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The Case for Fixed Election Dates and the Fallacy of “Asian Values”

The following article is sent to us by a TOC reader.

By Davin Ng

Source: The Australian

Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo announced in Bangkok earlier this month that "the next general election is not due till February 2011", but "it could be in the second quarter of the year". It can be further deduced that the general elections will not happen till after March either, as the Budget debate is scheduled on that month. Neither will the elections happen on the third quarter as the time period has to be made available for the presidential elections.

So, I must put forth this question: Why the secrecy, shiftiness and all these hints? Why can't we set a concrete, fixed election date? Would it not make sense to get rid of this shiftiness and make it fairer for all by settling on one fixed date?

I will not bore you, dear reader, with the dreary legal details and jargon, but this policy of unfixed election dates was bequeathed to us by the British and traditionally, this has remained that way for the British to this day for no other rational stated purpose but to maximize the advantage of the governing party.

But ever since the new coalition government of the Tories and Liberal Democrats took office after their general elections on 2010, they have since introduced a bill to establish a fixed parliamentary term. If the bill becomes law, the next general election in the United Kingdom will be 7 May 2015, as the previous election date was 6 May 2010.

Singapore and the UK are not the only nations to have unfixed election dates. They include nations that have inherited Westminster-styled parliaments like Australia, India, Ireland and New Zealand, and other nations like Iceland, Denmark, South Africa and Turkey. Our neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia, have unfixed election dates as well, but Malaysia has a quirk in keeping the month fixed to March. Their last two elections, 21 March 2004 and 8 March 2008, with the next one planned for March 2012 bucks the trend, if not just slightly.

There was a discussion on fixed election dates on PAP's Facebook page, participated by yours truly and the defence of the pro-establishment bloc are legion.

Thomas Yeo: Why should the election date be known and let the opposition have a chance to prepare? No political party will be so quick in deciding when is the election.

Wayne Poh: Theres no comparison between the west and asia. Every house has their own rules. Asian values. Befittingly subordinates never belittle their superiors.

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临时抱佛腿。[To hug Buddha's leg at the last moment praying for mercy: an adage on procrastination] Hope i got the characters right. Perhaps they have the same saying in Canada.

Men aren’t born equal. We all wish for fairness but sometimes the end justifies the means. In all supposed fairness, have you wondered why you are paid more than your cleaner and why your boss got more? Was it ever proportional? The last place where I believe they tried to make it fair for everyone is in North Korea. Fairness then becomes a matter of perspective.

Alfred Liew: Why opposition party members only come out during election time? Why not come out to support some community events such as fund rising for charities, etc.? Greet the people during festive holidays. Groundworks. Hard works can win people's hearts. Election date is irrelevant if you are really working hard to serve the people.

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A child keep asking her mother she want this, she want that. Telling her that her friend has this or that. Saying other kids from overseas are doing this or doing that.

Mummy listen but mummy never give in to all her demands. Mummy loves her child. She know what's best for her child and working within her means.

Pity the stupid child never understand what her mother is doing.

Lynette Enoch: Why so excited, when elections come just vote for the right party lah!

These statements were in response to my proposal and elaboration of the benefits and advantages of fixed election dates:

Canada, in recent years pushed out a fixed election bill and passed it. Below are the advantages paraphrased from a Canadian politician's webpage:

Current System: Currently, it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister, having the confidence of the House of Commons, to select what he or she regards as an opportune time for an election to renew the government’s mandate and to advise the Governor General to dissolve the House in time for that election.

The New System Proposed in the Bill: Under the proposed system, general elections will be held on a fixed day. Specifically, the bill provides that general elections must be held on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election.

Key Advantages Of Fixed Election Dates:

Fairness: It is unfair that the governing party should be permitted to time an election to exploit conditions favourable to its re-election. Fixed election dates will level the playing field and provide greater fairness for all parties.

Transparency and Predictability: Fixed election dates will provide transparency as to when general elections will be held. Rather than decisions about election dates being made behind closed doors, general election dates will be public knowledge. Election dates will now be predictable.

