Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament (MP) Jamus Lim took to Facebook on Wednesday (2 September) to raise his points on why the opposition are not “free riders”, as labelled by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his opening speech in Parliament on Tuesday.
In his speech, Mr Lee said that Singaporeans voted for the opposition while still expecting the People’s Action Party (PAP) to remain in power. He cited a story told to him by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, who pointed out that a resident was “perturbed” after her friends told her that it was okay to cast their vote for the opposition because “the Government would still be in charge”.
“If you say vote against the Government because somebody else will look after getting the PAP Government and you just become a free ride, and you vote opposition, no harm, the PAP will still be there, then I think the system must fail,” he said.
He added, “Because the system can only work if people vote sincerely, honestly, in accordance with what they really want, and to produce the result, which matches their true intentions, and if they vote tactically, the consequences must be one day, they will get the result, which they mark the x for, but which they did not intend.”
Responding to this, Leader of the Opposition (LO) Pritam Singh strikes back by saying voters of the opposition are not “free riders”.
“I don’t think the residents of Aljunied, Hougang for 30 years now, and even Sengkang, as a result of the results of the last election, would appreciate being called free riders,” he noted.
He continued, “We are not just doing nothing, having been voted in. We are not just letting the other guy, the government of the day, do something”.
PM Lee then went on to state that while he agrees the importance of having opposition in Parliament, however he noted that it is not right to take advantage of someone who voted for a government.
“But if you say, vote for me, somebody else will vote for the PAP, and therefore the PAP will be the Government, that the economists will call a free rider. It means that you are taking advantage of somebody else who is doing their duty of electing a government for the nation,” Mr Lee said.
MP Jamus Lim responds
Following this exchange by PM Lee and Mr Singh, Mr Lim, who is a MP for Sengkang GRC as well as an economist himself, defined the meaning of free rider, in the context of economics.
“A free rider, as defined in economics, is an individual (or group) that reaps the benefits of the actions of others, without paying the cost (or underpaying for it). It is a form of market failure, and characterizes nonexcludable goods (those whose use cannot be restricted),” he wrote in his post.
While he appreciates points made by PM Lee in his speech as they were “thoughtful, and drew on his deep experience in government”, however Mr Lim said that WP winning in a number of constituencies in GE2020 definitely shows that the party is not a free rider.
“Setting aside the fact that the #workersparty would not have formed government even if it did win every single contested seat (and the PAP would have formed it, assuming no other opposition gains), the free rider claim is worth exploring from an economist’s view,” he said.
He continued, “Parliament seats are excludable: when a PAP MP is elected, the opposition is necessarily prevented from accessing it.”
“Moreover, in Aljunied, Hougang, and Sengkang, the votes were potentially costly: it required trust in our candidates, that we would be good town councilors and MPs. Yet voters were willing to do so. This does not strike me as consistent with free riding.”
If that’s not all, the MP for Sengkang GRC also said that after speaking with voters post-GE2020, he found out that they did not vote for the alternative party hoping that the PAP would still form the government. “If anything, they overcame their fear of the untested, and voted for the WP regardless,” he added.
“What is true is that they voted with their hearts, and with the conviction that some alternative voices were needed. Sure, they did so with some reassurance that the PAP would likely continue to form government. But it certainly wasn’t because they were looking for a free ride,” Mr Lim concluded.