Thursday, May 28, 2009

A more balanced system - tweaking Singapore's politics

May 27, 2009

THE upcoming changes to the political system and electoral rules will result in a more balanced system and bring diverse views in Parliament to better reflect the aspirations of Singaporeans, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday.

The changes are not to entrench one party, nor to deliberately result in weakened governments, said Mr Lee in Parliament during the debate on President SR Nathan's address last week.

'They update our political system so that it reflects better the aspirations of Singaporeans,' said Mr Lee. 'They provide adequate voice for diverse views in Parliament, including non-partisan views and views of those who have voted for the opposition.'

The changes will lead to non-People's Action Party members taking up at least 18 seats in Parliament, or roughly one-fifth of the House. The Constitution will be amended to allow for up to nine 9 Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs), who are opposition candidates who lose but are nevertheless given seats in Parliament.

At the same time, the Parliamentary Elections Act will be amended to increase the stipulated minimum number of opposition MPs, including NCMPs, to nine. The current minimum is three.

This means there will be a guaranteed nine MPs from opposition parties in Parliament, whether or not they win an election. These nine opposition MPs will join nine Nominated MPs - unelected representatives of sectors such as business and the creative industries - to bring about more diverse views in Parliament, the PM said.

The NMP scheme, started in 1990, will now be made a permanent feature of the system. One new sector - the people sector - will be invited to nominate candidates for the scheme.

Another change will see on average smaller Group Representation Constituencies, which can be as big as six members. At the same time, the number of single-member constituencies will be increased from nine to at least 12.

Mr Lee said the changes will ensure that the government which is elected has a clear mandate to govern in the interests of Singapore, "so our political system will continue to serve Singapore well, now and into the future.'

PM Lee made it clear that he is making the changes now at mid-term not because he is about to call elections but 'so that we can discuss and settle this in a calm atmosphere, and make the changes in ample time before the next elections.'

'These changes are not just for the 2011 GE, but also for the long term strength and stability of our system,' PM Lee stressed.

But he underscored the point that whatever political system that is in place will only work well if the electorate votes wisely, "in the full knowledge that if they vote for frivolous or fickle reasons it will mean a setback" to Singapore and its future.

'Otherwise we will not have honest leaders to run the system and govern the country,' he said. 'So voters have to see the parties and candidates for who they are, what they can do and make a decision in line with their true interest.

'If the PAP is serving them well, then they should vote for the PAP. If the PAP is letting them down, then they should vote against it. That way we make sure we always have the best team to serve Singapore well.'

[The fact the these changes are being proposed now, means opposition parties can prepare and plan their strategies. However the fact that the electoral boundaries, GRCs & SMCs are not, means that the opposition is still disadvantaged.

Nevertheless the proposals are all good for the opposition. Not their best hopes (abolish the GRC) but better (smaller GRCs) than the current (5 & 6 member GRCs), and better (12 SMCs instead of just 9).

I can imagine the the opposition may push for smaller GRCs (2 or 3-member), but the counter argument would be that they now have 3 more SMCs.

The PAP is very astute and know that the GRC system is disaffecting a lot of Singaporeans. But at the same time it is how they are able to bring new MPs and potential ministers into the system. These changes are significant enough to show singaporeans that the PAP is willing to loosen their grip and give the opposition a chance. The young electorate wants this and may feel that this is significant enough, or they may feel it is not enough. The PAP is betting that more of them thinks it's enough and will see the coming elections as fairer to the opposition.

The PAP knows that if they continue to hold on tightly to their power by seemingly unfair means, they will alienate and lose the electorate. Certainly, they feel that with 18 non-PAP MPs there will be a better debates, better ideas. Certainly, I tend to find the NMPs making better arguments than the opposition most of the time. The NMP system is a good one and should be continued. ]

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