28 May 2009

More Opposition MPs: How Will This Change Voting Patterns?

In what is probably the biggest change in the political system in recent years, the government has announced that the lower limit for the number of opposition members of parliament will be raised from three to nine. This means that, in future elections, if the opposition parties capture less than nine seats, the rest will be filled up with NCMPs from the losing team with highest proportion of votes.

The first question that springs to my mind is, why does the government do this? I mean, are the PAP MPs looking for more targets to abuse in parliament? Well, there is the most straightforward possibility that the PAP really wants more checks and balances against themselves. Uh... okay, scrap that.

Obviously, this move will ultimately benefit them in some ways. But how? It seems to be a response against the rising voices of "checks and balances" and the employment of it as a rationale for supporting the opposition in elections. So PAP is trying to say, "Yo! You guys there who vote for the opposition because of the 'checks and balances' reason. There's no more need to do that with this new change!"

Now, does this hold water? It comes down to what it all means when people say they want "checks and balances". Basically, to me at least, it seems that this "checks and balances" imply that the PAP cannot pass bills in parliament at will. That is, the PAP controls less than two-thirds of the seats in parliament. In this case, the new measures cannot convince a rational individual to forgo "checks and balances" as a consideration when voting. Even with nine opposition MPs, they still cannot block any bill if the PAP MPs vote unanimously. What's more, NCMPs have limited voting powers.

However, is that all to "checks and balances"? Could someone want "checks and balances", and yet mean something less than a third of opposition MPs in parliament? It could very well be, if this person assumes "checks and balances" as more questions asked in parliament sessions. More specifically, they want bills to be scrutinised. They want "failures" like the recent losses in Temasek Holdings to be dissected. They want issues to be debated more thoroughly. And perhaps, they trust PAP MPs to vote on their individual capacities on non-partisan matters.

So how much votes will this new change bring for the PAP? Definitely, those hardcore fans of either camps are not going to budge. PAP is aiming at the middle of the spectrum, at people who may vote for the PAP, but at the same time lean towards the opposition for "checks and balances". For the person who takes that to mean "less than 66% of MPs belong to PAP", it's not gonna work. But how much does this group of people comprise in the electoral roll? How many people interpret "checks and balances" as the second meaning? How many people have no idea of what they want when they demand "checks and balances"?

On a side note, I welcome the new change to smaller GRCs, so long as it does not imply an increase in the number of ministers!

02 May 2009

The Aftermath of the AWARE War

As with all wars, there is celebration on the side of the victors, and bitterness on the side of the defeated. But as these emotions fade, what will emerge is the vast destruction done to the people and the infrastructure. Lives lost, buildings bombed, resources wasted... a scene of ruin that greets both sides.

In a similar sense, a war has broken out in Singapore's civil society, a struggle for power for one of Singapore's most prominent interest group. The dispute in AWARE has culminated in the EGM, which dragged overtime for several hours, and eventually tilted against the favour of the new AWARE committee, triggering their resignation.

But what has been destroyed in this AWARE war? One thing for sure, Constance Singam has identified that the trust that was implicit in the organisation is gone now. Like a shattered vase, there is no way to restore its original state; even with masterful reparations, cracks will forever be there.

But I think it goes beyond that. The trust amongst different interest groups in society may be under strain. And I am not talking about groups that sit on opposite sides of an issue, like evolutionists and creationists. After all, AWARE does not fight for gay-rights, yet it was on this issue that triggered the entire affair. This has shown that even if a group is only tangentially concerned with a minor issue, it is liable to be taken over by other groups. So the lesson that other groups, observing this AWARE war, can learn is to guard themselves against such a takeover by any other groups with an alternative motive. And with that, the trust is gone. And maybe... maybe, it's not so bad a thing after all.

But what will this mean, beyond all that trust and everything? Is society more polarised between pro-gays and anti-gays now? Will the battle for gay rights be more difficult now? Is it really a victory for supporters of the so-called Old Guards, especially when there were signs of rowdiness and rude interruptions? The words, the insults and the name-calling... how much of this whole saga can we call it a step forward for democracy?

Is this war really over? Or will it lead, just like World War I, to another more devastating showdown?