The Real Political Change That Singapore Needs

By Dr Wong Wee Nam
29 May 2009

When the President opened the new session of the 11th Parliament last week, he said, “Our political system is not set in stone. Singapore politics must evolve over time, as the world and our society change. It must respond to new circumstances and goals and continue to deliver good government to Singapore.”

For the optimists, this statement gave a glimmer of hope that our political system is evolving for the better.

A few days later, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong gave a glimpse of what is to come when he outlined three principles that will guide the changes to be made to the political system. One, they must be fair to all political parties. Secondly, they should result in a strong and effective Government after an election; and thirdly, they must ensure that diverse views are represented in Parliament. Without the details, all these sounded reasonable.

However when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong fleshed out the details in Parliament, anyone who had wished for a more democratic system and a system that could produce better political leaders ended up with nothing to celebrate about.

True, the number of seats for the opposition would be increased to nine with the extension of the NCMP scheme, 3 more single seats will be up for grabs, and the size of some 6 member GRCs would be reduced. But these are not drastic changes. They are mere tweakings of the existing system. However, the media and the PAP would like Singaporeans to see these as huge concessions.

Why the Change?

On the surface of it, the PAP government appears very magnanimous. Losers now get to have 9 seats when previously they could only have three. Smaller parties and independents now get to contest 3 more single seats. And the sizes of the GRCs are going to be reduced when all of us thought that they would be increased. Nevertheless, all these are nothing but to tell the skeptics to stop complaining about the unevenness of the playing field since the PAP has become so generous.

The PAP has never been known to give concessions to the opposition. With draconian laws still in place and demonstrations by even one person now illegal, and filming of such acts could lend one into trouble, it is obvious they are not becoming more democratic than what they were before.

However, recently there has been a lot of public discontent on various issues and the grumbling citizens feel that their problems are inadequately aired. People now feel that there is the need for more opposition voices in Parliament. The PAP is probably thinking that by giving all these token concessions, the voters, particularly the younger generation, who are now more outspoken and more ready to make changes, would be appeased.

Whether the voters will buy into this or not is left to be seen.

Recently, there too has been talk of opposition unity and a lot of discussions on the ground to get the opposition parties to come together and contest the election as a united front. In fact the focus of many opposition members has been on winning a GRC in order to make a psychological breakthrough. The opposition parties realise they are too small in terms of resources, manpower and candidates to take on the PAP effectively without coming together.

Now with these changes, it is probably the PAP’s hope that all the small parties would stop talking about opposition unity and go it alone. Perhaps the stronger candidates from the various opposition parties will now go for the single seat wards, leaving the GRCs to be contested by weak teams. It is better for the PAP to have nine fragmented NCMPs in Parliament than to have five strong, duly-elected, unified opposition Members of Parliament.

Will these changes halt all the talk about opposition unity and send the opposition parties back to their fragmented stage? It is difficult to say.

What the Opposition Parties Need To Realise

However one thing is clear. The opposition parties must realize that they are like small market stalls struggling to make a living by scrambling against each other for morsels and yet have to compete against a giant hypermarket at the same time. With such an uneven contest, it is inevitable that Parliament will end up overwhelmingly dominated by the PAP with a motley bunch of 9 opposition MPs/NCMPs each with his/her own disparate views acting as discordant accompaniments — just like bells and cymbals in an orchestra.

In such a parliamentary composition, the PAP will always look like the only party capable of governing and the opposition will always look fragmented and not capable of providing an alternative.

No matter what, NCMPs and NMPs will always be seen as objects of PAP’s creations. They will never have the status and dignity as elected members of Parliament.

The last Malaysian General Election should serve as a good lesson for our opposition parties. In the past, they were fragmented and bickered against each other and did not make much headway against the ruling party. Then in the last GE, they decided to fight the Barisan Nasional as a united front. Now they are truly an alternative, capable of ruling the country should the time come.

Thus, these changes that the PAP intends to introduce will not change the status quo. In fact, it will entrench the PAP even more. Unless the opposition parties realize this and get their act together, they would be consigned perpetually to the role of political bridesmaids.

The Change that is Needed

Sadly for Singapore and Singaporeans, the changes proposed will do nothing to improve their democratic aspirations. The lives of Singaporeans will not be less controlled, the climate of fear will not go away, and our citizens will remain politically immature and apathetic.

Rather than tweaking the electoral process to appease voters as opposed to giving them a choice, what Singapore needs is a system that can help us produce plenty of good political leaders and not worry about the dearth of it all the time.

Instead of constantly stressing of the need for “our leadership team” (read PAP) to continually self-renew by inducting new leaders and mollycoddle their entry into Parliament, we should create an environment where young people with leadership qualities can bloom and come forth naturally.

For Singapore to succeed in future, we need to have strong political leaders, and strong political leaders can only be forged and emerge by fighting the electoral battles by themselves. Strong leaders will provide strong governments. For this reason, GRCs should be done away completely. Any political worth his salt should not be afraid to face the electorate and try to carry the ground by himself.

