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Competition of ideas is needed for a workable democracy

The following article was first published by Ravi Philemon on his blog. http://www.raviphilemon.net/

Ravi has given us permission to publish the article in full.

I sent this letter to The Straits Times forum, rebutting Mr Theodore Yeo's letter titled, 'What matters is a democracy that works', but it was not published.  The Straits Times seems so blatantly biased when it chose to publish 5 rebuttals (including Mr Yeo's piece) to Gerald Giam's letter :"What makes a democracy".

Mr Theodore Yeo was wrong in comparing the democratic model of the United States of America with that of Singapore in his letter titled “what matters is a democracy that works” (ST forum dated 25 Sep 2010). You cannot compare apples with oranges.

Although both Singapore and the United States of America are representative democracies, the American democracy is different as the President of the United States of America is elected from a electoral college (not by the people) and the power of the President (the executive) does not come from the Congress (the legislature).

In the political system of Singapore the legislature (parliament) selects the government (the executive power) - a prime minister, along with the cabinet ministers - according to party strength as expressed in elections. In this system, the executive acquires a dual responsibility: to the people as well as to the legislature.

The difference in the executive branch creates the key difference between the two systems. In the American system, if the executive and the legislature branches are controlled by members of different parties, the end result is usually partisan politics, with each side blaming the other for the the coutry's problems and lack of action.

This is unlikely to happen in the parliamentary system like that of Singapore, as the executive and the legislative branches have to be from the same party, hence creating more accountability.

It is precisely because the elected officials in a parliamentary democracy forms both the legislature and the executive powers, that vigourous competition of ideas by various parties, becomes absolutely essential. For by voting for competing ideas, the electorate express the kind of future they want for their country.

And no political party can compete for the vote of the people without putting forth their ideas for a better Singapore. One cannot fault any political party that they have not put forth any alternative viewpoints, when it is they who has failed to look up what the party actually stands for.

For this to happen, we need a civil service which is not only strong and efficient, but is also non-partisan.

According to the Department of Statistics’ Report on the Household Expenditure Survey 2007/08 released in December 2009, the Average Monthly Household Income of the poorest 20% decreased from $1309 to $1274 while the next two quintiles increased by merely 1.7 and 1.3% (after adjusting for inflation) from 1997/98 to 2007/08.

To make things worse for the poorest 20%, their Expenditure at $1,760 in 2008, was 38% more than their Income of $1,274.

Perhaps with a competition of ideas, Singaporeans could have voted for a party which stands on the platform of a better equality of incomes and that of arresting the income divide.