Monthly Archives: April 2011

GE 2011: Battleground GRCs & SMCs!

In a previous post, I mentioned what are the criteria for being battleground GRCs or SMCs:

  1. Good chance of falling into opposition hands
  2. Historic or unprecedented
  3. Candidates or issues are controversial or attention-grabbing
  4. Heightened sense of anticipation to the campaigning period and Polling Day

Nomination Day is over, and this is the updated list:

Battleground GRCs

Sizzling Hot:

  1. Aljunied GRC – it nearly fell into opposition hands in GE 2006, and the WP only needs a 8-point swing of votes to its side to capture the GRC. Furthermore, a sitting Opposition MP, Low Thia Kiang, is leading the GRC team with their ‘star catch’ Chen Show Mao. The whole Singapore awaits the results from this GRC.
  2. Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC – given that Chiam See Tong has made known his intention to contest here much earlier, there is excitement over whether he can capture the GRC. Furthermore, his team has two former government scholars, cementing his team’s credibility. More importantly, Bishan Toa-Payoh has faced walkovers since 1997, and we do not know if voters would take to the veteran Chiam or stick to the PAP team. This huge known unknown makes the contest challenging for both the PAP and SPP.

Hot:

  1. East Coast GRC – the WP garnered 36 percent of votes here in GE 2006, the second-best performing opposition GRC. The PAP’s decision to insert two ministers and no newbies here means they treat the contest very seriously.
  2. Holland-Bukit Timah GRC – the SDP has fielded a very strong slate against a twice-walkover team. S’poreans caught a glimpse of the verbal sparring between the SDP and PAP, and can expect more as campaigning period begins.
  3. Tampines GRC – the NSP and WP have been whacking Mah Bow Tan. What would be voters’ reaction?

Warm:

  1. Chua Chu Kang GRC – again, a NSP team which has two former government scholars is competing against the PAP.
  2. Marine Parade GRC – attention seems to be on 3 candidates only, SM Goh, Tin Pei Ling and Nicole Seah
  3. Nee Soon GRC – the previous Nee Soon SMCs (east, west, central, north, south) used to swing to opposition in the 1990s. Whether the support continues is unknown.
  4. West Coast GRC – KJ from the Reform Party is making his maiden electoral bid. Success or performance here will make or break the future of his party.

Mild:

  1. Ang Mo Kio GRC
  2. Jurong GRC
  3. Moulmein-Kallang GRC
  4. Pasir-Ris Punngol GRC
  5. Sembawang GRC

Battleground SMCs

Sizzling Hot:

  1. Potong Pasir
  2. Hougang

The reasons are similar for both wards. The sitting opposition MPs are leading GRC teams, and everyone will be looking to see which way both go.

Hot:

  1. Punggol East – well, because it’s a 3-cornered fight

As of now, the rest of the SMCs don’t really look exciting. Attention is focussed on the GRCs, and if the opposition will make a breakthrough. The PAP might have thought up of the GRC system to its benefit, but they forgot if the opposition wins one GRC, even if marginally, they immediately net 5 or 4 seats. Oh well.

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PAP potential office-holders and where they might go

According to PAP Organising Secretary Dr Ng Eng Hen, the PAP slate for the general elections has a record number of office-holders. From the PAP perspective, the elections are about leadership renewal, that is, the potential leaders whom they have chosen. They have always placed minister-wannabes in junior roles for a while, before promoting them to be full ministers.

Take for example Lui Tuck Yew, minister for information, communications and the arts. After GE 2006,  he was appointed minister of state for education, a junior role. Slightly less than two years later, in April 2008, he was promoted to be senior minister of state for education and MICA. Then one year later (April 2009) he became the Acting Minister for MICA. Finally, in November 2010, he became a full minister. All within one parliamentary term.

He might be a high-flier minister, but he seems to be lacking some PR skills, according to this.

Anyway, since there are so many potential office-holders, are there sufficient offices to go around? And how is the PAP leadership going to evaluate these 4th Gen leaders? For example, what did Lui do in MICA which gave him a promotion to full minister within 5 years? Of course, he must have done something right and nothing wrong, or it would be politically costly to promote him.

