24 March 2006

Possible New Ways For Parliament to Operate

Today the media has an article about the necessity (or otherwise) of having opposition MPs in Parliament. Since it's the Straits Times after all, you can probably guess the conclusion of the article, even without reading it.

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.


TheJourneySoFar said...

From what I know. Sometimes, the questions supposedly asked by some MPs during the sessions are because they are asked to do it. That is the Minister says: "okay, you ask this question during session today, and you ask this, etc."

Anonymous said...

The real question shd be, "What's so disastrous about having a few more opposition MPs".

I heard the learned minister say that they do not want the 5th C - conformity. He wants to see lively, robust debates etc etc. Obviously, they are not having that now becos most of the MPs look like they are half asleep.

Anonymous said...

Lydia Lim- "I think its pointless to vote for an opposition candidate who clearly lacks the ability to scrutinise and critique policies in an inteliigent way."

"Retrenchment is good for singapore. If there is no retrenchments, then I worry."- SM Goh

"The opposition's plans to 'give and give' will lead to $ingaporeans having to pay higher taxes in order to foot the bill, General Lee Hsien Loong said at a rally in Tampines."- then DPM Lee in 2001

"$2.6b "Progress Package" for lower-income groups, elderly, NSmen"- now PM Lee in 2006

"Contrary to public perception, the White Horse classification is not to ensure that sons of influential men gets preferential treatment. Instead it is to ensure that they do not get preferential treatment."- Cedric Foo

"I don't think that there should be a cap on the number of directorship that a person can hold."- PAP MP John Chen who holds 8 directorships

"It's not for the money because some of the companies pay me as little as $10,000 a year."- PAP MP Wang Kai Yuen who holds 11 directorships.

"We are not considering a casino but an IR- an integrated resort. IRs are quite different."- George Yeo

"If you want to dance on a bar top, some of us will fall off the bar top. Some people will die as a result of liberalising bar top dancing .... a young girl with a short skirt dancing on it may attract some insults from some other men, the boyfriend will start fighting and some people will die."- Vivian Balakrishnan

"I would want to form an alternative policies group in Parliament, comprising 20 PAP MPs. These 20 PAP MPs will be free to vote in accordance with what they think of a particular policy. In other words, the whip for them will be lifted. This is not playing politics, this is something which I think is worthwhile doing."- SM Goh

"If you sing Jailhouse Rock with your electric guitar when others are playing Beethoven, you are out of order. The whip must be used on you."- SM Goh again, on a dramatic u-turn, rethink or backtrack, whatever you call it.

"THE National Kidney Foundation (NKF) spends more than 80 per cent of its funds on its beneficiaries."- Lim Hng Khiang

"Save on one hairdo and use the money for breast screening."- another gem from Lim Hng Kiang

"We started off with (the name) and after looking at everything, the name that really tugged at the heartstrings was in front of us. The name itself is not new, but what has been used informally so far has endeared itself to all parties."- Mah Bow Tan on the $400 000 exercise to rename Marina Bay as Marina Bay.

"Having enjoyed football as a national sport for decades, we in Singapore have set ourselves the target of reaching the final rounds of World Cup in 2010."- Ho Peng Kee

"Only 5% are unemployed. We still have 95% who are employed."- Yeo Cheow Tong. Duh.

"Singaporean workers have become more expensive than those in the USA and Australia."- Tony Tan

“People support CPF cuts because there are no protest outside parliament."- PM Lee

"No, it was not a U-turn, and neither was it a reversal of govt policy. But you can call it a rethink."- Yeo Cheow Tong

"...I regret making the decision because, in the end, the baby continued to be in intensive care, and KKH now runs up a total bill of more than $300,000..."- Lim Hng Kiang, regretting the decision to save a baby's life because KKH ran up a $300 000 bill

"If we want to be a world-class city, if we want to be a nation that has got very good standards of public hygiene and cleanliness, the best place to start with is the public toilet."- Amy Khor, PAP MP

"Restoring the pay cuts of civil servants and ministers is reasonable as Singapore's economy has now regained momentum."- Ng Eng Hen

"I don't think my reading for the economy is strong enough for us to even consider asking for the restoration of the cut in CPF."- Lim Boon Heng

"If we ever introduce anything like quotas or incentives based on race, it will reinforce the perception that Malays and Indians have low skills and can only get jobs because of an incentive or quota."- Tharman Shanmugaretnam

"These schools (SAP schools) need to remain essentially Chinese to give the edge in interacting with China..."- self contradictory statement made by Tharman Shanmugaretnam again

"We must encourage those who earn less than $200 per month and cannot afford to nurture and educate many children never to have more than two... We will regret the time lost if we do not now take the first tentative steps towards correcting a trend which can leave our society with a large number of the physically, intellecually and culturally anaemic."- MM Lee in 1967

"If you don't include your women graduates in your breeding pool and leave them on the shelf, you would end up a more stupid society...So what happens? There will be less bright people to support dumb people in the next generation. That's a problem."- MM Lee in 1983

"The PAP Government has always thrived on its ability to anticipate problems."- Wong Kan Seng

"We are not able to be everywhere as a government to know everthing in Singapore"- PM Lee

Some of the gems of wisdom uttered by our PAP MPs and ministers.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, can I rephrase that;

"What's so disastrous about having a few more oppositions MPs? (As long as they don't go around taking semi-nude photos of themselve with their maids and endangering the lives of other road users by beating red lights".

