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Multi-party democracy needed in Singapore

by Ng E-Jay/

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

At the Kent Ridge Ministerial Forum organized by the NUS Student’s Political Association, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that a two-party system would weaken Singapore as there is not enough talent to form two equally good teams.

He also advised against relying on the opposition as an insurance against the PAP faltering. He argued that it would be better for capable people to join the ruling party and help it make better decisions, rather than joining the opposition and waiting for the PAP to fail.

PM Lee’s reasoning is faulty. Firstly, the talent that the PAP is able to attract into its own ranks is most certainly not all the available talent out there. The fact that the opposition has managed to attract many credible candidates to contest in the upcoming general election is testimony to this.

In fact, by the PAP’s own admission, they often find it difficult to recruit good quality candidates because the potential candidates were not willing to step forward.

There are a few plausible reasons why some potential candidates may not want to join the PAP. Perhaps they disagree with PAP’s policies or its system of governance. Or perhaps they are not interested in politics to begin with, due to the fact that the PAP has made the political landscape sterile. Either way, the fault lies with the PAP itself.

Secondly, the role of the opposition is not merely to serve as an insurance policy against poor governance. The opposition’s role should to question bad policies, challenge the status quo, and devise workable alternatives.

No political party, certainly not the PAP, can be trusted to check on itself. That is why it is not sufficient that good people join the PAP and help it come up with better policies. It is also critical that good people join the opposition so that the groupthink of the PAP can be challenged, and our political leaders constantly have their feet put to the fire.

Dr Lily Neo

There is always a limit to the extent which individual ministers or MPs can change the PAP from within, even if they sincerely disagree with some of PAP’s policies. For example, MPs like Dr Lily Neo can speak up all they want on behalf of the poor and underprivileged, but government policies toward this group will never change as long as absolute power resides in the cabinet.

If the PAP continues to dominate Parliament, there will be little political incentive for it to change its policies for the better, or to strive for more wholesome growth for Singapore, as opposed to “growth at all cost”.  It is only when there is a strong and credible opposition in Parliament that the PAP will be motivated to act in the best interests of voters.

It is not wise to wait for the PAP to fail in a major way before voting in the opposition. When that day arrives, it would be too late, because if the PAP turns bad whilst still having full control of all the levers of power, there is no telling the extent of damage it can do.

In fact, it can be reasonably argued that the PAP has already failed. The PAP has embarked on policies that are unsustainable in the long run. Our immigration and labour policies have put strain on our social fabric, depressed our incomes, and lowered our level of productivity. Our economic growth has come primarily from population expansion rather than growth in productivity and innovation. This clearly is unsustainable. Unless we reign in the excesses of our immigration and labour policies, Singapore will be heading toward the edge of a sharp cliff.

In its zeal at shoring up our population size and attracting foreign capital, the PAP has also allowed a bubble to form in the property market, which has hurt first time home owners who now face 30 year mortgages and great financial burden.

There is an urgent need for a strong opposition to emerge and establish itself in Parliament so that the policies of the PAP can be adequately questioned and challenged. A strong opposition staffed with people from all walks of life and with diverse talents is also needed if the opposition is to devise credible and workable alternatives to existing policies.

In the coming general election, voters will be faced with an important choice – whether they want to accept the status quo as adequate and believe that change can come to the PAP solely from within, or whether they feel the status quo is no longer adequate and believe that change must come from outside the PAP. I urge voters to put aside petty issues like budget handouts and lift upgrading, and instead focus on the future of Singapore and their own livelihoods.