Yesterday night I watched Channel Newsasia’s Talking Points, where opposition party figures and PAP MPs were invited to a talkshow hosted by two Mediacorp journalists. Unlike Taiwanese talkshows, this Channel Newsasia talkshow was milder, shorter and perhaps less interesting. But within the brief 30 minutes or so, the politicians managed to press their points succinctly.
I was amused when NSP secretary-general Goh Meng Seng set a small trap for Michael Palmer, an Eurasian PAP MP. If he were to win the election as a minority candidate in a single-member constituency, Goh pointed out, then the objective of the GRC system to ensure minority representation seems redundant, because minority candidates can (and do) win based on their virtues. Palmer was only saved by the host, Debra Soon, who urged her participants to focus on the topic (election strategy). Hmm.
Last year I mentioned before in a note (I’m too lazy to find the link) that the govt’s attempts to sharpen the distinction between citizens and PRs doesn’t go a long way in boosting a sense of belonging to the country. Right, PRs and foreigners have to pay more for education, healthcare, housing etc, but what forges a true sense of national identity lies in the political realm i.e. the right to vote.
News reports carry stories of S’poreans in their fifties voting once or twice only! Let’s assume that an ordinary S’porean’s lifespan is 80 years. Between the legal voting age of 21 years and his death at 80 years, and also assuming that Parliament is dissolved every 5 years, he should be able to vote 11 times for the general elections, and 9 times for the presidential elections (held every 6 years). If a S’porean who is 50-year-old and has voted twice only, that means he or she has not voted for nearly two decades. Granted that he might have all the rights and privileges of citizenship, Growth Dividend handouts, the power of the Red Passport etc, the fact that he has hardly exercised his right of choosing his representatives is THE missing link between a sojourner and a native with a deep sense of belonging to the country.
I was once told that if I can’t defend my home, I don’t own it. Similarly, if people can’t choose whom to represent them, they won’t be interested in the affairs of the country.
It’d be too easy to blame the opposition parties for being unable to produce candidates to contest every constituency. There is some evidence that since the implementation of the GRC system, fewer S’poreans have the opportunities to vote. It is shocking that some constituencies like Tanjong Pagar GRC have THREE consecutive walkovers – residents there have not voted for more than 15 years. No one is sure if any opposition party would contest that GRC. Maybe it’s because of the logistics challenges. Or that MM Lee is the team leader. Or because of first-past-the-post system i.e. win by 50.01 percent can secure an entire GRC of 5 seats, that makes it so hard for the opposition to capture a GRC.
The GRC system, for good or ill, will stay in S’pore for as long as the PAP remains in power. But it as an impediment to S’poreans exercising their rights to vote, it is somewhat accurate.