. said...

i dowan parliament to close shop. so, i'll vote for the alternative parties - if there's no walk over in my area.

it's quite sickening to have a bunch of p.a.p. members stand up in parliament to praise the p.m. & the cabinet. a debate session degenerates into a praise-minilee session.

i'd rather have chee soon juan asking p.a.p. "where's our monies?" than to have malaysian quitters & some dumbass beauty queen in parliament talking cock.

darrnot said...

Mr Wang,

You are mistaken about the number of seats in parliament. The number of seats up for election is 84, not 81. I think your 81 figure is based on the 1997 GE; The number of seats was revised to 84 in 2001 GE and remains 84 for 2006 GE.

Your mistake explains why in your leading quote - "does it really make any difference whether they have 77, 79 or 81 seats in Parliament?" - u apparently took for granted that there would be at least 3 Opposition MPs.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to anonymous for posting those nuggets of wisdom from our enlightened government. I'm saving them for posterity. :)

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Oh, thank you, Mr Darren. I will correct my post.

Anonymous said...

I really hope Singaporeans wouldn't be fooled and restore a sense of dignity, justice and spirit to Singapore. Do we want mindless robots to say Yes, Yes, Yes to PAP? Let's not join this chorus and tell the PAP enough is enough!

And by the way, PAP MPs can disagree all they want, at the end of the day, they still must vote with the government. Only on small small issues like NMP can they break away, at the most one or two.

In contrast, Mr Chiam and Low sometimes agree with several govt policies (they dun oppose for the sake of opposing!) and vote with the government?

Do we want the faceless PAP MPs or the real Pro-People's MP?

The choice is yours!

Anonymous said...

did you forget the quote tag for the second part of the article you quoted? It would be more easy to make out where the cited article ends and your comments begin

Anonymous said...

Allo, dear Gilbert Chin Wang (meaning very lucky?) u got a lot to say about the for the imminent election for someone who proclaimed not to be interested in the GE. Gone schizo or what, teeheehee!

moomooman said...

And if the minister wants to make a decision on IT related issues, they now have a 31 years old MP to turn to.

Note that I made that statement with so much certainty.

Anonymous said...

I dunnoe man.

After reading Mr Wang's post, I have this very strong thought, once PAP wins all the seats, I will be more determined than ever to migrate away from Singapore. After all if my voice, which I feel that PAP would not be able to represent totally, cannot be heard on the nation's highest forum. Why would I bother to try and stay here?

Giving my life and time and blood to the country that doesn't really need me as a citizen but more like a dispensable unit for production. Yes, I will turn into those who bites the hand that feeds. After all it's no guarantee that the hand won't take me to the markets for slaughter and sell me for the meat.

Blank Doll said...

"After all it's no guarantee that the hand won't take me to the markets for slaughter and sell me for the meat."

Why would the government do that? What incentive would it get if we are the units of production and anyway, who'd buy us?

Oops, for a moment I thought Mr. Wang was describing political utopia. :)

Anonymous said...

It IS political utopia. For the PAP. Doesn't mean that it's good for Singapore.

Anonymous said...

Readers of the Straits Times should be very cautious of the advance level brainwashing tactics now being employed by SOME journalists (Chua Mui Hoong is a recent exception) in the run-up to the GE.

Just look at how disingenious and insidious this author concludes the article.

The concluding paragraphs of the ST article:
"Bearing in mind the lack of a level playing field, many voters would be willing to give opposition candidates a handicap.

The question is how big a handicap to give.

Yes, it is near impossible for any opposition team to match the meti- culously selected PAP slate in terms of qualifications, professional achievements and public service contributions.

But should the handicap be so big as to close the gap between an untested Ms Lim and a minister who has proven his mettle, like Mr Yeo?"

First, it tries to establish credibility with the reader by acknowledging an unfair politicial playing field (a generous admission, coming from ST).

Then, she points out that it is "near impossible" that any Opposition candidate can match the PAP selected candidates. My response to that is: What about Slyvia Lim, Chairman of Workers' Party? On paper, she can match the paper qualifications (Master Degree in Law), professional achievements (former Police Inspector, Temasek Polytechnic law lecturer) and public service contributions (being an Opposition member is in itself a form of national service, no?) of most PAP newbies. Oh, that's just impossible! Who can imagine talented and capable people joining non-PAP parties?!

Perhaps ironically, Slyvia Lim does get mentioned in the last paragraph. But who does the author compare her with? A senior member of the Cabinet and Foreign Minister, George Yeo! Shouldn't Ms Lim be compared with the new PAP candidates, who similarly, have not proven their mettle?

Hah! Talk about unfair handicaps, if any, given to the Opposition. The more realistic and non-bullshit question is: Should the handicap given to the new PAP candidates be so big as to allow them to hitch a free ride on George Yeo's "proven mettle"?


7-8 said...

> "Only 5% are unemployed. We still have 95% who are employed."- Yeo Cheow Tong. Duh.

You may think that this is a duh comment. In fact it isn't even true. Very often, not included in the 5% or the 95% are people who have given up looking for work. They are not "employed", nor "unemployed" but "unemployable".

As for Goh Chok Tong, I think he's been taking a few blows on the chin recently. That the NKF expose was allowed to go ahead seems like a deliberate affront to him, because his wife was the patron of that charity.

Now he's been given the unenviable task of prying the opposition wards back for the PAP. It's the ultimate machiavellan trick, playing the 2 "enemies" of the Lee family against each other. (OK, Goh is not an "enemy" but a rival) One of them has to lose, and whoever loses, the PAP wins.