03 August 2008

More changes to electoral system in the offing?

Goh Chok Tong said in a recent speech, "the status quo cannot last forever." A week later, the Straits Times had a two-page spread about Group Representation Constituencies and how they have changed over the years. Full essay.


yuen said...

PAP believes it can monitor its own performance through regular self-criticism, supplemented by a periodic "exam", with the rise or fall of vote % indicating how happy the citizens are with the past term's performance; it prefers a clean sweep, but tolerates a small opposition presence (ideally, just 3 losing candidates given the concessionary seats), and obviously does not see opposition as alternative government

this might represent poor democracy to you, but PAP has defined its model and is unlikely to depart from it merely to please critics

I doubt it would accept proportionate representation in the present parliament; a separate upper house under PR, however, offers some advantages - (a) if opposition is certain of senate representation, PAP can more persuasively ask for a clean sweep in the lower house (b) it can send retired ministers to the senate instead of keeping them in cabinet (c) prominent individuals (e.g., Ngiam Tong Dow) could run for the senate and provide a new kind of political voice (d) even when there is a walkover in a constituency, voters would still participate in the election by casting for the senate - together these provide greater participation and representation of varieties of views, without threatening PAP's control

Anonymous said...

The PAP will never adopt the PR system. The proportion of votes going to the opposition now will tell us roughly how many more opposition candidates will get into Parliament if that system is adopted. It is going to turn out to be too big a threat to them.

And, if despite all the years of veiled threats, pre-election handouts, upgrading carrots and boundary tweakings, the oppostion can still muster a third of the votes tells them that changing the system is still too great a risk for now. Why change something that works wonderfully well for them?

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Anonymous, 4 August, 16:23, said: "The PAP will never adopt the PR system."

Come on guys, let's not just state the obvious. Of course, it isn't in their interest to change it, but that doesn't mean we just give up. To do so signals the same "waiting to be served" mindset that I wrote about in the Escalator article. If we believe in it, we must agitate for it, bringing about the change ourselves rather than wait for the government to do it for us of their own volition.

yuen said...

> must agitate for it

what kind of agitation you have in mind? most "agitations" require some kind of permit from the government...

(BTW: I am not asking on my own behalf - as a foreigner I cannot participate in any political activities here)

the realistic thing is to identify changes that would broaden participation and representation without posing any real threat, such as my suggestion of an upper house based on PR

Anonymous said...

