Just make elections free and fair, no need for wayang
Singapore Democrats, 28 May 2009
If there is any indication that the Government is nervous about the unhappiness of the people, it is the latest increase in the number of NCMP seats and the consolidation of the NMP scheme.
Anxious to avoid facing an angry electorate, the PAP is desperately trying to divert the attention of the voters by telling them that they don’t have to vote for the opposition because seats will be allocated to opposing voices.
In the first place, Parliamentary seats are not for the Government to give out. They are legislative positions to be earned by competing parties and candidates whose power is derived from the voters.
The problem with such schemes is that parliamentary seats given by the Government also means that they can be taken away at a whim. Unfortunately this epitomises all that plagues Singapore’s politics. The PAP runs the country like a fiefdom and appoints law-makers rather than have them elected.
In the second place, all these changes are purely cosmetic aimed at trying to prettify the ugly face of an election system that is neither free nor fair.
Parliament, if the PAP needs to be reminded, is not a feedback session to canvas for a “wider range” of views. It is an institution where laws are made and where the Executive is called to account for its actions and policies.
As such, rigorous debate is called for and each legislator brings his popular power to bear on the arguments that he makes. Even then, if the PAP is truly desirous of a wider range of views in Parliament, then it should implement five simple measures:
1. abolish the GRC system
2. announce the constituencies at least 6 months before elections
3. ensure that there is at least three weeks for the official campaign period
4. give at least one month between the dissolution of parliament and polling day
5. free up the media
There is no need to conduct this wayang exercise with the NCMP and NMP systems. Do the right thing by ensuring that the electoral process is transparent, free and fair.
Electoral process: Best practices
Below are some existing commitments for democratic elections in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) participating states. Compare them to the ones in Singapore.
OSCE: When necessary, redrawing of election districts shall occur according to a predictable timetable and through a method prescribed by law and should reflect reliable census or voter registration figures. Redistricting should also be performed well in advance of elections, be based on transparent proposals, and allow for public information and participation. (emphasis added) Singapore: In the 1997 GE, the Election Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC), after substantial alterations of the boundaries, presented the redrawn electoral map less than a month before elections were called. In the 2001 GE the boundaries were announced 1 (yes, one) day before the elections were called.
OSCE: The administration of elections must be conducted autonomously, free from government or other interference, by officials or bodies operating transparently under the law. Singapore: Elections are conducted by the Elections Department which is supervised by the Prime Minister’s Office.
OSCE: No additional qualification requirements, beyond those applicable to voters, may be imposed on candidates except, for certain offices, concerning age and duration of citizenship and/or residence. Singapore: A candidate for the presidential elections must have been a Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker, Attorney-General, Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Auditor-General, Accountant-General or Permanent Secretary, chairman or CEO of a statutory board, chairman or CEO of a company with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million. Or anyone who in the opinion of the Presidential Elections Committee is qualified to do the job of president.
OSCE: States should provide an adequate opportunity, on an equitable and non-discriminatory basis, for election contestants to inform the public about their candidacies and political programmes, including through the state media. Singapore: All media organisations are controlled by the PAP. Reporters Without Borders consistently rank Singapore’s media amongst the lowest in the world.
OSCE: States must ensure that equal access and fair treatment of election contestants is provided by all state-owned media outlets, including all electronic and print media. This obligation extends to news reports, editorial comment, and all other content. Singapore: See above.
Jacob 69er: See also Blackout on Singapore Democrats
Evolving Political System
Chairman of Workers Party and NCMP Sylvia Lim, 28 May 2009
The Member for Hougang has already touched some aspects of why the existing political system cannot be said to be robust. He cited how the executive government controlled Parliament due to its overwhelming majority and why the only real check on the ruling party had to come from outside it through elected opposition Members.
Our firm belief is that it is the threatened or actual loss of elected seats which will temper the dominance of the ruling Party. More than any Parliamentary debate, this threat of loss of territory reminds the government of where its mandate comes from and that they govern at the will of the people. It also enables opposition MPs to prove that they are able to take care of constituents and work with them directly to improve their lives.
Some PAP members in this House have different views and they all believe that continued domination of the PAP in political, social and economic arenas of our society is the best way forward and best assurance of the future of Singapore. Some PAP MPs also believe that the PAP’s self checks to ensure a clean and non-corrupt government is the most viable approach, as opposition parties may becomes corrupt when they take over the government. We believe we can leave it to Singaporeans to judge and to decide whether they agree with this thesis.
I would like now to respond to the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday on changes to the political system.