Currently, there are total 15 ministries, including the Prime Minister’s Office, but there are 21 full ministers in the Cabinet:

  1. Prime Minister
    Mr LEE Hsien Loong
  2. Senior Minister
    Mr GOH Chok Tong
  3. Minister Mentor
    Mr LEE Kuan Yew
  4. Senior Minister
    Prof S. JAYAKUMAR
  5. Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for National Security
    Mr WONG Kan Seng
  6. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence
    Mr TEO Chee Hean
  7. Minister for Foreign Affairs
    Mr George Yong-Boon YEO
  8. Minister for National Development
    Mr MAH Bow Tan
  9. Minister, Prime Minister’s Office
    Mr LIM Boon Heng
  10. Minister for Trade and Industry
    Mr LIM Hng Kiang
  11. Minister, Prime Minister’s Office
    Mr LIM Swee Say
  12. Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs
    Dr YAACOB Ibrahim
  13. Minister for Health
    Mr KHAW Boon Wan
  14. Minister for Finance
    Mr Tharman SHANMUGARATNAM
  15. Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence
    Dr NG Eng Hen
  16. Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports
    Dr Vivian BALAKRISHNAN
  17. Minister for Transport and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs
    Mr Raymond LIM Siang Keat
  18. Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law
    Mr K Shanmugam
  19. Minister for Manpower
    Mr GAN Kim Yong
  20. Minister, Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and Second Minister for Transport
    Mrs LIM Hwee Hua
  21. Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts
    Mr LUI Tuck Yew

Of the 21, two are retiring, but they do not hold any portfolios.

Now, look at the number of political office-holders in each ministry.

  1. MCYS (3): 1 minister (M), 1 minister of state (MOS) (retiring), 1 parliamentary secretary (PS)
  2. MINDEF (3): 1 M, 1 second M, 1 MOS (retiring)
  3. MOE (4): 1 M, 2 Senior MOS, 1 MOS
  4. MOF (2): 1 M, 1 second M
  5. MFA (3): 1 M, 1 second M, 1 Senior MOS (to become Speaker of Parliament)
  6. MOH (2): 1 M, 1 Senior PS
  7. MHA (4): 1 DPM (strangely, on the website, DPM Wong still heads the list), 1 M, 1 Senior MOS (retiring), 1 MOS
  8. MICA (2): 1 M, 1 Senior PS
  9. MINLAW (2): 1 M, 1 Senior MOS (retiring)
  10. MOM (3): 1 M, 1 MOS, 1 Senior PS
  11. MND (3): 1 M, 1 Senior MOS, 1 Senior PS
  12. MEWR (2): 1 M, 1 MOS
  13. MTI (4): 1 M, 1 Senior MOS, 1 MOS, 1 Senior PS
  14. MOT (3): 1 M, 1 second M, 1 Senior PS
  15. PMO (7): 1 PM, 2 SM (one retiring), 1 MM,  2 DPMs, 2 Ms (1 retiring), 1 MOS (why the PMO needs a junior minister?)

In any case, if there are insufficient political offices, it’d be very easy for the PM to create new roles. For him to test out the PAP’s core of 4th Generation leadership, there are only a few key ministries – defence, education, trade and industry (where PM Lee himself began), foreign affairs.

If the current number of political appointees remains, no further ministry is created, then there should be sufficient places to go around. According to the media, there are 5 heavyweights with potential to be full ministers – generals Tan Chuan-Jin, Chan Chun Sing, former MAS director Heng Sweet Keat, NTUC assistant SG Ong Ye Kung, former EMA chief executive Lawrence Wong.

Where might they go, since they are heavyweights? MOE and MTI look full, but the PM can ask the Senior MOS in each ministry (who is the same person) to step down, giving space for two new MOS positions to be created for two different people. MINDEF definitely requires a new MOS and perhaps a PS, who can be picked from the rest of the 24 new candidates. MFA also has a vacancy for MOS, as the current Senior MOS is moving on to become Speaker (assuming the PAP team for Aljunied is elected la, since Aljunied is a battleground, and two ministers in Aljunied are from MFA). In MHA, the current MOS can be bumped up, freeing another space for a new MOS. MOF also looks like they need a MOS. These are the important ministries, and logically the PM would choose these as training grounds for his 4G core leadership. From my observation here, there are definitely sufficient offices for the 5 heavyweight candidates.

