By Eden Chua
Recently, I attended the parliamentary sitting on 3 November. During the course of my attendance in Parliament, I was told that with the PAP holding 80 out of the 87 seats in Parliament, it was a tremendous plus point for Singapore as bills could be passed quickly, thus benefiting Singaporeans in the shortest time possible.
While that is true to a certain extent, it is unnerving that a one party system should be advocated so blatantly. Even though such a system has its winning points, such as the ease of passing laws, the downsides are pressing enough to not be ignored.
For example, members of opposition parties could air their alternative views but as long as the party whip is not lifted, their words scarcely hold any weight in the face of the overwhelming majority of PAP MPs in Parliament when it comes to voting for bills to be passed. If we blatantly sacrifice the people’s voices for the sake of convenience in passing laws, we risk becoming more of an autocratic rather than a democratic country.
With all due respect to the Singapore government, we should keep in mind that laws are passed very easily and very quickly in North Korea as the North Korean government is essentially controlled by only certain members of the Kim family. While the example of North Korea is an extreme example of dictatorship and Singapore is by no means near North Korea’s standard of governance, it can be seen that even though the ease of passing laws is a boon to Singapore, it should by no means be the main argument, or the only argument, in favour of the one party system we are currently under. Otherwise, we risk being extremely similar to North Korea’s dictatorship regime.
Some might argue that the “alternative voices” of Singapore (as mentioned above) are already protected by the Presidential Council of Minority Rights, which ensures that laws passed are not disadvantageous to any minority racial or religious group. However, I beg to differ. “Alternative voices”, while including the concerns of minority racial and religious groups, is not simply a matter of racial or religious minority. “Alternative voices” can also refer to those who, even though they are from religious or racial majorities, disagree with the government on certain issues such as the CPF or LGBT rights.
These “alternative voices” are particularly vulnerable as with views differing from the PAP’s, they have little to no people to speak up for them in Parliament. Even if opposition MPs do speak on behalf of these people, in the face of the overwhelming majority of PAP MPs in parliament, can we be sure that their voices and woes do not go unheard?
At this point, some may further rehash the argument that the one party system is crucial to Singapore’s success as it ensures that there are little conflicts within parliament and laws are thus passed quickly, thus benefiting Singaporeans. However, is this really so?
Let us now examine Sweden’s system of government. All elections employ the principle of proportional representation, with only the requirement that a party must receive at least four percent of all votes in the election to gain representation in the Swedish Parliament, a rule designed to prevent very small parties from getting in.
The Swedish system proves wrong the idea that proportional representation is an extremely ineffective way to govern a country. Sweden has the world’s eighth highest per capita income in the world and ranks highly in numerous comparisons of national performance, including quality of life, health, education, protection of civil liberties, economic competitiveness, equality, prosperity and human development.
Even though Singapore has the third highest per capita income in the world, we also have one of the world’s highest income inequalities, signifying that even though a certain sector of society is doing well, various other sections of society are not enjoying that same privilege. In contrast with Sweden, we are placed highly in international rankings that relate to education, healthcare and economic competitiveness only.
From above, it can be seen that Sweden is well-rounded when it comes to their economic success and care for their citizens, while Singapore is lagging behind in this aspect. The system of proportional representation, which takes into account the cares and concerns of various groups of citizens with differing views, has been a success in Sweden, perhaps more so than our one-party system.
In conclusion, to continue progressing as a country, “based on justice and equality”, we need to listen and act on the views of Singaporeans as a whole, and not just the majority. After all, those who belong to the minority are Singaporeans too.