ST March 24, 2006
Are opposition MPs a must-have?
By Lydia Lim
Senior Political Correspondent
I HAVE never been this excited over an electoral boundaries report.
While I have covered two previous polls in 1997 and 2001 as a journalist, I have yet to vote in a general election.
But three weeks ago, I discovered to my surprise that Serangoon Gardens, where I live and which used to be part of Marine Parade GRC, is now part of Aljunied GRC.
This means I get to vote!
Or rather, I will if there are no last-minute changes in the opposition's strategy and the Workers' Party (WP) goes ahead as planned to field its A team in Aljunied.
This team is likely to be led by WP chairman Sylvia Lim and will come up against a five-member People's Action Party (PAP) team led by Foreign Minister George Yeo.
My euphoria over the chance to cast my first ballot was, however, short-lived.
The one who brought me down to earth was a fellow long-time Serangoon Gardens resident who showed no interest at all in an outing to the polling station and asked me: 'Why do you want to vote? Anyway, you're going to vote PAP right?'
Kekeke. Who knows, maybe Lydia's neighbour also added, "I mean, you ARE a senior political correspondent for the Straits Times, after all. How else would you possibly vote?"
Anyway, Mr Wang will skip most of the article because as he had said earlier, it's rather predictable. The general drift is, "If voters think like THIS, they're stupid. If voters think like THAT, they're stupid. Any intelligent voter knows that the PAP is the right choice."
Go read the actual article for yourself, if you want to know whether Mr Wang has given a fair summary.
The part of the article that got Mr Wang thinking was this:
This is the issue now before voters in the two opposition wards of Potong Pasir and Hougang.
With Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong now tasked by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to win back these two wards, there is a good chance constituents will be offered carrots to return to the PAP fold.
What if most of them bite and both Mr Low and Mr Chiam lose their seats?
What if no other opposition candidate manages to win a majority in the upcoming polls?
How will it hurt Singapore, if at all?
Mr Wang shall not answer Lydia's hurtful question. However, Mr Wang IS interested in the idea of how Parliament could or should operate, if indeed the PAP won all seats.
Mr Wang means that seriously. The traditional Parliamentary model - with all its rules about who gets to speak, who gets to ask questions, who has to answer etc - is all built on the assumption that there are two or more political parties sitting in Parliament. If that basic assumption is false, why should Parliament continue to operate the way it does at all?
If the PAP wins all seats, Mr Wang thinks that Parliament could just close down. Debates are not necessary. The PAP could just hold ad-hoc meetings here and there, in the meeting rooms of government ministries, for ministers to meet MPs and discuss matters, at any time throughout the year. They could talk over things over a nice cup of coffee, have some cakes etc.
These wouldn't even need to be big meetings. For example, if the Health Minister wanted some views on health issues, he could just invite those MPs who are doctors. If the Finance Minister wanted some views on the economy, he could just invite those MPs who are businessmen or entrepreneurs or economists. And so on.
Maybe if the PM had a big issue every now and then, he could write a long paper, send it to all MPs by email, and they can respond by email, when they're free. After that, he can make up his mind, and send out an email and say, "Ok, guys, this is what I decided ... A, B, C etc."
Alternatively, maybe they could host Parliamentary sessions on a blog or a Internet forum, and MPs could just login and post views if they felt like it. It's more convenient. Imagine the alternative, ugh. You actually have to physically drive down to Parliament and appear in Parliament House and stand up to speak and then the Speaker says, "Oh, I allow you only five minutes to air your views, so be quick."
Voting is largely irrelevant. After all, in our Parliamentary model, if the party whip is not lifted (and historically, it almost never is), all MPs must vote along the same party lines. In other words, no PAP MP is allowed to say "No", if the others want to say "Yes". So the voting result is already known, for the next five years. The voting result will always be 84 to zero.
One solution would be for 43 PAP MPs to make PM Lee Hsien Loong their permanent voting proxy, in every Parliamentary matter where the party whip is not lifted. So only PM Lee needs to vote. He votes "Yes" or he votes "No", and that's the end of the matter. His vote represents 43 MPs. The other 41 MPs need not bother. They are the minority anyway.
Maybe for ceremonial purposes, the MPs could retain the voting system. But for efficiency, they could do it electronically, using SingPass. The electronic system can automatically lock out when it has received the first 43 votes from the first 43 MPs, since that constitutes a majority already. The other 41 MPs are irrelevant.
Hurray for Singapore! The world's most innovative Parliament.