Why? As a yawn is associated with being tired, stress out, lack of stimulation, or simply bored.
Likewise, GRC system is a yawn! - an incumbent gerrymandering stale idea that is increasingly tired and unstimulating! It takes the fun out of a rigorous rough & tumble fight between individual political candidates.
A typical 5-man PAP GRC team often includes 1 heavyweight minister with 4 'mute' rookies or nondescript MPs-to-be. Like team sports, there is only one star striker while the rest are team players or even passengers. In a political rally [football match], the heavyweight [striker] does all the talking [scoring] while the 'lightweights' [team players] follow by reiterating the party manifesto [provide support].
This is a dangerous step. In essence, voters are compelled to vote for the heavyweight as they forsee that only he has the power to influence HDB upgrading, neighbourhood spruce up [of private estates] or addressed their personal issues. The GRC MPs were 'sneak in' under the heavyweight minister's aura. These GRC MPs are virtually unknown and anonymous with their vision for their constituents and in their political ability. However, there is a clear and present danger.
The 'Wee Shu Min' elitism case in October 2006 highlighted a worrying point about GRC MPs.
In October 2006, Wee Shu Min, 18 year-old daughter of Ang Mo Kio MP Wee Siew Kim and a Raffles Junior College scholar, caused controversy after posting on her blog an extremely elitist and incredibly insensitive response. Blogger Derek Wee posted an article on job security & age discrimination concerns on his blog (after it was rejected by ST Forum), she shot off a take-no-prisoners rant & rave response calling him, a 'bleeding stupid 40-year old (he was 35 - she could not read properly) singaporean called derek wee (WHY do all the idiots have my surname why?!), a "stupid crackpot", belonging to "the sadder class" & overreliant on the government. She also called for Derek Wee to "get out of my elite uncaring face.
She singlehandedly triggered a storm of fierce criticism over the internet & subsequently spilling over to the mainstream media. Ironically the Straits Time Forum had initially rejected Derek Wee's article (lack of press freedom! ..'she adds') and attributed '..that main reason for its lack of publication was that his incensed diatribe was written in pathetic little scraps that passed off as sentences, with poor spelling and no grammar.'
Scrutinize both posts, it was incredibly ironic to see Wee Shu Min's post was, 'written in pathetic little scraps', 'passed off as sentences', with 'poor spelling and no grammar', hard profanity [..stick-shoved-up-ass, kick...in the balls] whereas Derek Wee articulately wrote with clarity, precision, to the point and with empathy - all Sporeans could feel his article. If I was a manager reading both, Wee Shu Min's would be in the bin while Derek's be in the file. What Derek Wee had said resonated with virtually all Sporeans - about job security, over 40 age discrimination, future prospects, migration, procreation, etc. Is it right for elites who simply do not faced such bread-&-butter issues to arrogantly sweep it under the floor & declared it not worthy of their high-&-mighty concern?
After creating considerable controversy and receiving criticisms all around, she grudgingly apologized (without much sincerity) on another blog and since shut down her blog. But that was not the end of it!
The controversy blew out of proportion and was no longer confined to cyberspace, it had to be published by the mainstream media after the whole thing became publicly known. The slow response by Spore's MSM was incredibly glacial and should be of concern to all Sporeans. Especially when Derek Wee's well-written article would not have been uncovered if not for the lunatic rants of a 18-year old elitist scholar! In a regulated and controlled press environment in Spore, it was incredible that Derek Wee's article saw light despite being originally suppressed because someone within the elite circle chose to respond to it in an 'unregulated' media and that does not reflect well on Spore's MSM.
After his daughter caused a tremendous uproar with her rants and in his response to public concerns, Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Wee Siew Kim in the Straits Times interview on 24/10/2006, supported Shu Min's point in principle and claimed "people cannot take the brutal truth". He also claimed that his daughter's privacy had been violated. He seemed to endorsed her elitist remarks and showed no empathy nor humility in his response. Simply put, he was only apologizing for the tone, but not the content of her views.
Now that coming from a heartland constituency MP, such a response does not give much confidence to his constituents in terms of his empathy & humility. The fact that he couldn't care two-hoots about job security & age discrimination in Spore when he sided with his daughter's views that Sporeans should not '..bemoaning about the Government', and to,'get on with..life'. Also, he revealed an incredible lack of knowing internet protocols claiming that her post in her blog was 'private' - how can it be 'private' when there was no such thing as Internet privacy? And she is of an age to be held accountable for such statements. The Sedition Act on blogging had been legislated over a year earlier [MP Wee would been aware] which allowed sentencing and imprisonment for bloggers making inflammatory or racist remarks.
Two days after MP Wee's first public apology [..where he scored an own goal! - or rather kick his boot into his mouth!], the public remained unplacated and was further offended by the first insincere apology, he had to make a second humbler public apology. For an MP who was under damage control [especially after being undermined & sabotaged by his own daughter] from the public - it was indeed a very poor political performance by global benchmarks! In the USA, the UK or Australia, Mr Wee would have been shown the party exit door & door nailed shut after he exited. The fact that he served a 2nd term as MP showed that one, the (un)talented pool in Spore indeed is very limited and, two, he is more valuable to the party [the elite] than to his constituents [...whom he lays on the 'brutal truth']. Ironically, a friend remarked that Spore ministers are remunerated according to private sector pay benchmarks, but performance-wise, he said the performance benchmarks seemed to be adapted from Zimbabwe [Robert Mugabe's election performance indicators manual] or Myanmar [Cyclone damage control manual]. It was a good joke!
Alas, MP Wee, you see, is from the elite circle. He is a Sectional President within the Singapore Technologies Group (a GLC) & has 4 children including the notorious motor-mouthed Wee Shu Min - his genetic work of art. You see, he is unhampered by procreational issues unlike Derek Wee nor does he have any job security or age discrimination issues - so why do 'sadder class' Sporeans constantly bother him with such mundane issues?
He is a Groupthink elite - a highly cohesive elitist group who feels that they are 'beyond the norm' and therefore infallible. This group type avoid internal conflict, value group consensus more than critical analysis and evaluation [sic: Casino Act, S377A repeal, HOTA, anti-abortion debate, etc].
Hasty & irrational decisions are preferred rather than revealing individual doubts [set aside, for fear of upsetting the group’s balance.] The closer they are, the less likely they are to raise questions.
These groupthink symptoms are already evident within the GRC, Parliament and in Spore political system.
As in Wee Shu Min's case, Stereotyping those who question or bring out pertinent issues to the government as losers, weak, evil, disfigured, impotent, or even stupid [her description of Derek Wee].
Self censorship, as in the case of the mainstream media, who rather avoid publishing critical issues that impinged on the hearts & minds of the people preferring to embellish the lives of the rich & filthy.
Mindguards - where ground/field information are filtered out - to manage sources of information and analysis according to some agenda. A friend in Australia once remarked that the Straits Times often published negative news about Australia eg. Cronulla racial riots in 2005 featured prominently with pictures whereas often positive news about Australia ignored. He postulated that as Australia is often a preferred destination for Singapore-born emigrants, it could be done to deter potential emigrants to Australia.
Those Sporean born have to be concerned with the onward development of Spore's electorate and political system.
1. The Spore mainstream media is thoroughly ineffectual. Besides being parochial - one-sided reporting - it also has become glacial. News and events happenings are reported over the internet before it is even reported in the mainstream media. Wee Shu Min case was publicized over the internet first before it became public information. The mainstream media's social credibility is also being questioned. Why was Derek Wee's article not published by ST Forum? It was only after it crossed over to the internet did the flurry of exposure over Wee's article that it gained prominence with the MSM.
2. The case also revealed the Spore govt & societal interests are not synchronized and incompatible. When a GRC MP shows his disdain of a citizen's concern over job security and age discrimination by telling him not to 'bemoaning' the govt & 'to get on with... life'. It is an absolute indicative nature of a callous & cold-hearted Spore govt. The fact that he was kept on as an MP showed that the govt implicitly agrees with his elitist daughter's views. That is not good for Sporeans.
3. The GRC system is a dumbing down for both politics and constituents. The GRC MPs are not subjected to the 'oratorical fires' of political battles during elections - one can see their dull and wooden speeches in Parliament. Sneaking via the coat-tails of a heavyweight ministers, the MP's quality is unknown, his or her views questionable. When they are cut of the same cloth, one questions whether they have the 'backbone' to improve the govt or just another groupthink member keeping the status quo. For the constituents, the elections are a greenmail system whereby votes are exchanged for tangible 'carrots' like HDB upgrading, neighbourhood landscaping and spruce-ups, etc. The GRC system simply makes it simpler for the incumbent govt to get more numbers across the line. However at the end, the voters themselves have to ask whether they are represented by the MPs or are they just mere numbers [votes] in an election only casted aside post-election. Sporeans have regularly experienced post-election pain with GST and other revenue-raising increases.
I fear for Singapore's future!

