Truth or Dare? Run the Gauntlet, Torch the Ashes, Raise the Phoenix

By Jeannette Chong

Singapore’s foremost political leader once famously stated [1]:

“What political party helps an opposition to come to power? Why should we not demolish them before they get started? Once they get started, it’s more difficult to demolish them.  If you are polite to me, I’m polite to you but I’ll demolish your policy. It is the job of every government to do that if you want to stay in power.”

The elder statesman has candidly explained that a ruling party which is in power would want to stay in power. One way to stay in power is to demolish opposition before they get started.  For once they get started it is more difficult to demolish them.

Singapore’s ruling party has stayed in power for over 50 years. So firm has the PAP’s grip been that since the first post-independence general elections were held up to the 2011 general elections, there were never more than 4 elected Members of Parliament from the opposition.  Currently, there are just 7 out of 87.

With respect, I do not agree that it is laudable for a ruling party to seek the demolition of opposition parties.  When a political party wins the mandate to form the government, it takes on the responsibility of serving the nation. The ruling party must serve the nation in priority to its own interests.

Is it in the interest of Singapore to have weak opposition political parties and feeble civil society organisations?  I do not think so.  Allowing circulation of differing ideas and opinions will build a more robust nation, one which would have the full complement of solutions for its problems.

Systems to guarantee plurality in politics are entrenched in many democratic nations.  For instance, in Germany, Sweden, Canada, Australia and other democracies, political parties are entitled to receive subsidies or cash grants from the government for their political activities. [2] Such government grants help to ensure the survival of political parties, their ability to play their part in the political process and the continuance of healthy competition for political office.

Laws and regulation are necessary but must not curb healthy political competition. Sad to say, we have many laws which have the adverse effect of stifling the activities and growth of opposition political parties and non-partisan civil society groups.  One of which is the Political Donations Act (Act) [3].

According to the Elections Department [4], the Act seeks to prevent foreigners from interfering in Singapore’s domestic politics through funding of candidates and political associations.

The Act imposes an onerous compliance regime on both the political association and its donors.

A political association is defined to include not just political parties, but also non-partisan groups like The Online Citizen (a socio-political website) and MARUAH (a non-governmental organisation).

An organisation which is deemed to be a political association can only receive donations from Permissible Donors.

A “Permissible Donor” is defined as a Singapore citizen not less than 21 years of age; or a Singapore-incorporated, Singapore-controlled company, the majority of whose directors and members are Singapore citizens and which carries on business wholly or mainly in Singapore.

Onus is on the political association to verify that the donor is a Permissible Donor before accepting the donation.

Hence, in order to comply with the Act, the political association has to request the donor for his NRIC and to give his personal details. In the case of a corporate donor, the political association would need to inquire or do checks on the company’s business, directors and shareholders. All these inquiries are an intrusion on the donor’s privacy and discourage the donor from making the donation.

Political associations can only accept less than $5,000 in anonymous donations per financial year. Any anonymous donation which will bring the total of anonymous donations beyond $5,000 in that financial year, will have to be returned or surrendered to the Registrar of Political Donations (Registrar).

If the political association receives a single donation of an amount not less than $10,000, or multiple donations from the same donor the aggregate of which is not less than $10,000 in a financial year, it must submit a Donation Report to the Registrar giving the name, identity number and the address of the donor and the date, value and description of the donation.

In addition, a donor who has made multiple small donations with an aggregate value of $10,000 or more to the same political association in a calendar year, is himself also required to submit a Donation Report and a Declaration Form to the Registrar. Failure to do so is an offence under the Act.

I am not clear how the requirement to report donations of $10,000 or more serves the stated aim of prohibiting foreign donations. It is clear though, that such a requirement makes donors wary of making other than small donations.

The Act is yet another hurdle for opposition parties, by making it difficult for them to raise funds for its activities.

It is a ‘Hard Truth’ that money is necessary for democratic politics. Political parties need funds for their activities. Lack of funds inhibits the activity and growth of the political party.

It is evident that the opposition cause has many supporters and well-wishers, and the numbers are growing.

If only some of the many supporters would be convinced to brave the gauntlet of making political donations, I believe that it would spark such a huge game-change, that the phoenix will rise from its ashes.

Then the promise we saw in the watershed general elections of 2011 will be allowed its fulfilment in 2016.

 pheonix

The phoenix is a bird which rises from its own ashes to fly again stronger and fuller of life than before.

 

References:

[1] “HARD TRUTHS TO KEEP SINGAPORE GOING” (2011) by Lee Kuan Yew, at page 82

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Party_subsidies ;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_party_funding

[3] Cap. 236, enacted on 15 February 2001

[4] http://www.eld.gov.sg/registry.html

[spacer style=”1″ icon=”none”]About the Author

The author is the Secretary-General of the National Solidarity Party (NSP).  This article is written in her personal capacity.

The author appeals to readers to consider making a donation to NSP. Click on this link to find out how to donate to NSP: http://nsp.sg/donate/

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