Improved Governance: Fixed election dates will allow for better policy planning. For example, members of parliamentary committees will be able to set out their agendas well in advance, which will make the work of committees, and Parliament as a whole, more efficient.

I challenge anyone, really; anyone to step forward and tell me that it's only the domain of the West to want to pursue such things like fairnesstransparency and predictability, and improved governance. These are not high-minded, high-handed ideals that the common man does not have to care about. It is in the interest and everyone's advantage to benefit from such ideals. It is not as if I'm telling everyone to contemplate Søren Kierkegaard's idea of Absurdism and his notion of the "leap of faith". That belongs to the realm of theology and philosophy and not electoral policy which affects every citizen of this democratic society.

Trying to oppose these ideals based on the oft-cited and ill-defined ideology, "Asian values" is dubious at best. The ideology of trying to promote harmony with one's community, mutual (and bilateral) consensus and focus on the family are high-minded, valuable and admirable ideals. Abuse of these ideals in the name of tyranny and hegemony however, is hardly admirable.

The case for "Asian values" is made consistently when Burma (I refuse to recognize it as "Myanmar") and China oppress their people when they decide to take part in civil society, when censorship and detainment of people without trial in the name of "harmony" is done... there are a myriad examples and I shall not bore you, the reader with any further examples. What is most galling is when pro-establishment individuals tell us that we are having it good when it comes to authoritarian personalities who put dissident behind bars indefinitely.

George Wong: You got to compare with the other leaders to find out if Singaporean really got a raw deal. Also If Chia Thye Poh, Tan Wah Piow, Francis Seow or for that matter CSJ would get better treatment under those consider favourite leader in their respective country.

Singapore Lee Kuan Yew
Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad
Indonesia Suharto? Abdul Wahid is nice though.
Philippines C Aquino? can't be Marcos
Korea Park Chung Hee
Taiwan Chiang Ching Kuo? Senior Chiang... haha!
Japan Yasuhiro Nakasone
China Don't need to mention.

Comforting ourselves that there're other people worse than us and resting our laurels because we refuse to admit that we can't be better than that? How admirable.

Just because we get punched in the face while being mugged does not mean that we should be happy about being mugged. While it's reasonable to be thankful that we did not get stabbed, shot or raped in the process, mugging is still ethically and morally wrong, whether in the East or West, and we should make every effort to stomp it out.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper

However, as honorable and beneficial as fixed election dates may be, a law is law as long as people abide by the law and is adequately enforced. Unfortunately, the fixed election law was broken by the very man, Prime Minister Stephen Harper who enacted it - the Canadian courts say that fixed election date legislation is so vague, the Prime Minister could drive a campaign bus through the loopholes. Around a year after the bill was passed, the Harper government called for an election which it went on to win. Breaking this very new law was justified by the Prime Minister himself, who argued that the Conservatives (Harper's party) needed "a fresh mandate to deal with a deepening recession".

Even though a Canadian federal watchdog group, Democracy Watch started legal action against the Harper government, the courts had to throw out the appeal as the loopholes were too great to adequately enforce the fixed election law. A veteran political scientist, Peter Russel (not the Indian-Canadian comedian) observed that:

Conceding to the prime minister an untrammelled power to order up an election whenever he pleases is bound to contribute to public cynicism and withdrawal from the democratic process.

Legislation has its pitfalls: it may introduce fresh new reforms that are indeed beneficial as long as the rule of law is enforced. This is a valuable lesson that we Singaporeans should have learnt in the first place, but alas, not many of us know of it.

Davin is a student in his mid-20s living with Asperger's Syndrome who now studies at the Center for American Education.. He aims to major in political science when he transfers to the States.

Links

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/1106172/1/.html

http://www.facebook.com/pap.sg/posts/185903158098721

http://www.robnicholsonmp.ca/3757/45680/

http://www.facebook.com/pap.sg/posts/123947947675895

>> So, do you agree with Davin's views?