Anonymous said...

I wish Singapore politics were that simple where we can agitate for change. It realistically is not. And if, as Yuen says, we need a permit to agitate and they refuse to give one, we just end up like Dr. Chee.

Having a upper house under PR may be feasible, but if that is a repository for retired PAP ministers, MPs and prominent individuals, it may just be back to square one. Remember, some of these ex-ministers, MPs and prominent individuals may still sit on Government controlled entities. They are not going to do anything resembling a new kind of political voice.

Let's just hope that more changes in electoral system does not mean a tighter noose.

Anonymous said...

p.s. This link provides the full texts for those needing to refer to:-
1. Derek Wee's article
2. Wee Shu Min's response
3. Wee Siew Kim's apology
Plse cut & paste on your browser:

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

I decided to be indulgent about the long post of Anonymous of 19:30 and 20:14, even though (a) it exceeded length limits (b) was off-topic and (c) in dense typing style.

Just a bit of advice, people. If you want others to read what you write, you need to be more considerate.

Anonymous said...

Hi YB,

I agree with you that agitating for change is the only alternative left to Singaporeans. (We don't need a permit to do just that online, do we?)

But to go back to the topic, I agree that representation by non-Chinese individuals must be guaranteed given the demographics.

India has an interesting scheme to ensure a guaranteed minimum of women candidates by reserving 30% of seats for contestation by women candidates only.

Also, more recently, the province of British Columbia, Canada, did something similar by reserving 10% of all seats to gay/lesbian and disabled candidates.

Yes, we can have our cake and eat it too!

The PAP just so only happens to pick the worst of every system from overseas for the sake of clinging on to power.

Anonymous said...

The Group Representation Constituencies (GRC), to a political observer, is a gerrymandering team derivative instead of an individual but it is based on the "first past the post" Westminster system - it will ultimately produce an undeservedly large parliamentary majority for the incumbent. The justified rationale was to ensure adequate minority-race representation via the GRC team. But we all know the true nature of GRCs, firstly, raising the costs for GRC electorates, and secondly, forming of a GRC lineup. On both count, the opposition parties fall short - (a)lack of financial resources (b)lack of suitable candidates.
It is the ultimate, 'Heads I win, Tails you lose!' strategy - forcing the opposition onto the single seat wards where they may win the odd seat but not enough numbers to overthrow the incumbent govt or gambling on GRC electorates where the odds are stacked against them. The system marginalizes the opposition and ensures it remains weak forever.
Over 40 years of PAP-dominated rule have already diminished the opposition parties. Once, there were a number of political parties in Spore - they have been consigned to the history books. First by copying the British formula of using sedition charges, detention without trial and following up with defamation & bankruptcy suits against the opposition, the PAP have gained the prominent high ground in the political arena. No way will they concede this ground to anyone. Subsequently, any alternative political ideology will never gain a foothold in Spore even through peaceful means. Proportional representation (PR), single transferable vote (STV), single non-transferable vote (SNTV) or cumulative voting or any variant form of proportional representation - they (the PAP) will not adopted it even if it leads to a small dilution of their majority.
The upper house or senate idea is not economically feasible. The annual govt budget will have to increase dramatically and this may impact on any future increases on the minister's mllion dollar salaries. If they increase the GST, ERP and so on, it may scare away foreign investors. The upper house alternative is currently vested in the elected Presidency - Mr SR Nathan. His over $2M annual salary is still far cheaper than setting up an upper house - it serves no real purpose - why get so many people involved to sign off bills when only one will do. Vested interests & retaining the elected presidency will ensure that the upper house or senate idea is dead.

