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Single-party govt made up of elites and scholars not good for S’pore

Alicia Wong

I am political but I am not partisan. What this means is that I distinguish between party and government. A party, even if they have been the single party in the government for a long time, does not make a government.

A government speaks for its people, and therefore needs to consist of many diverse voices that can speak for different sectors, tend to different needs and raise awareness about different causes.

The fielding of Tin Pei Ling as a candidate is insulting to me, the voter. I do not vote for people I like. I vote for the person who has a voice, who has something to say in Parliament. Because that person is my representative in government. My vote, my one single vote that I submit once every five years, is for someone who can speak for me. I am not voting into Parliament someone who will just say ‘yes’ to every proposal and who will then take home a million dollars, which will come from the taxes I pay.

Singapore has come a long way from a small fishing village to a modern state. Nearly 50 years ago, as a small nation-state struggling for survival, a single party in the government met the needs of the population. Today, Singapore has five million people, with a population that is diverse, with people hailing from different nations and cultures. Even more, we need a government that is diverse.

If I vote for the opposition and not the PAP, it is not because the PAP is a bad party. It is that we need more good parties.

Why is one not enough? Because we need to progress and grow, not just as an economy, but also as a society and as a nation. We cannot have 1.3 billion people to choose talents from, but the government of Singapore in the 21st century similarly cannot be limited to the same talent pool made up of the elites and the scholars.

Change is always scary, but what is scarier is the thought that we want to keep sticking to ways which is serving us less and less efficiently.

I do not understand the fear mongering, the constant threat that if some opposition parties make it to Parliament, it would be the end.Take the analogy about the co-driver, for example. Why is having more diverse members in Parliament so threatening that it would derail Singapore’s future and progress? It is easy to talk about checks and balances when you are only one party. It is not easier, but definitely more accountable, when you have more diversity and more voices.

We are reminded about the track record of a single party in the government. Yes, we have always had carrots and sticks, but carrots and sticks come with a law, the Law of Diminishing Returns. The truth is there is only so much upgrading an estate can take without becoming a construction site. The truth is, a better quality of life is not just about the lift that stops at every floor. In my community, in this country, of which I am a proud citizen, I want to know that the elderly is taken care of. I want to see that animals are given a standard of welfare and rights. I want to know that everyone can afford their own flats without spending 30 years of their lives paying for it. I want people to be able to enjoy their lives.

Yes, it is true that rising costs and inflation is happening around the world. Yes, the single party government has been trying hard to deal with it. Well, then they need more help, from more good people. From countries like the USA to Australia to our neighbours in Malaysia and Thailand, working adults my age can all afford to buy their own homes. Nowhere else is the cost of public housing pegged to market rates. Just five years ago, a 3-room flat in Holland Close cost $300,000. Today, that same flat cost $420,000. That is a whopping 40% increase, for public housing. In that period, how much was inflation? Three to four percent? And what would be the average increase in salary in the same period? Or wait, was there even an increase?

Another feature of the track record is the claim that they provide the best candidates and they have an A-team with enough reserves. A recent reserve that was fielded is Dr Chia. We know nothing about him and his grassroots or people work. The only piece of information that has accompanied every news report about him is, he is an ex-President’s Scholar and he had straight As. I suppose, for a single party, that is good enough. But I am not the party, I am a Singaporean, so that is not good enough for me. Because that scholar does not speak for me anymore than he does for the average Singaporean who makes up at least 80% of our population. I want more good people with different backgrounds to come up with solutions that are able to serve the different sectors of society.

Minister Ng Eng Hen was right when he said, “Voters care more about whether a candidate can improve their lives and be trusted to be in government, than about how intelligent he is.” Yet, the very basis of PAP candidates for Parliament is their academic results and awards. They are all scholars who are paid well, because, as we have been told, it is to prevent them from leaving for the private sector. I seriously have a problem with having ministers who are in Parliament because of the financial rewards. I look at the other parties and they are made up of people from all walks of life, from executives to lawyers, ex-scholars and business persons. They represent Singapore. They are missing a track record because the same thing happens every election. They have never been given a chance to serve the people and to speak in Parliament. One question: is Hougang any worse than the other GRCs?

If things seem more complicated now, it is because they are. A single party government may have been a strength in the past, but in the world today, it is limited and narrow. Gaps and misses are becoming more frequent and apparent. Let me look at some of these complications that have risen.

Housing

The housing issue, for example, is very complicated. The system which has been developed and in which we are trapped in has become complicated. A house is not just a house. Housing in Singapore is tied in to our CPF, our retirement and inflation. In addition to that, it is also linked to profits and to marital status. The current situation is untenable because HDB flats will soon be out of reach of the lower-middle class. It just does not make sense that the cost of public housing that is supposed to be affordable and within the reach of every Singaporean cannot be revealed. I am simply not convinced that the same people who developed and knotted the system is able to see us through the necessary untangling.

New Immigrants and Foreign Labour

With the influx of the new immigrants and PRs, and the injection of foreign workers, there are serious issues that are social and not merely economic. This would include issues like culture and integration. Then there are the related ethical issues, which is not economics, but is pertinent to Singapore as a society. Examples of these would be the ethics of employment of foreign labour, the state of care and welfare for foreigners etc. The singular decision made to bring in a large amount of foreigners is purely utilitarian, but was the common good of Singapore society even an afterthought? Has Singapore as a society made up of individuals and people been neglected?

Transport

Distance-based fares work for countries with a large land area and infrequent public transport system. In a small country with frequent and regular public transport, distance-based fares take advantage of the human desire for convenience. It does not make sense to penalise people who have a direct form of public transport to their destination. It does not make sense for the students who are rushing for class on crowded public transport to change buses or trains just to save a few cents. Who knows when the next bus will come along? It does not make sense for the elderly for whom it is inconvenient to dis-embark, wait and try to get onto another bus. One wonders if another scholar who has not experienced our public transport during peak hours wrote up the proposal which was then accepted by another group of scholars in power.

Personally, I am not concerned about the sexy dramatic issues, like Mas Selamat or the floods. I am concerned about the ability of a single party government to discern everyday issues that Singaporeans face, from housing to transport to employment and integration. Year after year, election after election, scholar after scholar: no one has spoken for the people. The issues are not dealt with until election time. If the single-party government is doing such a good job, then why worry? Why plan so carefully for when the carrots should be distributed? Why wait for election fever before cooling measures for housing are applied? Why - if the government is to serve the people and not just to stay in power?

The writer is from the AMK GRC in which a single party will dominate again, so she really cannot understand why a single party would fear more diversity in the government.

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Picture from msn.