The right change to be made then is to provide an environment where the young are taught to have a sense of service to the country, to have a sense of justice, to have an independence of mind and to be imbued with a spirit to right wrongs and to allow ideas to contend so that leaders will naturally surface. The right change to be made is to remove the climate of fear that discourages political participation so that all these idealism can be expressed freely.

To ensure political participation, we need to make sure that people with leadership qualities will be able to fight an election fairly and also not ostracized for his political conviction. For this you need a free and fair press, a civil service that is seen to be neutral and an electoral process that does not catch a candidate by surprise by not giving him ample time to prepare.

How about fairness to the young candidates who wish to contest the general election? Would the hefty election deposit required be reduced to allow more young people, who are yet to be settled in their career to join in the fray? Would the government set up a Political Arbitration Court, so that employees who are victimised by their employers for their political affiliations can get their problems redressed? How about the Political Donation Act? Not only is a young candidate hampered by hefty deposits, victimized by employers, he would also will have difficulty getting donations. It does not need a clever man to know which party’s candidate will get donations easily now that donors can no longer remain anonymous.

We should be fair to all candidates who are willing to come forward to serve in what I consider to be the highest form of national service. If we can encourage the growth of political talents by treating everyone of whatever political affiliations fairly, there would not be any need to feel anxious about strong political leaders not emerging in future.

Then there would not be any need to keep thinking about how to keep the PAP entrenched in perpetuity in order to save Singapore.

19 comments on The Real Political Change That Singapore Needs

  1. The proposed changes to Parliament are too little too late. It is naive of Singaporeans to expect these NCMP/NMPs to achieve real change in politics are they are political eunuchs.

  2. If after these changes and the opposition are still unable to secure any (or additional) seat(s), then the PAP will again boast to the whole world that the mandate has proven all their critics wrong and that the opposition is precisely in Parliament because PAP has been gracious enough. And they will be more brave and arrogant to implement more unpleasant policies for the peasants.

    If PAP is really sincere in being fair to all Singaporeans, they should really start with giving us back our very basic rights such as :-

    1) Freedom of speech
    2) Freedom for the right to assemble freely anywhere in Singapore
    3) Freedom from any political/legal persecution
    4) Freedom of the press
    5) Abolish ISA
    6) Abolish the banning of any political films
    7) Stop the promise of any carrots during election campaigns
    8) Stop all underhand election tactics

  3. MM Lee always challenged WP Low to go and compete in a GRC. Low TK was voted by the people of Hougang, therefore it should be the Hougang voters to decide whether he should vacate Hougang to go challenge in a GRC. Instead I would like to challenge LKY to go to Hougang and displace LTK first before asking him to compete in a GRC. You think he dares?

  4. Why dont these idiots and corrupts just cut to the chase and stop the bullshit and wayang and treating all Sinkaporeans like fools?

    All they need to do is to instruct the Elections Department to split Sinkapore into North GRC, South GRC, East GRC and West GRC with each GRC fielding 25 candidates. Effectively, they have a 100% walkover and can remain in power forever.

    Opposition and Sinkaporeans can only lan lan, not happy also nto their business, correct?

  5. In a nutshell:

    When the PAP win elections with pork barrel politics, gerrymandering and no level playing field, such victories are both HOLLOW and WITHOUT HONOUR in the eyes of educated thinking Singaporeans.

  6. Even the uneducated also can see thriugh their tricks. Just visit any coffee shop to hear the Hokkien spouting uncles’ conversations and you will know. Only the PAP thinks that Singaporean voters are idiots who believe their “reasons” for having GRCs.

    That day Vivian Balakrishnan, in rebutting WP Low, claimed that he himself as a minority race, understands the disadavantages they faced against the majority race. I tell Balakrishnan, don’t talk cock lah! For the record, the 1st opposition to beark the PAP monopoly after 12 years was from the minority race—-JB Jeyaratnam! Disadavantage?

  7. Of course V Bala talked cock. Look at the composition of 1959 Legislative Assembly. High percentage of Malays, Indians, Eurasions from various parties won in a 75% Chinese majority country. EW Barker was so good that later on, no one dared contest him. V Bala is just trying to give excuse for his lack of leadership and courage to face the voters.

  8. Let us singaporeans be more cooperative, and vote in more oppositions e.g 20 to 25 voted in, then pap will be more cautious and worry when implementing policies. Dun be fool by the so called rebates or bonus given by them during election time. Take the rebate, bonus and vote for oppositions. Bring back democracy to spore

  9. I am not good in politics & neither I am entitled to vote but I like to see the NMP in a ratio 2 to 1 favourable to every win-election of opposition parties MP. This is decided by collectively & solely decided by opposition parties may be 1 or 2 PAP MP as observer only. E.g. as at present stage Mr Low of Hougang entitled for 2 NMP & so do Pontong Pasir Chaim Su Tong entilted for 2 NMP.

    Also, any opposition candidate not being voted in but does score 30 to 40% vote-count for every election or by election held is entitled for consideration to be nominated into the Parliament. In other words it is individual MP or NMP that I am talking about & not the kind GRC etc… which is favourable to ruling/controlling party most if not all the time.