There are also other ministries which seem to lack MOS – MICA, MOH, MINLAW, MOT. Given the PAP preference for the Admin Service as their recruiting grounds, I think some new candidates from the Admin Service could become MOS too. They include Sim Ann and Low Yen Ling, formerly from the civil service. As there are quite a few candidates from NTUC (7, if I’m not wrong), they are probably excluded as of now from the group of potential ministers, but in future they might be given political offices.

However, how does the PM evaluate the performance of these new office-holders? Is it a one-way climb? Out of the ‘Super Seven’ in the 2001 elections, Dr Balaji Sadisvan did not make it to full minister while Cedric Foo resigned. These are signs that those who can’t make it are halted. But the decision of the PM is arbitrary and opaque. Since the PAP claims to introduce a record number of office-holders, it seems logical as well for S’poreans to ensure some checks and balances on the new leadership. And that’s how the WP insurance kicks in.

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Why Workers’ Party might be wrong

During the Workers’ Party launch of its manifesto, Sylvia Lim claimed that one-third of Parliament should be held by the opposition, so as to block the governing party from amending the constitution at will. The PAP then responded that there is no model for First World Parliament, that bitter partisan struggles which result in inefficient government are prevalent in developed countries…criticism which S’poreans have often heard, and I think many of us believe this. A few weeks ago, a friend commented that a two-party system, with one party saying ‘yes’ and the other saying ‘no’, would lead to deadlocks in government, so it is absolutely unworkable. On the surface, perhaps.

However, while it is desirable for the opposition and some S’poreans to have a substantial check in Parliament, it might NOT be possible. Often we think of Singapore as a ‘country’, but it is nothing more than a small city, a city-state to be precise. Hence Singapore has a few characteristics:

  1. There’s no real geographical divide. There’s no lowland vs. hilltop, coastal vs. inland etc, rural vs. urban. Parties can hardly spring out from Bukit Batok or Potong Pasir and claim to represent a special group of people; there’s none.
  2. An overwhelming majority of the population lives in public housing, and there is no concentration of rich areas or slums. When parties root for support in a particular ward, this ward is not likely to diverge greatly from the national average.
  3. Even the ethnic make-up in each ward is likely to be similar to national statistics, part of it might be due to the Ethnic Integration Policy. There’s no concentration of Malays or Indians such that they can create strongholds or safe deposits.

From these characteristics, parties which represent narrow interests are likely to fail miserably. Instead, personalities are very important for political parties to win individual wards. Hence Chiam See Tong holding Potong Pasir for more than two decades, yet his parties did not expand their parliamentary presence much. These characteristics also ensure the longevity of the PAP’s dominance. It’s partly because of history, and partly because of Singapore’s city context, that the PAP has enjoyed such dominance.

Furthermore, the first-past-the-post system means the winner takes a seat even if he has a winning margin of 1 percent. The system has a tendency of throwing up strong governments with a clear majority. In Singapore, this is complicated by the existence of GRCs, which homogenizes voting patterns across a few wards – the election results of a GRC has a tendency toward the national average. And if we include gerrymandering, this means that it is more difficult for opposition parties to capture parliamentary seats.

With these conclusions, a predictable outcome is that a strong party can win more than two thirds of the seats to form a government with a supernormal majority. Of course, critics will have you believe this is because of the PAP’s engineering of the electoral system to benefit themselves, but I think geographical circumstances have been neglected.

In Singapore, a two-party system is likely to be this:

  1. Strong governing party (PAP) with supernormal majority
  2. A token representation by one or two parties
  3. A few other active parties but with no parliamentary presence

So that’s why the WP might be wrong in thinking it’s possible for one-third of seats to be occupied by opposition members.

However, since the system and context of Singapore are skewed to produce strong governments, an opposition party does not have to capture a few seats and gradually build its strength for 50 or 100 years. What it can do is simply to proclaim that it is willing and capable to form the next government, and seek to contest every single ward. Education Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen has challenged the opposition to form a new government. It is obviously impossible, because the opposition parties have no intention to take over the government.

