Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Knife Cuts Both Ways

In latest news, the Singapore government has announced some proposed changes to the electoral system which would increase the minimum number of opposition MPs in parliament to nine (this done by the device of the NCMP). This is intended to increase the range of views heard in parliament.

Would this measure work? Indeed, it seems that the number of alternative views presented would be greatly increased- this from a purely statistical viewpoint, since it is obvious that nine is greater than the number of opposition MPs, elected or otherwise, currently in parliament. And, since opposition MPs tend to be more active in parliamentry debates, one can't help but think that things are likely to be more vibrant.

What's the catch, then? Well, the catch is that the knife cuts both ways. Recall the effective "by-election strategy" employed in the 1991 elections, which resulted in great success for the opposition parties. That success was possible by contesting less than half the seats, and focusing the role of the opposition to be that of a watchdog and a provider of alternative views.

By legislating a significant amount of opposition voices into parliament, one can't help but think that the persuasiveness of the watchdog/alternative views electoral platform is somewhat weakened. However, I doubt that many would find the situation of having 2 elected opposition MPs as being significantly more preferable than the situation of having 9 NCMPs, even considering the reduced powers of a NCMP.

The real question is whether the opposition would lose ground in the next election. Possibly, due to the forementioned weakening of the watchdog/alternative views platform, though I think this might not be such a bad thing. I've always felt a bit ambivalent about the by-election strategy; it is the equivalent of aiming to come in second in a race just to win the second prize. It's not a reliable strategy, and it gives the mixed message of "we are not good enough to run the country, only enough to point out a few weaknesses in policy". The strategy really discounts some of the good work and thought that some parties have put into becoming a viable alternative for the PAP.

Though I suspect that it might be a moment premature, perhaps it's time for opposition parties to step up to the mantle, and present themselves as fully valid alternatives rather than mere complements to the PAP.

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