  Free and fair elections allow change to take place in a democratic manner, even if it may be somewhat messy sometimes.  Investors are averse to situations in which large sections of society are simmering with growing disillusionment with government policies and with growing frustration of their inability to do anything about it.  When policy makers try to suppress political or economic volatility, they only increase the risk of blowups.

The opposition parties want to form the government.

It will be surprising if any opposition party wants to be elected to be the opposition in parliament forever.  However, few parties want to form the government unless they are ready.  And, they are not likely to be ready unless they have enough individuals who have parliamentary experience (there were only two opposition members in the most recent parliament).  It will take time, but that is why a start is necessary.

What are the opposition parties' plans for improving or upgrading the constituencies?

A general election is not a municipal election.  Members of parliament should focus primarily on national issues.  It is also pointless to talk about upgrading plans if they do not get the necessary funds from the government.

This post was first published on 29 April 2011.  The updates are temporarily shown in red.

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