    This is of course come along in addition to the recent revision of NMP set-up by PAP which yet to be seen how sincere & effective it is.

    What SIngapore need now is stronger & independent thinking with respect of all kind of voices & ideas in the PARLIAMENT for the sole benefit of down-to-earth people from all walks of life. Can PAP open sincere & efective enough as PM Lee Hsien Loong’s remarked or promised?

  10. I have decided to migrate to Australia as I can’t stand the hypocrisy of our administration and I do not want to picking up trash cans when I fall sick at 58. There is no safety net in our country except for the lifestyles that the PAP wants to upkeep for itself. This is a serious game they are playing. And we’re calling it quits as life is too short to be made fools by the PAP.

  11. I agree that what the PAP is doing certainly entrenches their power in singapore’s government even more but that is like DUH…which political party in their sound mind would want to give way to the opposition?

    Speaking of the opposition, i disagree that we should just vote in opposition just BECAUSE. Right now, I don’t think the opposition is qualified enough to lead singapore. The PAP still attracts the best, most qualified, and visionary leaders into their party. Qualities we need in a government to ensure that SINGAPORE proceeds. The argument of voting the opposition into the government just to be a check and balance is not strong enough for me. Until the opposition gets enough good leaders in their party, for now, my vote goes to the PAP. For them, they are still doing a good job in ensuring Singapore is prosperous.

    Ultimately, I think the best opposition to the PAP would be us – civil society. Yet, the percentage of the Singaporeans educated enough to use the freedom of speech responsibility remains small compared to other more matured nations like the USA. Our culture is not quite there yet- still in the mindset of 1960s when police go and catch you. So, keep in up Dr Wong, keep up the voice.

  12. Every 4-5 years, voters – if they are lucky
    – get a chance to send a message to the
    ruling government.

    Unlike the older generation which consists
    of hard-core PAP voters, the younger
    generation are better educated and will
    not blindly accept government policies.

    Gen X, Y and Z will become a growing
    voting block if not in this election, in future

    If PAP does not evolve and change, the
    future state will be obvious. Japan and
    Taiwan are countries where the opposition
    have taken over.

    We are now seeing better quality opposition
    candidates and today’s better educated
    voters will vote for the party that meets their
    needs and future aspirations.

  13. I don’t believe that we should base our expectations on what other countries’ opposition parties ahve achieved. Sure, they may be good in giving alternative voices, but is that the way that Singapore should go?

    We need our own system of governance that is representative of the people. The only reason why Malaysia’s opposition is getting stronger is because the ruling BN is playing too much on racial lines which have segregated large portions of society.

    In Singapore, the first step to creating our own system is to let some opposition in, maybe ones such as WP or SPP, which are consistant and conservative enough to represent the majority in a way that will aid us in moving forward towards political evolution. Next would be determining what sort of government system that is representative of the citizens to ensure that our rights will always be guaranteed and protected in the face of globalism. Third would be to encourage younger Singaporeans to be more responsible for their political views, and not to vote opposition or incumbent just on circumstancial facts – they need to dissect the policies and proposals and compare each to know what exactly it is they want.

    Opposition politics along the lines of Dr. Chee Soon Juan and his SDP while attractive in words and acts, will only serve to erode civil society in the long run, with their ever so often u-turns on proposals and promises not just to citizens, but to certain NGOs. Parties such as WP and SPP (and maybe NSP) should be the model opposition parties that should be encouraged to flourish, to work together with the PAP to create a system representative of the people’s voices.

  14. I think we must first ask an important question, how much of the people’s debate and discussion, ideas and cries are translated into results. After all, talk is easy whether coming from PAP or opposition to be fair but does talk improves the lives of citizens? I am local and I know many locals just wait for others to find a way to change the policies, waiting, hoping, waiting and more waiting, if locals continue to think that way, when the wait is over, they would all have white hair since time waits for no man, the clock wont stop. I want to applaud the actions taken by Dr Chee and his team in peaceful protests attempts though I don’t subscribe to SDP, I am highlighting real actions taken by them to show they truly want the democracy not simply preach, I dare say locals talk about wanting changes here there so on but they show no concrete steps or plans to achieve it, it’s like a citizen talking about what should be done but when it comes to protecting and defending the country, many would say let others die but not them mentality, i know this for a fact cos i serve NS, they don’t love sg, it all talk and more talk and now my NS mates are parents, think what values is passed on to future citizens. Citizens who want change must act on it without holding back in fear if not democracy won’t drop from the sky, if we all come united in action, the force can bring change, look at real examples of LIbya(middle east movement).But I know many are just talk and no action like my friend who just vote who his mother told him to.If citizens all wait for changes or expect others to do it then everything just stays the same for the next 1000 years.

  15. Power is like a drug. The first time you take it, you experience the euphoria. Subsequently, you want more and more of it till it overcomes you completely. At which point, it is impossible to wean off the addiction. This is exactly what is happening in SG.

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