Tuesday, August 05, 2008

My response to Shriniwas Rai's letter about the need for political changes

How we are governed: Let's consider changes (ST Forum 5 Aug 08)

THE recent discussion in the press on democracy and the system of government in Singapore has generated some public interest. It is encouraging that the political leadership is prepared to accept some changes, in particular comments by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at National Day celebrations in Hougang. I appeal to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his colleagues to consider some of them.

The Westminster form of government is well established in Singapore, but to suit local needs it may have to go through changes. We have made some changes, such as giving the President power over reserves.

Although nearly one-quarter of the population votes for the opposition at each general election, the opposition failed to achieve any significant presence in Parliament. Granted that proportional representation is not ideal, we can marry the Westminster and proportional representation system in Singapore. Opposition parties that secure more than 15 per cent of votes in the general election could be given non-constituency members' seats. The maximum could be set at nine.

The Nominated MP (NMP) system has to be adopted by every new parliament after the general election. This was done by SM Goh to accommodate criticism of the NMP system. The time has come for Parliament to decide whether the system should become permanent. We should modify and allow a full term of five years instead of the present 2-1/2 years. A proviso that
NMPs should not serve more than one term should be entrenched.

Group representation constituencies (GRCs) were introduced to bring about multiracialism and minority representation in Parliament. The system began with a small GRC but now more half of Singapore is under GRCs. From three-member GRCs, we now have six-member GRCs. We should look into this and introduce two-member GRCs. This will ensure multiracialism.
We should also amend the law to reduce the voting age to 18, which is the practice in many other countries. I would like to believe our young are more mature and responsible than was the case 50 years ago.

We have a clean system of government, but we cannot ensure this will remain in years to come. In many other countries, popular mandates have been used to undermine the political system. It is therefore suggested that an independent election commission be set up.
Finally, constitutions are not written in stone. They are living institutions with their own strengths and weaknesses. We should be prepared for change, if it will improve the system.

Shriniwas Rai

My response:

Hi friends,

Mr. Shriniwas Rai is a well-known lawyer and an ex-Nominated MP and his letter today is much welcomed.

Although his letter to the forum contains much substance it is couched in mild and diplomatic phrases. Maybe it is just the cut of the editor’s scissors?

My response is as follows:

1.I am not as optimistic that what SM Goh has in mind is further liberalization. More likely SM Goh wants to enlarge GRC’s rather than reduce it. He has also confirmed that grassroot organizations under the People’s Association are part of the PAP’s tentacles and are definitely not apolitical.

2. I am for redressing the discrepancy between the amount of support that opposition parties get at the polls and the number of seats actually awarded to them. Yes some kind of hybrid of First-past-the-post and Proportional Representation (PR) can be considered. I am against total PR as this works for unstable governments. All of us know that smart money of capitalists (which we still depend on) loves stability ( yes including the PAP’s monopoly- they love monopolies!)

3.I prefer the abolition of GRC’s but will rather have 2-member GRC’s than 10-member GRC’s anytime! Let us just abolish GRC’s and not be satisfied with half measures. About the issue of minority MP’s- If on election night there are less than the desired X number of minorities, the best losing minority candidates would be considered duly elected.

4.Nominated MP’s should not be allowed to just walk into parliament. They should be elected as Independent MP’s on election day ( with no geographical constituency).

5.I totally agree on the need for an independent Election Commission. The government of the day should not just be fair but be “seen to be fair”. What better way than to have a Election Commission under Presidential purview headed by a prominent non-partisan Singaporean. This will once and for all remove all allegations of gerry-mandering and of pork-belly politics.

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan


Anonymous said...

If grassroot organisations under the People's Association are under the PAP's tentacles, how could they be apolitical? Or should we be reading something between the lines?

I am also a pessimist. When the PAP talks about political changes I can only foresee a tighter noose.

Anonymous said...

I belong to the 33.4% who have been deprived of honest representation and those that I know who are from the 66.6% feel the same way. The PAP's blatant use of underhand methods to increase their advantage will divide our society and increase the anger index. It has reached the level of hatred for the ruling party and will undermine any little goodwill that is still remaining. It is shear madness for this government to continue to ignore the people who desire for a level playing field in politics.

Gerald said...

I heartily agree with most of Shriniwas' points, except a few.

I am in principle against affirmative action in political appointments -- not for racial minorities, not for unelected NMPs, not for opposition candidates who couldn't win more than 50% of votes in a constituency, and not for reluctant corporate types who have to be brought in under the wings of a minister.

