Since its inception, The Reform Party, as befitting its name, has been campaigning for Reform. Economic Reform, Political Reform, Constitutional Reform and particularly Electoral Reform. Also since inception we have called for the scrapping of the GRC system and reversion back to SMCs amongst other reforms that we consider essential.
A little over a year ago the idea of Reforming the electoral system to re-introduce SMCs firmly entered the National Conversation with the publication of a position paper by NGO MARUAH stating that the GRC system had outlived its usefulness.
Since then there have been other papers by academics such as James Gomez and numerous articles, blogs, conversations and Party forums including one being hosted by the NSP on July 4.
We believe the time has come therefore to move that conversation on and translate it into action. We are therefore calling on all the Opposition Parties to come together and agree on the Reforms that we all in common want to see introduced, whilst there is still time before GE 2016.
By putting aside our differences and coming together to sign a joint Position Paper on areas where there is clear agreement, we hope each Party can show solidarity without homogeneity. Homogeneity denies choice to the electorate. Additionally the development of a competitive market place of ideas is essential to Singapore’s development as an advanced economy and the establishment of democracy.
The GRC system is a major obstacle to democracy and disenfranchises more than 40% of Singaporeans. In 2006 nearly half of seats went uncontested because of the obstacles presented by the GRC system, handing the PAP victory before a single vote had been cast in their favour. In 2011 40% of the electorate voted for the Opposition but the net result was only 7% of the seats in Parliament. In 2006 it was 33% and 2% of the seats.
Whilst there are many areas that need a complete overhaul and other area so new to our way of thinking that much more debate and thought is required (such as a system of voting based on Proportional Representation or the Single Transferable Vote) we do hope that agreement may be reached on the following in some form. The list is not exhaustive but only those areas where we believe common ground on Electoral Reform can be reached.
As, by convention an open letter does not require a response I have separately sent this message in the form of a private letter to the leader of each political party and prospective party. Mr Low Thia Kiang, the Honourable MP for Aljunied and Secretary General of the WP, Mrs Lina Chiam, NCMP and Chairman of SPP, Mr Sebastian Teo President of NSP, Dr Chee Soon Juan, Secretary General of SDP, Mr Abu Mohamed, President of PKMS, Mr Desmond Lim, Secretary General of SJP, Mr Benjamin Pwee, Secretary General of DPP, and Mr Tan Jee Say, leader of the prospective SFP.
Remove Control of the Elections Department from the PMO
This is the Electoral Reform upon which all other Reforms depend. The elections department must be removed from the PM’s office and replaced by a fully independent Electoral Commission with representatives from civil society and all political parties on the Commission.
The task of redrawing the electoral boundaries and policing elections should pass to this body.
There should be an independently elected Commissioner with powers to stop the use of state and taxpayer resources to buy votes, e.g. through a threat to withhold upgrading of HDB estates.
We are all acutely aware that the GRC system hands a vastly disproportionate share of the seats in Parliament to the PAP. It creates an uneven playing field leading to democracy by deepest pocket. Many also feel that the (GRC) system allows “free-riders” to enter politics on the coattails of more established party members.
The justification given for the GRC system by the PAP has always been that it ensures minority representation in Parliament. At the Reform party we argue that in fact it entrenches tokenism and we should trust the voters to vote on merit not ethnic lines. Before the GRC system was introduced, minority members were not under- represented.
Other methods could be explored which do not deprive the voter of choice. The most expedient method would be to retain 25% of the seats as two- or three-seat GRCs as an interim measure till full reform could be achieved. Ethnic minority representation could be entrenched through short lists or by tweaking the NCMP system to install the closest losers among the minority candidates in the event of under representation.
Reform the Political Donations Act
The limit above which political donations have to be declared should be raised significantly as the current system acts as a substantial impediment to Opposition parties attracting funding.
The independent Elections Commission should police donations as it is not appropriate that the leader of the PAP can oversee the donors to competing parties without reciprocity.
Reduce the Electoral Deposit and Threshold
Together with the GRC system the very high electoral deposit and threshold which candidates have to attain contributed in the past to nearly half the seats going uncontested in 2006. Though almost all seats were contested in 2011 we still had one GRC where voters did not get their democratic right to choose. The Singapore electorate are sophisticated enough to decide which candidate they wish to represent them in Parliament.
Reform the Media Laws
The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act and the Broadcasting Act need to be repealed so that we have a free media. The State Media companies should be privatised and competitors allowed to enter the market.
Extend the Campaign Period
In line with other democracies this needs to be at least three weeks to allow Opposition parties adequate time to campaign and get their message out
Fixed Terms Between Elections
There should be a fixed term between elections unless the Government loses a vote of no confidence. This is to remove the big advantage that the incumbents have, in combination with the very limited campaign period and the control of the media
State Funding for Political Parties
The State should also provide funding to the leading Opposition Party and a state allowance for an office or a researcher. There should be an official title of Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.
Reform the Town Councils
Town councils should be separated from the SMCs. Making the MP responsible for running the Town Council and Estate Management is a complete distraction from her proper purpose, which is to represent her electorate and to hold the Government accountable in parliament.
We should replace the present system with one in which Town Councils are larger but directly elected by the people.
Reform the Presidency
The (S)Elected Presidency should either be:
Returned to a purely ceremonial role
Reformed by removing the current restricted selection criteria and given greater resources and powers to investigate and expose corruption, mismanagement or wastage in government. The CPIB should be removed from the PMO and placed either under the President or under a directly elected Commissioner.
This system has outlived its purpose.