~ By Shiwen Yap ~
In Part 1 of this series published yesterday, I argued on the deficit of the GRC System and how the model weakens the voting power of constituents, weakens the relationship between the voter and their MP, entrenches and encourages and emphasises communalism in the form of ethnic allegiance.
In Part 2, I contended that the GRC system unnecessarily exposes PAP to criticisms of gerrymendering.
In this concluding part, I discuss why the GRC system only offers more costs than benefits for the ruling party.
Law of Large Numbers
The Law of Large Numbers works both in favour and against the incumbent. Due to the large number of people, theoretically it reflects the mandate that the party enjoys via the popular vote (Da Cunha,1997).
In GE 2006, the PAP maintained an average of 67.04% of the votes in any contested GRC, while the average figure was 61.67% for an SMC ward. The national average for GE 2006 was 66.6%. The percentage difference in the PAP votes between SMCs and GRCs grew from 3% in GE 1991, and remained stable at ~5% in the 1997, 2001 and 2006 General Elections. This may be attributed to the enlargement of the size of GRCs in 1997, which multiplied the effect of the law of large numbers.
However in GE 2011, the mood in Aljunied GRC resulted in the removal of the PAP incumbents and the loss of several PAP stalwarts. As such, an entire team of experienced political executives can be lost in a single election should the popular mood be against the PAP (Asiaone,2011).
Similarly, the practice of renewal via nestling a selected candidate with a veteran or veteran team can be a destabilising factor working against the incumbent, especially in the case of the Marince Parade GRC. Tin Pei Ling was a highly unpopular figure and would arguably have lost had she stood as a candidate in an SMC ward. However, she was emplaced with the team of then-Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. The result of such an action reduced the PAP vote share to 56.65%, compared to prior vote shares of 72.9% in 1992, expressing disapproval with such a candidate and clear evidence of a liability to the PAP (Ouyang,2011).
Political Costs to the PAP
The costs of the GRC system have come to light in the most recent General Election. GE 2011 resulted in the loss of a veteran minister and PAP stalwart, George Yeo Yong Boon, who had previously served as Foreign Minister (2006-2011) and had previously served as a Minister for Information and Arts (1991-1999), Minister for Health (1995-1997) and the Minister for Trade and Industry (1999-2006). He also served as the Chairman of the Young PAP from 1991-2000 (PAP,2011).
The Loss of High Value Teams and Individuals
George Yeo was previously responsible for pushing Internet infrastructure efforts in the 1990s, laying the groundwork for the information sector to develop, as well the development of the Life Sciences sector via Biopolis. He also oversaw the negotiation and finalisation of Free Trade Agreements with the USA, Japan, India and Australia, amongst other countries. Furthermore, he proposed the creation of the Integrated Resorts of Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa, both of which boosted the tourist sector and generated tremendous economic returns for Singapore.
He along with the entirety of his team, consisting of Lim Hwee Hua, Zainal Abidin, Cynthia Phua and Ong Ye Kung contested against the Worker's Party in Aljunied GRC at the GE 2011 and lost. This resulted in the loss of an entire team of high-value MPs who are both credible and experienced, as well as possessing a level of personal branding within and outside the party and the nation. (Straits Times,2011). The loss of a High-Value Team with experienced personnel is then a cost that results from an electoral loss in a GRC ward, which is something that should be avoided.
The inclusion of an unpopular individual within a GRC team poses a challenge winning an award and presents a liability, as a person may evoke enough aversion from the electorate to compromise the mandate of the entire team and risk electoral victory.
The case of Tin Pei Ling during the GE 2011 is presented here. The Chairperson of the Ulu Pandan Youth Executive Committtee for the Young PAP and a member of the Community Development Welfare Fund Committee. She was fielded in Marine Parade GRC alongside the politically established stalward Goh Chok Tong (Russell,2011).
However, she also attracted a great amount of negative attention, warranted or otherwise, as well as criticisms ranging from her perceived immaturity to allegations of gaining her position due to political connections with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as her husband, Ng How Yue, is the PM's Principal Private Secretary.
She was ultimately credited as being a significant factor in large reduction of the vote for the PAP in Marine Parade GRC, due to the negative publicity attached to her (Ouyang,2011). This was strong enough to affect what was generally perceived as a PAP stronghold, combined with a powerful opposition team anchored by Nicole Seah, a highly popular candidate. Even with the presence of a political heavyweight, the percentage of popular votes dropped from 72.9% to 56.7% of the popular vote (Ouyang,2011).
She was also perceived as lacking both substance and meaning in her appointment as a politician by observers and commentators, especially in comparison to the figure on the other end of the political spectrum she was compared to, Nicole Seah of the National Solidarity Party (Russell,2011).
The case of Tin Pei Ling in Marine Parade GRC illustrates how such an individual can become a liability, even with the presence of a political heavyweight in the form of Senior Minister Emeritus Goh Chok Tong. This is inimical to the organisational interests of the PAP as it works against the PAP.