I am also against proportional representation, because that is akin to grading on a curve. We want only the candidates who can win the hearts of the majority of their constituents. Not candidates who got a D7 because due to the curve.

Affirmative action for non-disadvantaged individuals (includes well-educated minorities) only serves to dilute their legitimacy.

Therefore I suggest the complete abolition of the GRC and NMP schemes. (In any case, we all know full well that the GRC and NMP schemes are meant to entrench the PAP's position more than anything else.)

Having said that, the Non-constituency MP scheme could continue serve as a temporary measure until more than 3 opposition MPs are elected to Parliament. At least NCMPs have some political legitimacy.

Anonymous said...

Just like anon at 11:42 AM, August 06, 2008, I'm also pessimistic.

Just take a look at our current President who is not elected by the people's referendum but appointed by PAP-led government. The PAP-led government quickly "disqualified" all of his competition when the position was open. Even then, if the PAP-led government wanted to give legitimacy to that "elected" President post, a "Yes/No" referendum could have been held, but it wasn't. The lack of commentary by this President on the state of governance is clearly seen. IMHO, I will not discount the possibility of it being due to him beholden to the PAP-led government for providing him his cushy job with out-of-the-world pay.

Something drastic in the political scene has to happen for changes to take place. The pressures for it to happen is increasing. Singapore citizens who choose to stay on have to be prepared to bite the bullet for the eventual upheaval.

feedmetothefish said...

I'm a Singaporean of Chinese descent.

I do not like the way my Malay, Indian and Eurasian friends are being insulted and marginalised by the GRC scheme.

Othman Wok, Rajaranam, Jeyaratnam, E W Barker and others won the MP'ship without GRC.

It is not nice to play the race card to ensure the longevity of PAP in govt.

To have Braddell under Marine Parade constituency is a such silly joke!

It's no longer a laughing matter when people are sick and tired of all the social engineering of "buying and fixing" and gerrymandeering.

If they are worth their salt, MP's like Indranee, Palmer and Masagos would have been more happy and proud if they had won their seats through single MP constituency instead of GRCs. This applies to the PAP MP's of Chinese descent too!


Anonymous said...

Dear Dr Huang

I will vote for PAP in the next election, provided:

1. Election department is made independent (no more any-old-how change boundaries and make mega-GRCs)

2. Press coverage is balanced (no more vomit-inducing one-sided propaganda and demonizing of opposition figures like "liar" Chee, "Chauvanist" Tang and "slipperman" tags)

3. No more abuse of government or quasi-government organizations by PAP like IRAS doing extra-due-diligence checks on opposition, mata forever denying opposition right to organize events (even bicycle event), Favoritism for PA(P) "grass-roots" for getting housing, schooling etc. And using state money to bribe voters during elections.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi all,
Thanks for enthusiastic response and constructive input:

Gerald: I think NCMP should also go. If the people want opposition MP, they should vote them in. At present moment, can vote PAP and yet be assured of at least some opposition MP ( through NCMP). I agree with your other thoughts.

Anon 8.33:
Yes the Presidential election was a farce. Just when a alternative candidate appeared, the whole govt juggernaut (including ex-colleagues washing dirty linen in public) came out to show why he was not fit. When the late Pres Ong Teng Cheong wanted to do his job seriously , the PAP ( to this day) is still angry with him!

Many suspect that the reason of minority rep for GRC is a ruse to raise entry barriers for opposition parties! If they were serious about minorities, there are many ways of doing it without having collateral results of raising barriers. I also believe that all Singaporeans of whatever race/culture are the same and should be treated as such.

Anon 10.22:
I am glad that you have thought it through. All of us should have in mind,” I will vote for PAP if ….” I also have a list but I will not divulge it ( and make it easy for the PAP to meet the lists and then just sit on their hands).
We should not say, we will never vote PAP no matter what. If we do that, why should PAP reform when there is no hope whatsoever of getting our votes!
We are not anti-PAP. We are Pro-Sg! The reason we speak up now is because we sincerely believe that many things that PAP is doing is anti-Sg!

SHIMURE said...

Actually i feel in order for a society to be truly democractic, there should be certain laws in which even the current ruling party cannot change or amend without the concensus of the public via public vote.

The election process, the districts and GRCs should not be amended to the whim of anyone. It should be fixed. By declaring the districts and the GRCs at last moments, is not a fair act.

The issuance of the votes though being serialised should not be issued based on the NRIC of the voters. The votes if serialised and issued based on the NRIC of the voters leaves the possibility of the voters being able to be identified and the basic fact that voting is secret would be irrelevent. Are the serial numbers on the votes really necessary?