People can be a forgetful lot. In the ebb and flow of life, news that makes a big impact can quickly fade and be pushed aside for the next big thing. This fate seems to have befallen the raft of changes to our political system that has only recently been announced. Yes, the changes certainly created some level of bewilderment and debate but despite its potential for long-term alterations to the political landscape of the nation, discussion has more or less slowed. Singaporeans are perhaps an accepting lot. Or maybe, the business of life is far too time consuming to focus on the seeming luxury of holding a government that for all intents and purposes brought Singapore to first world status to account over amendments that have no apparent immediate impact on our daily lives.
I was speaking to a keen participant in politics recently. While he shall remain unnamed, what he said to me struck me. Over dinner, the topic of the increased numbers of Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) invariably came up. He was of the opinion that the new tweaks were a lie to the public. While I was suspicious of the intent behind the measures, I nevertheless saw it as an opportunity for opposition politicians to gain valuable experience in Parliament. Perhaps, I too was myopic and easily bought – comfortable with the here and now, appeased by changes for the sake of it.
My esteemed dinner companion clearly possessed far greater foresight than I did. He countered that the ruling party’s attempts at all cost to stay in power was akin to making promises that defy history. All power bases wax and wane. Even Rome, once thought invincible collapsed and decayed. To make use of its current majority in Parliament to push through changes disguised as giving Singaporeans a variety of views when really, it is to remove any incentive for the general populace to vote for the opposition parties is not only deceptive and arrogant but down right complacent – a position that is surely harmful to Singapore and its future.
The desire to ensure that the best-qualified person attains leadership is to prevent stagnation. The probability that the top talents come always from the same source contravenes the very basis of logic and mathematics. It was this that provided great impetus for democracy. Yet the ruling party who professes to love Singapore and whose founding father has widely been recognised as the undisputed father of modern day Singapore is perpetuating a system that will one day bring about a power vacuum which can lead to instability!
Yet, the powers that be seem impervious to the possible repercussions of its actions and the public seem too distracted to catch this theory of invincibility out! Is it a case of government complacency coupled with public inertia or is it a case of government selfishness and pride set against the backdrop of a populace who has been conditioned to blind faith in government without anything more than a superficial examination? Neither is reassuring for the future.
Now, I am not suggesting that the People's Action Party (PAP) is presently a bad government. Like any others, it has its pros and cons. The only issues I have with it at present is its refusal to come to terms with its own failings and for its attempts to hoodwink the public and itself into thinking that it can last forever without any genuine measures to groom all Singaporeans for a future where the PAP may not be around. While the late Mr Lee may have started out putting Singapore first, it would appear to me that along the way, it has become more about party longevity than country longevity.
The government has gauged that the Singaporean electorate has evolved to a certain extent. It now wishes for more viewpoints represented in Parliament. It now sees the fallacy of only one voice. Yet the government is also correct in noting that the electorate is not really discerning as to what alternative voices it wishes to hear. It just wants divergent opinions for the sake of it without a clear idea as to what that voice should say. So as long as that box is ticked, Singaporeans are ready to move on for now.
Increasing the numbers of NCMPs is not really going to significantly affect the impact of dissenting viewpoints in Parliament. The NCMPs lack the legitimacy of being properly elected. Unlike elected MPs, they do not have the same resources to have “meet the people sessions” to truly ascertain what it is that the common people want. Given the significant pay difference, NCMPs would also more than likely have to keep their day jobs, which in turn mean less time to canvass the ground. Besides, even if all the NCMPs banded together, it still does not have the numbers to be an effective veto! Against the backdrop of all these points that are weighted again the NCMPs, are they still going to be an effective alternative voice?
If Singaporeans have made an informed choice to back the increased numbers of NCMPs as sufficient for the purposes of holding the PAP government to account, that’s fine. What we cannot have, is a situation whereby the public thinks that they are getting an effective alternative voice in government when in effect, it has no impact. The public must be made aware of the pitfalls of the NCMP system in the first place and the limits that our NCMPs face. Singaporeans should also think about what they want from opposition voices? Do they want opposition voices just for the sake of it as a box ticking exercise from which they can then move on from or do they want a genuine and consistent watchdog elected to ensure that no one party holds full sway?
Increasing the number of NCMPs is a cosmetic measure made to appease and distract Singaporeans. While having no real impact on the current system, it provides Singaporeans an easy means to move on having the box of acquiring dissenting voices ticked. Yet, it is important to bear in mind that holding the government to account is a tedious process that requires willpower and constancy especially in a system whereby one party rules supreme and press freedom is limited. Singaporeans need to be aware of this before quickly moving on from this.