Having a capable alternative party is in the national interest

Voices Editor
TODAY newspaper

Dear Editor,

I refer to the report, “Adversarial two-party system not for S’pore” (TODAY, November 17). Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong felt that the two party system cannot work for Singapore and that we are much better off with one dominant party.

Mr Lee’s familiar argument is that because we are small and lack talent, if we split our talent into two groups, we will end up with “two second division teams”. This is akin to saying that it is better to put all our eggs in one basket, than to have two baskets with fewer eggs each.

I disagree.

While few would argue that the PAP has performed commendably over the past 40 years, past performance is no guarantee of future success, as investment advisors always caution.

Mr Lee said that if ever the PAP becomes ineffective or corrupt, many opposition parties will spring up to take on the Government.

Therein lies the danger: If the PAP ever becomes corrupt, there will be absolutely no time for a viable alternative party to suddenly “spring up”, since political organisations take years to build up credibility. Furthermore, a corrupt government with firm controls on the levers of power will tend to use that power to entrench itself, stifling any potential opposition from arising. This is because their corrupt leaders will know full well that they will face prosecution if anyone else takes over the government.

Singapore may then be left in a disastrous situation of having a bad government with no capable alternatives.

For a small city-state like Singapore with little margin for error in governance, this could spell an unrecoverable decline leading to our very obsolescence as a nation.

It is therefore in the national interest for a well-organised, competent and morally upright alternative party to emerge, so that should the PAP falter, there will another party to take over the reins of government at the next elections and ensure that our country continues to prosper with interruption.

Obviously I do not expect support for an effective alternative party to come from the PAP, since it goes against its partisan interests.

However, I hope more Singaporeans will realise that greater political competition can produce not just better governance now, but improved stability for our future as well.

Gerald Giam

This was published on 19 Nov 08 in TODAY.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

9 thoughts on “Having a capable alternative party is in the national interest”

  1. Well written, Gerald!
    Thanks for voicing what many of us feel. And you articulated it extremely well.

    Singapore most probably , for the short term future, should have just 1 stronger or strong Alternative party to represent the silent population.

    There should probably at least 100 other MP qualified potential candidates lying around somewhere in singapore. I think we can look at resumes from Monster.com or headhunting firms to confirm or get a clearer picture. But I strongly believe there must be many who qualify. These could be working as Accountants, Lawyers, CEOs, senior management. Based on this logic , Of course, there are more than 100. So, out of these, if at least 20 step forward, you have a potentially strong team.

    The question now is whether to replace the incumbent Alternative party or to support it and beef it up.

    Or have a new alternative party to ‘disrupt’ the incumbent alternatives. That means, win over their voters to support a new alternative party.

    It seems clear that the wise thing for the ‘Alternative’ is to combine power. But then, only at last minute before the election will it be clear how the game will be played out.

    But seriously at the moment, whatever the comments by TOC readers, generally with some kind of resentment, there is nothing we can seriously do about whatever is happening. Even if petition, there is no effect seen.

    CHANGE happened all around us in 2008 alone. But we need to remind ourselves that Singapore is the most Unique place on earth.

    Selamat wong

  2. Before having alternative party,the present oppositions should step up more efforts to stir the ground because many voters especially those uncles, unties who are pro- pap, still think that pap is the best, so efforts must be put in to convince these voters to switch camp,eg by telling them if you vote for oppositions, your money in TC will be safe and guarantee, and opposition TC won’t invest your fund like pap TC, so the TC will try not to increase S&C if possible.Organise forums, dialogue to make your presence felt.

  3. I think Gerald, however, forgot to mention the consequences and even dangers of an ineffective and corrupt opposition coming into power.

    Look at the US and the inept and antiquated Republican party, and the democratic party sometimes having to approve bad legislation just to wrestle support away from the republicans. If an effective and unwise opposition party comes into power, PAP might be forced to make decisions that are bad for the country but good for the PAP. (Lower income tax increase corporate tax, give more money to the people now by drawing on reserves etc)

    I agree with Gerald that more parties might lead to a more stable government and country, but that is contingent on the assumption that the alternative party is as wise and well organized, if not more, than the PAP. If not, having one well organized, uncorrupted and good party would definitely be better than having several weak ones. (I think Taiwan, India and Japan are good examples of that.)

  4. To make the country truly democratic, the powers of the Parliament should be split and separated and each of the separated powers must be handled by separate groups of persons selected by the people for the purpose of administering EACH SET OF POWERS or duties as the case may be. Particular care should be taken to see that all powers are NOT CONCENTRATED in one place and that they do not overlap and there must not be a secret budget to be handled by a single person.
    All transactions should be transparent including Diplomacy which has to be diplomatically transparent.

  5. One of the argument the PAP put up for a one party system is the advantage of agility in response to global issues. It also risk making wrong, not well thought out decisions. But this can always be overcome in a two party system by fixing a time limit for debate before a decision have to be made.

    The western democracy did not pop up out of the blue. They have experienced the consequence of unccheck tyrants and dictators and have adopted democracy to prevent such thing from happening again. No one will argue that PAP has served Singapore well thus far. Like Gerald quoted, past performance is no gurantee for future sucess. Unless Mr Lee can gurantee us that future PAP leaders will not be corrupt. An alternative qualified voice in still necessary in parlement.

  6. Rob,

    “If not, having one well organized, uncorrupted and good party would definitely be better than having several weak ones.”

    I agree. But what will be even better is to have TWO well organized, uncorrupted parties that provide competition for each other. This way the people will be the ones who benefit.

  7. Power corrupts.

    Will there ba a guarantee in the future that the PAP will remain as incorruptible and well organized as it is today, or least what it claims to be so?

    Like what Gerald said, letting one party remain in unchallenged and undisputed power for too long is like putting all our eggs in one basket. No Plan B.

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