The value of political competition

Singaporeans are not necessarily yearning for a political ideology—be it democracy or otherwise. What we want is a government that is more open and accountable to its citizens, and which truly serves its citizens, not just the ruling elites. One of the proven ways of bringing this about is through more political competition.

Political competition, just like competition in the commercial world, can bring about great benefits to citizens. Imagine walking into a supermarket and having a choice of only one brand of products on the shelves. The manufacturer of that product may claim that its product is ideal for local households, but without competing products, can consumers really know if they are getting the best possible deal?

The product manufacturers may also start getting complacent, thinking that there is no need for continual improvements, as there is no risk of losing their monopoly status.

This, I feel, is exactly what is happening in Singapore.

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Yearning for “Western-style democracy”?

I am all for adapting democracy to suit our circumstances. However, the PAP’s interpretation of “adapting democracy” is in fact more about justifying their authoritarian ways, than our cultural uniqueness

In his speech to the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Students’ Union Ministerial Forum on 22 October, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said that some people—probably referring to young Singaporeans—“may not fully appreciate the purpose and importance of general elections”.

According to the Straits Times, he said that these people “simply yearn for liberal Western-style democracies without considering whether these will produce a good and effective government”.

Mr Goh cited an exchange of letters in the ST Forum last month on the topic of democracy. This led him to ask his audience: “Is a democratic system an end to be pursued in its own right, or is it a means to select a government to look after our lives like a guardian or a trustee?”

I am not sure where Mr Goh got the idea that Singaporeans are yearning for Western-style democracy and that they think democracy is an end in itself. If was because of the “exchange of letters” in the ST Forum, then I’m afraid Mr Goh is mistaken.

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Lower voting age to 18 before next election

Singapore is part of a small and shrinking club of stragglers that still require their citizens to be 21 to vote. For the vast majority of democracies in the world, the voting age is 18. I hope the government can revisit this issue and do the right thing for Singapore by reducing the voting age to 18 before the next election.

During the Parliamentary debates in the UK House of Commons on 4 November 2009, a backbencher MP asked Prime Minister Gordon Brown if the British government would consider a proposal from the Youth Parliament to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. PM Brown replied that he was personally in favour of lowering it to 16.

The UK is not the only country that is considering lowering the voting age from 18 to 16. Austria and Brazil have already lowered their voting age to 16. For the vast majority of democracies in the world, the voting age is 18. Singapore is part of a small and shrinking club of stragglers that still require their citizens to be 21 to vote. These include Cameroon, Central African Republic, Djibouti, Gabon, Malaysia and Oman — all bastions of freedom and democracy!

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Chinese leaders afraid of losing control: LKY

I would encourage my fellow citizens who have a heart for people and a passion to bring change for the better to Singapore, to count the costs, and then step out and be counted. If more of us step out and live out our passions in life, it is really the ruling party which has to fear losing the control they have over Singaporeans.

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew gave an interview with Charlie Rose, which was broadcast on Bloomberg Television on October 22nd. The interview covered mainly the rise of China and India, and their relationship with the US.

While the discussion hardly touched on domestic Singapore politics, Mr Lee did reveal some of his thinking which has undoubtedly shaped the actions of the Singapore government.

Charlie Rose had asked how communications, technology and the flow of information will impact China. Mr Lee said that the Chinese leaders were “watching the Internet very carefully” and paying attention to what people think.

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Straits Times questions Ministry’s stand on LUP

Straits Times article was reflective of the overwhelming sense of indignation felt by Singaporeans that the PAP’s antics in those two wards had crossed the line of common decency.

Straits Times political desk journalist Sue-Ann Chia expressed in today’s papers what any rational-minded Singaporean knew to be right: That the elected opposition MPs should be the ones managing the Lift Upgrading Programme (LUP) in their ward, not the PAP candidates who lost in the last election.

In her article headlined “‘Adviser over MP’ raises many questions”, Ms Chia questioned the flawed reasoning of the press secretary to the National Development minister, who said last week that town councils should not be considered a local government. She deftly pointed out that over the past 12 years, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Goh Chok Tong and Mr Lee Hsien Loong had all stated in one way or another that the town council were designed for voters to choose their local representative, not just MPs to the national Parliament.