But I think if an opposition party, or even an alliance, simply declares this intention and fields candidates in all seats, and given the right set of circumstances, this serious threat will by itself create a two-party system. A two-party system does not require one opposition party or a few of them holding a substantial number of seats. The only meaningful system which will work in Singapore is simply a threat of replacement.

For example, in 2031, the WP might have a core leadership consisting of a potential prime minister, finance minister etc. This core team can declare an early intention to field candidates in all wards, to slug it out with the PAP at the polls. If the ground is not so sweet for the PAP, then either they attack the WP or respond to the influence exerted by the (few or solo) WP opposition MPs of the day.

Obviously the limitation to the growth of opposition parties is the lack of talent, but this general elections might be the start of a trend in which highly-qualified individuals i.e. former government scholars are willing to join them. It might take years, decades before any opposition party can claim to form a new government. That’s why all the opposition parties are desperate to a win a GRC, as a sizable number of elected MPs can help them expand in terms of political influence and attraction. But I doubt one-third would be won or could be won…

In any case, if one day a non-PAP government were formed, this government is likely to have at least a two-thirds majority. And that is all which is needed to undo PAP policies or amend the constitution – perhaps to lock out the PAP for good. History shows ruling parties do not last forever, so making the system fair to give themselves a second chance will seem to be good foresight later on.

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Securing Our Future

I can’t resist comparing these quotes.

Our best years are ahead of us. Vote for the team that you can trust, the party that will secure a better future for you and your children.

PAP Secretary-General Lee Hsien Loong, introduction to PAP Manifesto, “Securing Our Future Together”

In order to ensure the security and continuing stability, the Republic will be reorganized into the First Galactic Empire! For a safe, and secure society.

Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious speaking to the Senate, in Star Wars Revenge of the Sith.

Lol.

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What GE 2011 means to a 21-year-old

Sometimes people are too carried away by present events that they forget the fundamentals. What’s the purpose of general elections, anyway? The simplest answer I can think of is to choose a government. And what does a government do, or should do? My view is that the government should be doing these:

  1. Ensure everyone has food, water, proper sanitation
  2. Provide access to shelter i.e. a permanent roof over head
  3. Provide physical security i.e. the police force and army
  4. Gives education opportunities
  5. Creates employment opportunities
  6. Maintain an affordable level of healthcare

Of course, you may argue the government should be doing many other more tasks, like building a transport infrastructure, taking care of the environment or cultivating the arts and culture. But my 6-point-list is minimalist and the very essence of what a government should excel in. Once the basic responsibilities are fulfilled properly and standards are maintained,  the rest should be easy.

Do all S’poreans have all the 6 points? Definitely not. Every society has its marginalised and less well-off, including ours. There are homeless people in S’pore, there are the unemployed, there are those who have difficulties putting food on the table or paying utilities bills, there are those who can’t afford healthcare because their illnesses demand expensive treatment, there are those who aren’t studying because of family troubles or lack of supervision… And the list goes on.

Right now, with cost of living as a major issue, the PAP government is struggling to fulfill a few of these essential tasks. Point 2 is that everyone should have access to a home. The government provides public housing for the masses, but the price index of the resale market has been rocketing in recent years. And since public housing is provided for by the government, it is very difficult for the PAP to deflect blame. Their helicopter vision was not up-to-mark on this vital issue. The end-result is that opposition parties have confidently tackled the housing issue. The WP has also offered a proposal to link median income to new flats, which might be attractive to new flatowners.

If S’poreans believe that the PAP performed badly in these fundamental tasks of a government, they would vote for an alternative party to run the government, or vote in more opposition members to pressurize the PAP to improve.  Of course, the reality is far from that. There are a few reasons:

  1. Personalities play a significant factor in influencing elections. If not, why did Potong Pasir and Hougang vote Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Kiang respectively elections after elections, even with lures of multi-million upgrading? Similarly, even though the PAP might have done poorly in the aspect of housing, the candidates they field can promise change. If these candidates are trusted by the electorate, obviously they would continue to be voted in.
  2. Impressions matter a lot. I think the opposition parties are different from one another, but the average S’porean does not have the luxury of time or effort to try to differentiate among them, and the opposition parties have made few attempts to show how they are different. Hence splits in the Reform Party or the SDA might add to the image of a fragmented opposition camp, doing them no good to court votes
  3. Systemic advantages enjoyed by the incumbent. As the incumbent governing party, the PAP already enjoys 24/7 media coverage. However, due to the GRC system, it is a perennial challenge for the opposition to win a GRC and expand their presence. And gerrymandering, of course.