>If we believe in it, we must agitate for it, bringing about the change ourselves rather than wait for the government to do it for us of their own volition.

We can all scream until we are blue in the face! But I doubt it will bring about change. Only 3 scenarios will bring about change:
1. Military coup [Thailand/Fiji];
2. PAP Implosion - political void;
3. Party split-internal challenge.
All 3 are currently distant possibilities. However, 1, 2 & 3 are all possible post-LKY. After all, he is already 85 years old.

>I wish Singapore politics were that simple where we can agitate for change. It realistically is not. And if, as Yuen says, we need a permit to agitate and they refuse to give one, we just end up like Dr. Chee.

I agree. No one have applied for a political death certificate since Dr Chee. But many have applied for a Good Conduct Certificate [hint: migration!] Applying for a permit to agitate is as good as the ISD painting a bulls-eye on your forehead and becoming your shadow following your every move. If 65% of voters are happy with the PAP, whose [35%] to say anything?

Anonymous said...


If it is any consolation to you, Wee Shu Min is forever immortalized on Wikipedia, its the 1st result once u type her name on Google:


BTW, she is till an Elite having won a scholarship to UPenn shows how much the gahment here cares about what the general populace think. To heck with it, she deserves the scholarship!

yuen said...

>The upper house or senate idea is not economically feasible. The annual govt budget will have to increase dramatically and this may impact on any future increases on the minister's mllion dollar salaries

that's incorrect; the point of sending retired ministers to the senate is to avoid keeping them on as full ministers; senators should get just slightly more pay than MPs, so probably a senate of 20 members can be funded by having 2-3fewer ministers; with 20 members, a prominent individual getting 5% support would get elected, and I can think of several people who would be able to get that %

your mention of the presidency is relevant to the senate idea: (a) the senate can take over the job of the 3 men committee in assessing suitability of presidential candidates - looks better that way if there is only one qualified candidate to have him/her passed by an elected body rather than a committee appointed when needed (b) the Senate could just be a more formal version of the current Presidential Council

Pandemonium said...

Sorry for the late response, but I do have one comment or two.

Firstly, with regards to Israel, it does have some sort of unstable government. It's not unstable in the sense that it dissolves every few months; it is unstable in that it is a coalition of many different parties. It is well known amongst political scientists that Israel's government is highly fragmented. The consequence of this is that there may be some parties which can only capture a very small number of votes, but can get their policies pushed through because they have the bargaining power in the coalition as they're crucial in maintaining the coalition's majority. What ends up is a case of the minority imposing their will on the majority. I can't recall offhand, but I believe this is the reason why one particular religious party has quite an amount of say in the running of the state, despite them capturing only a small number of votes.

Secondly, the system you proposed is actually known as the mixed member proportional representation, which is essentially a blend of proportional representation system and a plurality representation system. Germany is one country that implements such a electoral system. As with all electoral systems, this has its own disadvantages, but I can't remember what they are right now... I think it has something to do with the complexity of vote counting, thus leading to confusion on the voters' side of how the system actually works.

And lastly, it's kinda coincidental that one of your fictional names is exactly one of my friend's.


Daryl said...

Dear YB,

Actually, I would say that Proportional Representation in Israel has indeed led to a highly unstable political situation in Israel.

I quote from two articles from The Economist written earlier this year when Israel turned 60.

"Israel, which turns 60 this May, is a pure representative democracy. Virtually every social group has its own political party, if not several. This means that none of the country's many ethnic and religious subsets is disenfranchised. But as a result all governments are unstable multi-party coalitions subject to perverse incentives that have more to do with politicians' careers than with the wishes of the electorate at large."

"There are 12 parties in the current Knesset, and over 140 have sat in its plenum in the past six decades, many of them one-hit wonders formed for bargaining purposes. To gain a majority a coalition must typically include four or five parties, spanning a wide ideological spectrum. Usually at least one is a religious or populist party that makes its support conditional on expensive budget handouts."

A PR system would result in a clumsy coalition governments held hostage to the small parties that allow it to maintain a small majority. Indeed, it was under a PR system that the Nazis rose to power.

I am glad that you allow for this possibility, but I think that a PR system is more problematic than you seem to say.