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ST Forum: Political changes must win over younger citizens

This is an excellently argued letter by Mr Michael Wee from today’s Straits Times, which deserves to be repeated here.

Political changes must win over younger citizens

Straits Times forum, 21 May 2009

TUESDAY’S report, ‘New strategies for a new world order’, on the President’s speech to Parliament hinted at what might be, to some, political liberalisation.

Given past precedents, any change made to Singapore’s political system will certainly be implemented with caution.

Such changes must be sufficient to overturn the cynicism of younger voters who want greater involvement and participation in the political process.

Where parliamentary politics are concerned, the best litmus test for any reform to the current group representation constituency system is its ability to elect a Parliament whose composition more closely reflects political parties’ percentage of votes.

Based on the last general election, the Workers’ Party garnered 16.34 per cent of the votes, but it holds only one of 84 seats in Parliament.

In Britain, which also uses a similar first-past-the-post system, the opposition Conservative Party holds roughly 31 per cent of parliamentary seats, which reflects the 32.3 per cent of the popular vote the party obtained.

Ambiguous or seemingly half-hearted attempts at reform will only further increase scepticism.

The People’s Action Party (PAP) should accept the possibility of greater opposition party involvement and acknowledge that other parties can also bring in a fresh generation of political leaders in their own right.

If the PAP can still be elected with the same resounding confidence even after meaningful reforms to the political system, it will certainly win over more fully the younger generation of voters.

Michael Wee

Asking Chiam to step down? Only voters should decide

Last Sunday, the Sunday Times published a report about Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong, “Recovering from stroke but Chiam is sharp and lucid”. By mainstream media standards, this was a relatively positive article about an opposition politician who has served his constituents well for over 20 years.

Today, a letter in response to that article was published, titled “Chiam See Tong should call it a day”. In it, the writer wrote:

History is awash with leaders who do not know when to quit, and I hope Mr Chiam will not go this way.

This also raises the question of whether there is any parliamentary rule to retire an MP who has suffered a stroke.

The issue is not whether an MP wants to carry on working. That is for Parliament to decide.

It is not for Parliament to decide whether or not an elected MP should be forced to retire against his will, if he has committed no crime. Articles 45 and 46 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore lay out the grounds for disqualifications and tenure of MPs. Among the grounds for disqualification are:

  • Being of unsound mind;
  • Becoming bankrupt;
  • Being sentenced to prison for over 1 year, or fined more than $2,000;
  • Taking up citizenship in another country;
  • Resigning or being expelled from his political party;
  • Being absent from Parliament sittings for 2 consecutive months;

Article 44 states the qualifications of MPs, among which are:

  • He is able, with a degree of proficiency sufficient to enable him to take an active part in the proceedings of Parliament, to speak and, unless incapacitated by blindness or other physical cause, to read and write at least one of the following languages, that is to say, English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil;

This is the only point that could make him unqualified to stand for election at the next election. However, the Constitution does not state in Article 46 (Tenure of office of MPs) that persons who do not meet the qualifications set out in Article 44 cannot continue to serve as MPs in their current term.

In any case, Mr Chiam has demonstrated in Parliament during the Budget and Committee of Supply debate that he is able to speak, albeit rather slowly and painfully. Even if he is unable to speak due to his stroke, being able to read and write will still qualify him to run for office in future.

If he chooses to run for office again, the voters of the constituency he contests — not Parliament — should be the ones who decide his political fate.

I fail to understand what the objective of the writer’s letter is. Is it to demonstrate his sympathy for an elderly gentleman, or to have one of the three opposition MPs in Parliament removed? I don’t think Mr Chiam needs any sympathy from the writer. He has chosen to continue serving his constituents to the best of his abilities. No one is forcing him to continue serving while ill.

Regardless of one’s political affiliations, I think Chiam See Tong deserves to be greatly honoured for his years of unwaivering service to the residents of Potong Pasir, and his contributions to the cause of a responsible and respected opposition in Singapore.

(Photo from Blue Skies Communications: Chiam See Tong walks in to a standing ovation by over 1,120 guests at the ACS Founders’ Day dinner in March 2008. Click here to read my comment about ACS’ guest-of-honour invitation to Mr Chiam.)