Well, these are my thoughts. It really takes a leap of faith to choose someone whom you think can act in your best interest in the running of the country. This leap of faith borders on the miraculous, in the sense that you know your representative will act for others too, and he cannot possibly represent everyone. What if he makes a decision which harms you but benefits others? This connection will be broken, even if that decision is good from a macro perspective.

I’m unable to vote in the coming elections, but if I could, I’d keep my fingers crossed as I cast my ballot. And hope in the next five years the government will do better in the 6-point list.

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Return of the SPP

My impression of Chiam See Tong’s SPP was that of a party lacking in visions and ideas, as seen from the TV performance of Lina Chiam on Channel NewsAsia’s Political Forum. I also predicted the SDA’s electoral demise as soon as Chiam’s SPP pulled out; it is clear that Chiam was the only one holding the Alliance together, giving it a sense of unity. For a short while I’d believed the SPP was destined for certain obliteration, as Chiam struggled to form a dream team for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

But what a turn of events! The opposition elder has attracted two former government scholars to contest with him, besides two long-time politicians. And he even asserted his ‘chances are very good’. Though the SPP is contesting 7 seats (5-member Bishan-Toa Payoh, Hong Kah North and Potong Pasir), attention is focussed on the GRC and whether the SPP would make a historic win, with a veteran at the helm of an impressive team of candidates.

If The Straits Times is accurate ($2m foundation pledge! and ‘surge in volunteers‘), the SPP seems to be reviving itself at the last moment. What’s the impact of this on S’porean voters and the General Elections?

Previously I mentioned which would be a battleground GRC or SMC, and Bishan-Toa Payoh was among the first-tier battleground GRCs. Well, it seems apt for its ranking to increase, from just first-tier to Red Alert. Why?

1) The Chiam appeal. His maiden attempt to lead a GRC has not been smooth-sailing, but the final line-up is solid. Furthermore, it seems more volunteers and sympathizers are helping Chiam to win.

2) Bishan Toa-Payoh, since its meshed-up formation in 1997, has never seen a contest. If we go back a little further, Toa Payoh has not seen a contest since 1988. No one knows how the voters there would vote, because there is no history at all. No straw poll has been taken too, so Polling Day for this GRC would be especially exciting.

3) The PAP team in Bishan Toa-Payoh has NOT faced a contest before – with the exception of DPM Wong Kan Seng, but not in recent elections. Are they electable in their own rights? Maybe, maybe not.

As you can see, the outcome is clouded in uncertainty. The voters, the PAP team as well as the opposition, though Chiam’s star power is drawing tremendous attention and effort here.

I’d defined a ‘battleground’ with 3 criteria: 1) unprecedented, 2) good chance of opposition winning, 3) controversial or headlines-grabbing. The contest in Bishan Toa-Payoh fulfills 1) and 3) very strongly. I don’t know how S’poreans there would vote, and I bet the PAP or the SPP doesn’t too. It’s a gigantic known unknown, which means the GRC deserves a ‘Red Alert‘ status – a tough fight for both the PAP and SPP.

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PM Lee on 2-Party System in Singapore

But no system lasts forever, as even MM himself acknowledges in his latest book called Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going.  So we do not assume that the PAP will remain dominant indefinitely.  We have to ask ourselves a question – what is the alternative?  It could be another party, just as dominant, or it could be some other configuration.  Now what other configuration could that be? A lot of people say, “Can we have a two party system?” That is the ideal that is many developed countries work, that is what you should aim for, a change of government from the first party to the second, and from the second to come back, and then you are considered to have matriculated.

