When most democratic countries go to the polls, it is not usually the case that the winner is a foregone conclusion. In the lead up to an election, there will usually be campaigns, speeches and debates to woo and win voters over.
In the Singaporean context however, the landscape is very different. While we do have opposition parties, we have a very dominant ruling party by way of the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP). The PAP has never lost an election and has in fact won each election ever held since Singapore’s independence decisively.
With an overwhelmingly PAP government, it is perhaps fair to say that they have great sway over the rules of the game. So much so that even as the country gears up for an upcoming general election, we still do not know the date of such an election!
As voters go to the polls, we must remember what it is that we are voting for. Opposition parties are not campaigning to overthrow the PAP.
Rather, they are campaigning for a greater number of seats in the house to ensure that Singaporeans have a better chance at ensuring that there are effective checks and balances in government. At the very least, over one-third of seats to prevent any one sided amendment of the Singapore constitution as what we witnessed for the racially-based Elected Presidency.
There has long been criticism about the lack of accountability on the part of the ruling PAP government. The latest criticism springs from the handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore. The government has been criticised for being reactive instead of proactive, indecisive and slow to react (especially where the migrant workers in dormitories were concerned). So much so that Singapore has been called “one of the greatest failures of the world now” by Mike Toole, a communicable diseases specialist with the Melbourne-based Burnet Institute.
While Minister for National Development and co chair of the multi agency task force, Lawrence Wong has promised a “comprehensive review” when the “timing is right”, the people may have a limited say over what constitutes “comprehensive” and when the right time is.
This is an example of how having more opposition members of parliament (MP) in parliament could ensure that the government is held to account. Instead of the phrase “ownself check ownself”, we can actually have a government where there is a stronger opposition voice present to keep a majority PAP government in check.
It could also be good for the PAP to have some healthy competition in Parliament so that we, the tax paying voters, get a better service! After all, it has been said that the incumbent PAP government has but inherited a legacy without the corresponding work that has created this nest egg. Shouldn’t they prove their worth to justify the high salaries they command?
So, while it is perhaps fair to say that a PAP majority is a foregone conclusion, it is still vital to have more opposition MPs in Parliament to keep the government to account. That is what this election is about.