Speaking at the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s (SUTD) first Ministerial Forum yesterday (5 Apr), PM Lee said that it’s not wise for the PAP Govt to “purposely” let the opposition grow bigger when most of the population supports the PAP – for example, letting PAP to deliberately cut back so that “somebody else can grow bigger”.
He said it is hard enough to build a strong team of leaders in a small country like Singapore. It would be shortchanged if he were to ask three ministers, for example, to switch sides just to boost the opposition.
He likened this to creating a safety net for a performer.
“The more you have a safety net for the performer, the more dangerous the stunts the performer will do. Because there is no risk, so you will push further.”
The PAP Govt certainly did not create any “safety net” for opposition to let them win easily in any elections. On the contrary, it created monumental obstacles for opposition to overcome.
Take for example, it created the Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) which are unique to Singapore politics.
Opposition parties have criticized GRCs as making it even more difficult for non-PAP candidates to be elected to Parliament. The money required to contest a GRC is considerable as each candidate is required to pay a $16,000 deposit. This means that contesting a GRC is very costly for opposition parties.
The presence of Cabinet Ministers in GRCs is also often believed to give the PAP a considerable advantage in the contesting of a GRC. The PAP has used this tactic to its advantage on several occasions.
Take for example, PAP candidates Koh Poh Koon and Desmond Choo have both failed to get a seat in Parliament contesting in Punggol East SMC and Hougang SMC respectively. However, in the last GE, both successfully “rode on the coattails” of PM Lee and Minister Heng to win in Ang Mo Kio GRC and Tampines GRC respectively.
Then there is the gerrymandering tactic constantly used by the PAP Govt in every GE. When an opposition candidate nearly won an SMC seat in a previous GE, the PAP Govt would quickly act to absorb the SMC into a bigger GRC in the next GE.
One good example was Joo Chiat SMC, which WP candidate Yee Jenn Jong nearly won in 2011 GE. He lost by only 388 votes to PAP candidate Charles Chong. From 2011 to 2015, Mr Yee diligently walked the ground of Joo Chiat, talking to Joo Chiat residents frequently. But in 2015 GE, Joo Chiat SMC disappeared and was absorbed into Marine Parade GRC. And to ensure PAP would win in Marine Parade GRC, PM Lee asked the elderly former PM Goh Chok Tong to continue to stand for election as he does enjoy considerable respect from Marine Parade residents.
PAP becomes the dominant party over time
He also told the students and faculty members that the current multi-party democratic system in Singapore, that is, the First-Past-The-Post voting system adopted from the British, was not specially designed to have one dominant party.
It came about over time, he said.
“It started out with very rambunctious parties… and it became like this through a series of accidents of history, as well as the effort by the PAP in the early years to stretch out and become a national movement,” he added.
But PM Lee avoided mentioning about Operation Coldstore in 1963, which considerably weakened PAP’s nemesis, Barisan Socialist, through detentions without trial, thereby allowing PAP to grow.
Citing the Non-Constituency MP scheme, which will ensure at least 12 opposition MPs after the next election, he said that with the right 12 people, “they will be able to hold the Government to account… and then in the next election, they will win more”.
He then used his father as an example. In 1955, PAP was the opposition party having only 3 of the 25 elected seats in the then Legislative Assembly. One of the 3 was his father, Lee Kuan Yew.
“I think the colonial government was fully held to account. Today, they don’t have such a person in the opposition.”
In other words, PM Lee is saying that no opposition members today are as good as his father who can argue eloquently in Parliament to hold the PAP Govt to account. But he forgot to add that neither does the current PAP have anyone like Lee Kuan Yew too.