PM Lee agrees with his father MM Lee, that the PAP would one day NOT become the government of Singapore. I’d watched the video of new PAP candidate MG (NS) Chan Chun Sing, before reading PM Lee’s speech. In Chan’s speech, he mentioned the “Lanfang Republic” and “Sultanate of Demak”, using them as examples of why countries fail. I’ve never heard of these two states before, and I’m sure his audience has not too. But that’s probably his purpose, to illustrate how small countries do not last long, and that they pass unforgotten into the sands of history…

But Chan should also know one hard truth – just as small countries and city-states do not last long, so do ruling parties. I’m sure there are plenty of examples of ruling parties or regimes which are voted out or ousted. I think MM Lee and PM Lee understand this, that dominance is not forever, even if the ruling party was strong in the past and appears so in the present. But on the other hand, from the paragraph which I quoted, PM Lee seems to think for the case of Singapore, a historical aberration might just occur. He points out that a ‘two-party’ system is considered ideal for developed countries, yet he denies this would ever take root here.

But how could this happen in Singapore that we have two parties?  I can imagine several scenarios.  First, the society splits based on race or religion. You have one party representing one race or religion, another party representing another race or religion.

Is this happening in Singapore now? Are opposition parties split along ethnic or religious lines? Granted, PM Lee might be trying to peer into the future of how a two-party system is like in Singapore, but I think his analysis is inaccurate. Firstly, he is assuming that in a future Singapore, S’poreans vote along ethnic and religious lines. That would really be a bleak scenario, and a huge leap backward since Singapore was established as a secular state.

But are S’poreans voting along such lines NOW? No doubt that race and religion would be very emotional flags to swing votes in a tight election, but if we believe in surveys conducted by the media, economic issues like cost of living, employment etc are the perennial focus of S’poreans. Hence it makes little sense to predict that S’poreans would vote their same colour or same religious brethren, because economic issues affect anyone, regardless of race, language or religion.

The second possibility is that you divide on class lines.  We do not get our economic policies right or maybe it is just that the world trends are such, the rich get richer, the poor do not make progress.  After a while the poor lose hope in the system, the rich lose interest in the rest of society.  So one side says, “Tax me less, let me keep my wealth”.  The other side says, “Give me more transfers, more welfare, more goodies, more benefits”.  And you have two parties forming, one representing one group, the other one representing the other group, rich and poor.

This is a better prediction, albeit still pessimistic. The income gap in Singapore is growing, even though employment rate is at a record low. One might have a job, but his real wages are stagnant or falling. A two-party system might evolve this way…but I don’t really think. As much as we think of Singapore as a ‘country’, we are fundamentally a ‘city’. I’m referring to a geographical definition: urbanized, densely populated, communications node, commerce hub, a complex system of public services e.g. transport, sewage, finances.

And in our city-state, 90 percent of our population lives in public flats. There are no slums or concentrated areas of poverty, though all of us will agree there are concentrated areas of the very rich (think Holland V, Bukit Timah). But these are pockets within larger electoral wards i.e. the rich areas do not by themselves form a ward. I hope you’re getting my drift. Even if two parties, the Pro-Rich and Pro-Poor, are set up, neither would win sufficient seats in the first-past-the-post system to form the government, because Singapore’s geography is rather homogeneous.

Each ward is likely to represent the national average, and only a few have above-average proportions of rich, poor, Malays etc. To win the most number of seats, not least the majority, a party has to be national in the sense it appeals to all income groups. Pro-Rich or Pro-Poor parties might win some seats here and there, but unlikely to win the most, because their expected supporters can’t be found concentrated anywhere. In a wild card scenario, it is possible a coalition government can be formed by a Middle Ground Party with Pro-Rich or Pro-Poor Party. However, first-past-the-post system naturally produces a strong government with a clear majority. Hence I doubt such a two-party system based on class would evolve in Singapore.

The third possibility is that we split on policy grounds, you argue that this set of policies will be best for Singapore to grow, promoting MNCs.  They argue that no I do not want MNCs; sending them all away and depending on Singaporeans and Singapore companies is the way to grow.  And we cannot reconcile and we split and we argue over the policies and fight it out at the polls.  I think that could happen but it is not so likely because the PAP is a pragmatic party and we are ready to take in good ideas.  If you look at it at a higher level, frankly, the range of feasible options of Singapore is not that wide.  So it is possible it could happen, but it would mean that something has gone wrong too.

