As someone who takes pride in considering the whole picture before making an electoral assessment, I’ve decided to – for the first time – give the opposition a chance this election cycle. I thought I’d present the arguments as to why.
1. The opposition has matured
This is, first and foremost, the reason I think it’s worth giving them a chance to be our elected representatives. Pritam as the leader of the WP brings a strong, credible, measured voice to Parliament, and as we all saw this week, Jamus Lim brings more of the same. Not only are they seeking to run not just to provide contrarian views, but Jamus (and the WP’s manifesto) articulated clear, sound, and progressive policy goals and the means to get there.
Let’s not forget the PSP as well. The PSP brings back veterans who are credible and capable of raising valuable viewpoints. Whilst TCB might be getting up there in years, I for one believe his heart is in the right place – and that he would provide a valuable, vocal voice to keep the incumbent in check. I hope the party is able to attract more young, energetic, and sound voices to the conversation.
2. The PAP’s policymaking has regressed
In contrast to the opposition, my view is that the PAP’s policymaking has taken a hard turn away from democracy in the last 5 years. Here’s some examples:
The Reserved Presidency. There are a number of issues with this, but for me the timing (seemingly to stop TCB from running), and the pre-determined manner in which it was done (with CCS referring to Halimah as “Madam President” when she was still Speaker) were the most egregious.
POFMA. POFMA could have been a useful law. If the power to determine who could issue directions was vested in the hands of a neutral arbiter, like the Courts, it might even be fair. But with power vested in the hands of Ministers, POFMA will – practically speaking – never be used against the incumbent’s interests. Couple that with the chilling effect it has, and the fact that it hands the government a loudspeaker to trumpet its views over those which are alleged to be false, and you have a recipe for authoritarianism regardless of what Shan tries to say to the contrary.
Lack of transparency in leadership selection for govt linked entities. It’s 2020 – and the private sector has no lack of experienced management candidates. But we continue to see former generals and government linked individuals being appointed to and holding key portfolios in important state-linked companies. If we believe in meritocracy, and having the best person for the job, then we need to back that up with action. I’m not saying they’re not suitable – but we need to be convinced, as a populace, that they are.
Social and income inequality. This is a little more subjective, but as someone who has benefited greatly from the current system of social stratification – I think I can say without reservation that we need to do more for those who need a leg up. I can’t belabour this unless this post becomes essay length, so I’ll just say that my views align with those Jamus espoused on redistribution of labour share, and on the need for a relook at how to make schooling more equitable.
3. We need checks and balances
I don’t think anyone believes, in this day and age, that “ownself check ownself” really works – if it did, Ivan Lim would never have been asked to go for tea. This is especially true given that we don’t have a free and independent media to act as a fourth estate.
Neither does the NCMP scheme assist the incumbent. Sure, it provides voices in Parliament – but voices which can be openly ignored, given that they have no electoral mandate.
We also need to more opposition to slowly but surely level the playing field. The incumbent holds all the cards, and sets the rules, like what can and can’t be said on media (and now social media), the use of the People’s Association (lest we forget, a stat board) and Grassroots Advisors as “shadow MPs”, and the way in which electoral boundaries are defined.
I’ll leave one parting thought. The PAP has said that we should not become a western-style democracy because it creates gridlock if there are too many checks and balances. But what if the PAP loses its way, and we end up with a Trumpian style leader? All that is holding Trump in check now is precisely the robust series of checks and balances that are systemic to a true democracy.
Now imagine handing Trump a tool like POFMA. A terrifying thought indeed.