Sunday, December 02, 2007

Will local politics change?

Will local politics change?
In the end, it is the economics that will dictate

Loh Chee Kong

THE year is 2030. Now, imagine a Singapore with no Group Representative Constituencies (GRC), no defamation suits, no one-dominant party and personality.

This is what the young people who attended a session three weeks ago with Dr Vivian Balakrishnan seem to want. And the youngest Minister in the Cabinet seems prepared for such a scenario.

=> Shouldn't that be the way all along?!

"I'm not so obsessed with whether or not the PAP wins elections, what I am more interested in is the quality of candidates," said Dr Balakrishnan, Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, dismissing the suggestion that the People's Action Party (PAP) was fixated with one-party rule.

In fact, from a "purely national point of view", he felt that youth should even take up opposition politics if they do not want to join the PAP.

=> Then end the media control now! We all saw just how bias the media is during the GE2006.

Responding to a comment on how the ruling party and the opposition trip over themselves in claiming credit for improvement works in opposition wards, the Minister also urged the youth to look beyond the political "wayang".

"The PAP plays games, the opposition plays games … while all these games go on, make sure nobody loses out.

=> By denying lift upgrades to Potong Pasir, one of the oldest estate in S'pore, S'poreans are already losing out. Who is Mr Balakrishnan trying to kid?

"My point is not that we will not change. We will change but make sure that even as we change, that we understand the consequences … and are prepared," added Dr Balakrishnan, who reiterated that Singapore's political stability is a cornerstone of its success.

For a party that has forged a formidable reputation for the way it crushes political opponents, Dr Balakrishnan's words would get the optimist excited.

They would, at the very least, imply a tacit acceptance by the PAP that there is space for opposition politics.

Not so fast, said a political analyst, who applauded Dr Balakrishnan's "good statesmanship" in answering the way he did. But that is not the way the PAP "runs or plans things", she added.

"They play to win. If out of enlightened self-interest, the PAP changes the rules of the game then we have a whole new ball game," said the analyst.

Sceptics could even interpret Dr Balakrishan's answers as a clear slight on the quality of the opposition and how it would stay that way. And that if Singaporeans want more opposition in Parliament and more relaxed rules on public speaking, they have to be prepared for political instability and loss of foreign investments.

=> This is the most nonsensical argument I ever heard. In what way having a democratic political system will undermine political stability and lead to loss of foreign investment?! Is North Korea and Mainland China more stable and richer than South Korea and Japan?!

But the giveaway was this comment by Dr Balakrishnan: "Can we afford not to change? If the change is necessary for our survival or prosperity, then we must."

The political landscape is set for changes, if, and only if, the PAP Government sees their necessity in sustaining and promoting economic growth — not social progress.

Never mind if it means losing a few seats to the opposition as long as it serves the economic objectives. Never mind political diversity, it's the dollars and cents that matter.

But therein lies the conundrum. While economic and social objectives can be neatly compartmentalised in the early days of nation building, they become increasingly intertwined and untidy as a society matures.

From the 1960s to the 1990s, most Singaporeans had little choice but to stay and build up the Republic's economy.

Today, people uproot themselves to other countries when they disagree with Government policies or feel left out of the political process.

Which is why Singapore's political system has few options but to progress.

First, the playing field has to be level — a perception that is certainly lost on Singaporeans.

While politics is a dirty game everywhere, it has to appear to be fair and just.

The security sweeps — Operation Coldstore in 1963 and Operation Spectrum in the 1987 — against alleged communist movements had set back the two strongest opposition parties, the Barisan Socialis and the Workers Party, of the respective periods, albeit if it was an unintended outcome.

And while rules of the game apply equally to all, the opposition parties are still playing catch up while stuck in a vicious cycle: They cannot attract better candidates unless they make inroads into the government and vice versa.

While the elected presidency, in principle, guards against a rogue government by holding the key to the national reserves, hurdles must be put in place to prevent inept politicians from entering Parliament in the first place.

=> (S)elected Presidency you mean. How many time did we voted for our president since Mr Ong Teng Chong left the post?! How many times did our president Nathan report to us, Singaporean citizens, on the current status of out national reserves? ZERO! ZILCH! To be frank the president might not even know what he is guarding... Read this to find out more about Mr Ong presidency.

But such safeguards should be in the form of an independent media, strong civil society movement and Singaporeans' own critical thinking, not artificial barriers such as election deposits, the GRC system or the threat of defamation lawsuits.

While the GRC system was established with the stated intent of ensuring minority representation, it has inadvertently become an impediment not just for opposition parties but crucially, for aspiring independent politicians, who do not want to be tied down by the baggage of existing parties.

=> BULLSHIT! Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong already tell the whole of Singapore that the GRC system is meant for smoothing PAP's newcomers' path into the parliament.

It has also deterred political competition by cutting off smaller political parties, while allowing larger ones to consolidate themselves.

In the 1984 elections (the last General Election before the GRC system was introduced), candidates from nine political parties and three independent candidates contested the polls.

In the 2006 GE, candidates contested under four party banners and there were zero independent candidates.

Given such statistics, it is not difficult to draw a link between these artificial hurdles and why fewer young Singaporeans are willing to enter politics — when their choice is limited to joining the PAP to have a more than half chance of winning.

By Dr Balakrishnan's own admission, "politics in 2030 cannot be politics in the 1960s".

"In 2030, if you are the Prime Minister, do you think you would have the same authority, overarching stature of someone like our Minister Mentor Lee (Kuan Yew)?" he added.

The days of personality-driven politics are long gone and future electoral battles would be about national policies as much as local politics. Opposition politicians banking on fiery rhetoric should be advised to back it up with sound policy alternatives.

The implications of a "collegiate" type of leadership, as Dr Balakrishnan put it, point to a more effective consultation process both within and without the government.

When no one person wields an inordinate amount of influence, diversity of views would flourish but it also makes it harder to push through policies — an argument that the PAP has made in support of one-party rule.

But while efficiency could be increasingly compromised, effectiveness need not. And that can only be ensured when there is a healthy process of political debate and consensus building, where opposing voices are satisfied that they have been heard even if the final decision goes against them.

The Government's aggressive drive for new citizens would pose political ramifications in time to come.

While these citizens would want to preserve the state of affairs that attracted them here in the first place, they are also the ones who would not be tied down by historical baggage when the situation turns for the worse.

In other words, in the event of a national crisis, new citizens would be the quickest to vote the government out, while Singapore-born voters bank their faith on the PAP's track record.

Which is why the PAP may find it worth its while to lose a few seats in the future — if only to keep an increasingly sophisticated electorate happy.

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