Since ‘it is not so likely’, why is PM Lee talking about it? Actually most of us know the options for Singapore are few. We can’t farm, obviously, so we’ve to MAKE or SERVE something. I don’t think it’s as simple as promote MNCs vs. grow Singapore companies. It’s as obvious to everyone BOTH are useful, it’s a matter of how much resources we’re allocating to wooing the MNCs or growing Singapore companies. Should we get Lucasfilm to start-up our digital animation industry, or pump money into hopeful firms? Should we create tax incentives for foreign film studios here, or provide grants for independent film-makers? Really, it depends on the context of each industry, each problem of society.

Both the PAP and SDP support the poor, yet both differ in their ways. The PAP way is through Workfare, while that of the SDP is through a Minimum Wage. Again, each proposal affects different groups of people, and again, it is impossible to find the very poor and aged squashed in one constituency, or the very rich towkays running the cleaning companies packed in the other. It’s the Middle Ground voters who would decide on Workfare or Minimum Wage, and that is why, as I mentioned, a two-party system in Singapore means the two parties have to be so wide-ranging to encompass all views, and not a few narrow ones. But PM Lee insists a two-party system is not workable, because…

But the most important reason, why a two party system is not workable is because we do not have enough talent in Singapore to form two A-teams, to form two really first class teams to govern Singapore really well.  More than any country, Singapore needs exceptionally able leadership to tackle challenges and to minimise the risks for our countries.  We are small, we are vulnerable.  With a mediocre government, other countries may muddle through, and have to muddle through, but Singa­pore will fail.  The most effective way to get a two party system, if you really want to do it, is to split the PAP in two.

Assumptions:

1) Singapore is vulnerable, so needs strong leadership (of course!)

2) Strong leadership is provided by talented people (definitely)

3) Talented people are limited in numbers (obviously)

4) Hence one party (PAP, by virtue of being dominant) has many more talents than the other (agree)

5) So a two-party system will not work, because the other party is unable to run the government if given a chance (logical)

I’d create a flowchart if I’ve the time. But the core of the two-party system here, according to PM Lee, is the problem of talent, and the lack thereof. Vulnerable and strong leadership are easily understood and defined. But not so much as ‘talent’, because from the PAP’s view, talent comes from the military, the civil service and the trade unions (government-linked trade unions?). They are unable to draw talent from the private sector, the academia, the non-profit sector, the minorities (in terms of gender, ideology, dunno what you have), the arts etc. Or they are reluctant to recognize that talent would emerge from these arenas. And why should their candidates be exclusively ‘young’? The older are useless, unable to offer fresh ideas?

Ironically enough, the WP’s ‘star catch’ Chen Show Mao can easily fit in as a PAP candidate. This challenges Point 4, that the PAP has a monopoly of talent.

The opposition parties pitch themselves as offering Singapore a fallback should the PAP fail. It sounds plausible, but if you think about it, what does it depend on?  Most critically, it comes back to talent again.  If the PAP cannot assemble a second team, I do not think the Opposition will find it easier to do that.

Well, each opposition party has its fair of talent and cannot-make-its. But it’s obvious which party has the lead among them to have more talent than CMIs…

In this “Question Time with PM Lee“, there was a very funny question:

Yang Junwei [Media Freelancer]:

Would the government abolish General Election instead?

Lee Hsien Loong [Prime Minister]:

NO. The difference between Singapore and China is that Singapore is not a one-party state. Singapore is a multi-party democracy dominated by the People’s Action Party (PAP). In order to win the mandate to govern Singapore, the PAP has to enjoy popular support and be accountable to the people. Every PAP member (including MPs) understands that he is here to serve the people and not simply acting as a government official. There is a big difference between the two.

Well, going by PM Lee’s logic that a two-party system is unworkable, and that Singapore should pool all our ‘talent’ in the PAP, the only outcome is that of a one-party state. And general elections would be unnecessary. We don’t need to have opposition parties, voters can tick ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ for the PAP slate. If the ‘Yes’ falls below 50 percent, then that MP or group of MPs should be replaced.

But PM Lee claims the PAP is dominant in a multi-party democracy, which is both true and false that it can spark an entirely different debate…

Well after saying so much, I think there are STILL a few questions to be answered:

1) Should there be a one-party state?

2) If not, a two-party state or multi-party state?

3) Which system can ultimately evolve from historical and present circumstances?

Next time then try answer…

[All quotes from PM Lee Speech at Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum 2011]

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Filed under Analysis, GE 2011