Loss of Talents
George Yeo was an asset to the PAP. He was the Foreign Minister and also a political figure who served as a non-partisan figure, able to garner praise and respect from political opponents (Chan,2011), as well as overseeing the establishment of excellent relations with Malaysia after may dips and rises throughout their history, with the strength of relationship referred to with the term “not just a relationship, but one based on the common view of how both countries should seize the future together”.
In his role as the foreign minister, he was described by Chan Jia Hui (2011), as possessing ”…the necessary contacts all over the world, which constitute our diplomatic channels. Diplomatic channels are important in facilitating trade links, transfer of knowledge and technology, conflict mediation and establishing bilateral or multi-lateral ties. All of which will be to our benefit. His portfolio may not directly impact Singaporeans as compared with his manpower or trade and industry ministry colleagues, but nonetheless are every bit as important”.
By comparison, the new entrant, Tin Pei Ling, garnered immense negative publicity and with her lack of media management acumen and perceived political convictions, handicapped herself and her team. This was combined with the presence of Nicole Seah of the NSP, were significant factors in weakening the mandate within Marine Parade GRC. She had comparatively little experience compared to George Yeo and possessed far less credibility and credentials. She also made several missteps that betrayed a lack of experience with policy formulation and public presentation. A politician requires both public speaking skills and the ability to present and discuss policies cogently (Chan,2011). Tin Pei Ling seemingly lacked both.
The end-result of this election for the PAP was to lose a highly credible and respected Minister and MP, of a calibre that requires development as well as possessing personal branding in representing the interests of Singapore overseas.
The costs of continuing such a model work against both PAP interests and national interests and as such should be discontinued. It undermines the ethical conduct that is associated and expected with the PAP branding, undermining popular mandate and granting credence and validity to the numerous criticisms levelled against the PAP. This ultimately affects the public perception of the PAP, which affects the political credibility of the party.
A review of the political environment also provides compelling evidence that continued hegemonic rule provides a disservice to Singapore (Ortmann,2006) and to the PAP itself, with established rifts (Ong,2011; RazorTV,2011) both within the party and between the electorate, as indicated by the Presidential Election of 2011 and the cyberspace community.
The political benefit for the PAP by maintaining the current system is that they are then able to recruit candidates by ensuring they have a higher chance of success in the election, via being anchored by the presence of an established political heavyweight (Singh,2006; Li,2006), as the candidate may then feel that they do not wish to compromise their professional interests. Critics will argue that this may display a lack of commitment towards the political institutions and the citizenry.
The other argument made is that of administration, with GRCs able to provide economies of scale in the management of their ward, due to the increase in area and the resulting cost advantages attained thereof, such as the fall in cost for services and facilities provided, due to reductions in unit cost and increases in usage. However the use of a GRC for such a role is questionable, as Goh Chok Tong has been noted by then-NCMP Sylvia Lim as stating in 1988 that a collection of SMCs grouping together could offer the same outcome in enjoying the economies of scale (Lim,2008).
The other argument offered is the benefit of minority representation but that has been shown to be fundamentally unsound and lacking as a basis for maintaining the GRC model, from the historical cases of both JB Jeyaratnam and David Saul Marshall, as well as the decreased representation of minorities within the Parliament.
The continued adoption of the GRC model has exposed the PAP to several criticisms and allegations. A critical evaluation of the GRC model, along with historical precedents that undermine the premise of minority representation and the loss of talented and/or experienced political personnel have been presented as cases against its continued adoption and as a model with multiple structural deficits.
There is more benefit for the PAP to gain by returning to the SMC model of the past than by continuing a model which only offers more costs than benefits. Furthermore the basic premise is no longer sound, having been undermined at least three times by precedent and most recently in GE 2011, with the election of Michael Palmer of the PAP as MP.
Returning to the SMC model would allow the PAP to retain talented and experienced personnel with solid personal branding and credentials, while removing unpopular individuals who present a liability to the party. It would strengthen the PAPs political branding vis-a-vis more ethical conduct and image of virtue as well as provide a more accurate perspective of the strength of popular mandate by restoring the power of the voters to their optimal levels as under an SMC. It would remove the possibility of individuals unable to achieve on their own merit from attaining rank within the party infrastructure and strength the PAP as a whole.
It would go a way towards re-establishing the relationship between the PAP and the population. To quote from Lord Mandelson's public lecture at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (2011): “The trick for any party long in power is to recognise that with power comes great responsibility. It must find ways to give away more power to the people, rather than take more power into itself.”
Restoring the SMC system would grant more power to the people and remove a level of the PAP's political power. But bearing in mind the political longevity of the party and the deficits already noted in the GRC system and its fundamentally unsound basis, the PAP should pursue such a policy as it is convergent with the PAP's organisational interest and the national interest.
Political forces are driven by the intangibles of human emotion, sentiment, passion, ambition and ideals. It is these forces the PAP must learn to engage people with, to engender actual change and ensure the continuity of mandate they have enjoyed for several decades.
The full list of references is available for inspection here
Headline illustration courtesy of Sei-ji Rakugaki