Overall, my distinct impression is that the ruling party now realises that it has gone too far with the GRC system, and that this has affected the political development of its own MP s. The ruling party may also realise that the demise of the Opposition is not good for the PAP nor for Singapore.
Let me now move to the specific changes announced.
First, the proposals regarding the size of electoral constituencies. It is natural to welcome the formation of more SMCs, from the legal limit of 8 to 12. The Workers’ Party’s position still remains that we should revert the entire system to SMCs. Though the PAP’s claim is that GRCs ensure minority representation, we have seen that in Singapore’s past, minority candidates were elected as individuals, without any need for such affirmative actions. The PAP’s own minority Ministers and MP s, and the late Workers’ Party Secretary-General JB Jeyaretnam, are testament to this. Be that as it may, this increase from 8 to 12 is a step in the right direction as far as we are concerned.
Next, the indication that the size of GRCs will be reduced overall is overdue. It will ensure that each candidate identifies more with the voters and is more accountable for outcomes. It also lowers the barrier for electoral competition, which should in theory increase the likelihood of contest and enable more people to vote. However, this will mean extensive reconfigurations of existing boundaries, which will cause confusion among voters and affect the work of political parties. As such, the new configurations should be made and justified many months in advance of the elections.
I next refer to the proposal to assure at least 9 opposition members in Parliament through the NCMP scheme, up from the current legal default minimum of 3. Though this can never replace having elected opposition MPs, it is overall supportable because it will give greater recognition to the desire of voters who cast votes for opposition candidates in significant numbers, which would otherwise be shut out in a pure first-past-the-post system. It will also facilitate opposition parties serving the people in Parliament based on results obtained at General Elections.
Regarding the NMP scheme, the Workers’ Party continues to be against the scheme as we believe that MP s must contest the election as an essential precondition, to obtain some sort of mandate from the people.
There are still other unsatisfactory aspects of elections in Singapore which we believe should be changed. These include removing the Prime Minister’s Office from being in charge of elections and having an independent elections commission, and having greater transparency and public accountability in the way the electoral boundaries are drawn.
Nevertheless, overall, the Workers’ Party believes that the changes announced yesterday are improvements over the current system.
Finally, Sir, as the ultimate beneficiaries of such changes should be the people and not political parties, the people’s views on these changes should be actively sought before they are finalised.
Jacob 69er: See here for a video of the speech in parliament.
27 May 2009 speech in parliament by Chiam See Tong, Chairman of Singapore Democratic Alliance; Secretary-General of Singapore People’s Party and Member of Parliament for Potong Pasir.
Half-hearted Attempts at Proposed Changes
National Solidarity Party, 29 May 2009
The National Solidarity Party welcomes the proposals, albeit half-hearted ones, to change the electoral system, as announced by PM Lee in Parliament on Wednesday. Improvements to the system have in fact been long overdue, ever since his predecessor promised the electorate some form of political pluralism and a “kinder and gentler” nation way back in 1990.
The recent attempt to “open up” the electoral system is not unexpected. The tide of change has found favour with the new, younger generation of voters. Coupled with the wave of discontent over the Authorities’ apparent haplessness in tackling the current economic tsunami, the next General Election may spring several surprises. At least one GRC is expected to fall. Thus, being fearful of losing a 6-seat GRC, the Government could have decided to lighten its impact by reducing its size.
We would urge the Government to revert the GRC to its original size of three members, to stay true to its proclaimed purpose of accommodating minority representation in Parliament. It is a pity that its noble intention should be abused and violated, when it was blatantly enlarged to the obscene size of six.
Single-seat Constituencies should form at least one-third of the Parliamentary seats available. This would then allow the elected member with a better opportunity to engage with local governance, to prove himself and to gauge his performance. GRC newbies tend to find comfort under the skirts of their senior mentors, without having to stretch themselves in service to the People.
The Government should also reduce the electoral deposits to a more affordable sum of $5000 per candidate, to encourage greater participation from the interested public. Finally, the electoral boundaries should be made known publicly, at least six months before the elections. Such a transparency would dispel any charge of gerrymandering.
Any attempt to bring about changes to the presently biased electoral system, should be implemented whole-heartedly. There should be a concerted effort to bring about a paradigm shift in public consciousness. Despite claims to the contrary, the People are still shrouded by a cloak of fear, cowed by harsh authoritarianism over the past half century. A truly responsible government would owe a duty of care to lead its citizens into an era of progress and positiveness. It’s therefore a challenge for the Lee Hsien Loong Government, one which it cannot afford to bypass if it intends to remain relevant.
For & on behalf of
NATIONAL SOLIDARITY PARTY
Ken Sun, Secretary General