Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Implausibilty of Political Gridlock in Singapore

The common argument against a two-party system in Singapore is that of political gridlock. I find this to be implausible, given Singapore's political structure. There are three main factors which strongly inhibit the formation of political impasses.

1. Singapore has a unicameral legislature.
2. Singapore adopts a first-past-the-post voting system.
3. Singapore has strict limits on parliamentary speaking time.

Therefore, I think it is unlikely for political gridlock to exist in Singapore. To elaborate upon the previous points:

The United States is often cited as one example of an indecisive (if not impotent) legislature, which is probably true. Yet, it is invalid to extrapolate this to Singapore because the underlying political system is significant. A bicameral legislature, where a law has to be sanctioned by both chambers, is clearly different from a unicameral legistature. At the very least, a law faces more obstacles to being passed. It is also not uncommon for bicameral legislatures to be 'won' by different (and opposed) parties, which contributes to factionalism.

None of these are applicable to Singapore, where there is only one chamber.

When discussing the malalise in American politics, another important weapon to force an stalemate is the fillibuster. A fillibuster prevents the passage of a vote; in the US, 60% of senate votes are required to force a vote, which has degenerated into a situation where 60% support is required for a motion to be passed (otherwise any objecting party can simply prevent its passage by fillibustering).

Singapore has strict limits on the amount of speaking time each MP has. Thus, it is nearly impossible to delay the passage of any law via filibustering.

Beyond simple factionalism leading to political gridlock, an indecisive legislature can also arise due to the weakness of political parties. Some european governments have adopted proportional representation, which allots seats (approximately) based on the voting share each party has garnered in the previous election. Unfortunately, this tends to lead to the formation of legislatures comprising of numerous small, fratictious parties. If major parties are unable to secure outright majorities, the only option is a coalition. Coalitions are unstable, and may lead to shortsighted, incoherent, and piecewise policy.

Singapore has a first-past-the-post voting system, which tends to amplify the vote share of the winner. While this does not guarantee outright majorities (as with UK's last election, which necessitated a coalition), it is nontheless more stable than a proportional represention.

The fear of an indecisive government seems exaggerated. In my opinion, the greater danger is that of having insufficient safeguards to moderate the political process.