Singapore’s political landscape has always been an interesting one. We are perhaps the only country that has retained one party rule within the trappings of a technical democracy. While detractors would criticise Singapore as authoritarian, proponents would point at the “rags to riches” story that transformed Singapore from cultural backwater to a first world city. Is that really true though? Was Singapore really a cultural backwater? With its excellent geographical location, was it just down to the excellent management of the People’s Action Party that led to its development? If Singapore was such a cultural backwater, why did the British want it so? I leave this for the reader to think about.
Even if we give the PAP the credit for its excellent management of Singapore, that crop of PAP leaders that brought us to this point are already gone. Do the new crop of leaders deserve to be in power just because they are part of the ruling system?
The PAP has long been accused of suppressing opposition politicians through the law. Instead of jailing critics like out and out totalitarian regimes, it has been accused of using the legal route (through the dreaded “made to measure” defamation suit) to crush the opposition. Softer and less obvious methods have also been observed by some through the creation of the Group Representation Constituency (GRC).
The official reason for the creation of the GRC is to ensure that minorities are represented and one cannot help but notice that the same reason has been cited for changing the rules of the elected presidency. The collateral result of such minority representation is that opposition parties would struggle to field the requisite number of candidates. Re the presidency, it led to the inability of one rather prominent ex-PAP member to contest, leading to the uncontested assent of Madam Halimah.
And through the legal contest by Singapore Democratic Party on the need for by-election, we now know that the stance of the PAP govt is that the GRC is only meant to have representative candidacy during an election and not during the term of office. This was said by Deputy Attorney General, Hri Kumar in the High Court in defence of the government, that there is no need to hold a by-election as the constituency is still cared for by three Chinese MPs. With that, one could argue that minority representation is a cover reason for the changes and that the real reason was to make it harder for the opposition to win.
Veteran journalist and politician Jose Raymond recently announced that he had pared down his other commitments in order to focus on his grassroots activities. A quick look at his social media activity would confirm this. This man has indeed been busy getting to know the residents within Potong Pasir, the Single Member Constituency (SMC) he is rumoured to be interested in contesting for in the the next general election. His efforts were made despite the knowledge that the government can easily change the electoral lines to dilute his support. The government has done this in the past. Of course the official reason has never been to manipulate support but one can speculate.
Raymond has been tireless in his efforts and despite not having the army of support that incumbent Sitoh Yih Pin has, made considerable headway in getting to know the residents. If social media activity is to be believed, Mr Raymond has been far more committed than Mr Sitoh. Perhaps Mr Raymond has more time since he has decided to focus on this full time. Mr Sitoh still runs his own accountancy firm and sits on the board of a number of companies. Should elected MPs be permitted to have other jobs especially in light of a potential opposition challenger showing his dedication by committing full time even before the general election is even announced?
I hope Potong Pasir will remain unchanged especially since any change in electoral boundaries will only confirm to detractors that there really is gerrymandering even if that is not the intention.