Why Singapore Needs A Multi-Party Government

In this coming General Election, Singapore will see many young voters stepping up to the ballot boxes for the first time and whilst it is no doubt an exciting phase in their lives as Singaporean adults, the vote also carries it’s consequences for the parties that they’ll be voting into parliament to represent their constituencies and voices.

But for many of the young voters, what exactly are they voting for and how will they vote?

As someone who’ll be casting my second vote, I understand the excitement and enthusiasm to want to be radical and vote for change. And I’d say, go for it BUT not before you’re able to answer to yourself why you’d want that change and can that change be effected without the need for a change of party in government.

If the answer is YES, then you should still be voting for the government.

If the answer is NO, then of course, the opposition is the answer, provided it is able to give that change you seek for.

In the times that I’ve observed the politics in Singapore, I want a change, a change that the ruling party is unable to provide, a change in Singapore’s HISTORY but fundamentally, I’ll be voting towards a multi-party system and here’s why.

I’ll use the example of a business entity for this explanation.

Let’s take for example, SINGTEL. Singtel was in the past, THE ONLY telecommunications provider in Singapore. They monopolised the market and they determined how much to charge and what to charge. In short, they were in control and regardless whether you’re satisfied with their service and pricing, you still need them because they are the only ones in business.

But then Starhub came into the market in the late 90′s and caused a stir. Singtel no longer monopolised the market and began to lose market share. Starhub introduced FREE INCOMING CALLS which attracted many to switch telcos and this prompted Singtel to make changes to its’ mobile plans to introduce the same as well because otherwise, they’d lose ALL their customers.

Starhub as a competitor, gave more attractive options to the consumer and the consumer then had a choice of whom to pledge their allegiance to. As Singtel no longer monopolised the market, they had to come up with more attractive deals to entice the consumers to maintain their once dominant presence.

Such arrangements only served to be better for the consumer because it gave consumers a choice to switch allegiance easily should one telco fail to impress in more ways than one as opposed to pre-competition. The market reach a point of equilibrium whereby the telcos could work on competitive ground which benefited the consumers.

Demand & Supply Curve

Demand & Supply Curve

This same analogy would apply to Singapore politics.

Currently, the ruling government, the PAP monopolises policy making in parliament with very little debate or discussion as much as they’d like us to think otherwise. Party members will always have to toe the party line and that’s a given fact. With the introduction of a multi-party system in Singapore or even to begin with, a dual-party system in Singapore, the PAP is no longer able to take a stroll in the park with its’ policy making process because the opposition will be there to debate and discuss to ensure that the policy will be one that is more inclusive for the bigger society.

This then requires a compromise from both sides to reach a central point of agreement whereby it could satisfy all segments of society. It would be one that sits near the middle of the Demand x Supply graph eating up slightly more to favour either Citizens or Businesses (because Singapore is a business community).

Demand and Supply Cartoon

Demand and Supply Cartoon

Ultimately, a better policy would be developed and there would be less grouses on the ground.

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17 thoughts on “Why Singapore Needs A Multi-Party Government

  1. Pingback: Daily SG: 21 Apr 2011 « The Singapore Daily

  2. Good post – you’ve probably read Freakonomics!
    Expanding on your analogy of businesses, public-listed companies have independent, non-executive directors whose role is to look after the interests of minority, individual investors. They serve as a check against the management, ensuring accountability and good governance. Opposition MPs will play the role of such directors.

    • Hi Redd..

      Well actually, I haven’t read Freakonomics!
      Have heard about how good it is but have yet to find the time to read..

      And yes, Opposition MPs will play the role of such directors to ensure good corporate governance

  3. Please keep up the good work, your efforts won’t be in vain. we fail to make history in 2006 but we’ll make it better in 2011, since Singaporeans deserve better from the Government then they will listen to peasants like us.

  4. Hi,

    Your analogy using Singtel and Starhub to describe the need for a multi-party government is fundamentally flawed, over-simplifying the matter and shows how one can be dangerous when naive:

    1) Both Singtel and Starhub are commercial and profit-driven entities. They compete for consumers’ spending. And through competition, consumers gain…not all the times though. E.g., remember the big hooha about Singtel winning a major football broadcasting rights and how they ripped consumers off?

    BUT, both companies do not come and work together for the common good, for Singaporeans’ future. Do they?

    The Government is non-commercial and not-for-profit. The Government sets policies to benefit Singapore as a whole. It plans and leads the nation towards the betterment of its people economically, socially, etc. While having a multi-party government may mean more voices, a competition for views within such a government may not translate into a gain for Singaporeans.

    If both parties in a multi-party government goes all out to fight each other (think Taiwan and Thai politics) instead of fighting for the people, then we are dead. E.g., deadlocks in talks, one party stalling on key inititatives that are needed to help Singaporeans, one party wanting to oust the other during a crisis (think Japan earthquake) etc. Do we want these? I do not.

    2) You said a multi-party government “requires a compromise from both sides to reach a central point of agreement whereby it could satisfy all segments of society. It would be one that sits near the middle of the Demand x Supply graph eating up slightly more to favour either Citizens or Businesses (because Singapore is a business community).”

    This is very wrong. As a Singaporean, I do not want a compromise when it comes to policies affecting my future here. I hope you would stop propagating such an irresponsible thinking. I want the best that the Government can offer. Even if painful measures are needed, I would still want effective policies. I DO NOT accept compromised and sub-standard policies, just because both parties cannot agree on the best course of action and have to make a compromise.

    Also, it is too naive to think that finding a central point of agreement (or a balance between Demand and Supply) would satisfy the needs of all Singaporeans. Our future is not about finding that sweet spot on the Demand and Supply curve. This thinking is too simplified. Our future is more than that. Oh yes, in this non-perfect world, no policy can satisfy ALL Singaporeans.

    3) A multi-party government is nothing but a romantic notion put forth by the opposition parties. As the word, “opposition”, implies, opposition parties exist to primarily oppose the ruling party and its policies, work and decisions. They would surely oppose most policies of the government…is this good for Singaporeans?

    At some time, opposition parties want to take over the government and probably undo some of the things that the current government has done for Singaporeans. Is that what we want?

    If opposition parties want to be useful and effective in policy making so that Singaporeans would gain, they should collaborate with the ruling party to find the best solutions instead. But they wouldn’t do that, would they, judging from the actions of the current opposition MPs, and the calibre and thinking of some of their candidates.

    E.g. one opposition candidate said he and his fellow candidates would each hire a Personal Assistant to create jobs, if they were elected. Sounds gungho but has he thought about the larger macro plan for the Singapore economy and labour market?

    Another opposition candidate said that the PAP’s policies are too focused on the economy and has neglected the society. I question his logic because if we do not have a strong economy, we would have even more social problems. And what is he going to do then? Surely, he would blame the government!

    Let us all admit, we have all benefited from the current PAP government’s policies from the time we are born. Whether we want to admit or not, we cannot deny this.

    For my future, I want the PAP government to stay in power. I do not want opposition parties to come in and throw spanners at policies that have made Singapore what it is today.

    I am not going to vote for a “First World Parliament” as it focuses very much on the opposition parties’ wishes to take over the government. It doesn’t speak much about how much the opposition parties want to do for us, Singaporeans.

    So, vote wisely for our future together.

    Thanx.

    • Dear ProSingapore,

      Like you, I’m also concerned for the future of Singapore and like any other human, we each have our own set of understandings.

      Whilst you have placed Taiwan as one of the examples of Multi-Party Government which hasn’t been able to work, I’d point to you towards Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesia is, if not, one of the most democratic countries in the world and is functioning well with a capable leader in President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono.

      Previously, it was a single-party system under Soeharto. Indonesia has proven that a multi-party government can work given time.

      On the other hand, Malaysia is governed by a coalition government made up of several parties which has proven that it can still develop policies for the good of Malaysians.

      It will take time but surely, as the saying goes, ’2 heads are better than one’.

  5. The only reason for government bringing in Starhub or another group in to fight with SingTel is to wash away their hands and responsibility to the citizens and let us choose our own the best we can find. In either way, in the way we will still have to pay to subscribe to any channel.

  6. Abdillah , on balance , I thought your initial effort to rationalize the multi-party system was better thought out than most . However , your follow up rejoinder to ProSingapore citing Indonesia and Malaysia as good examples of a multi party system left me perplexed ! I can only conclude that your are not quite clued in to the opera and fanfare of either Malaysia or Indonesia’s circus like parliamentary debate . The give new meaning to 2 steps forward , 3 steps back …. and maybe throw in a few sideways steps for good measure !!
    There is a reason to the old aphorism of “too many cooks spoil the broth” . Blindly subscribing to a multi-party system and using a few elementary level economics charts does a great disservice by glossing over real pitfalls of the system . A good political science class will show that while effective in ending tyranny , as a tool for governance , a multi party system is heavily flawed . The right medicine for the right illness . You would not feed a cancer stricken man with constipation pills would you?

    If having more heads is better than one , why not institute that in the army ? Why not consult every soldier prior to every battle ? If having more heads is as vaunted as you say , would an army run by a thousand generals be the best system in the heat of battle ?

    In the final analysis , would you not agree that it would be better to employ elements of both ? A good balance has to be found for the SIngapore context and I am sure we will arrive at it in the year’s to come .

    • Daniel,

      Many thanks for your comments.

      I believe that I had overlooked to include another point on the matter. I concur with you that “too many cooks spoil the broth”, similarly there is a Malay proverb that there can’t be two captains to a ship and I agree. I believe that this statement applies to the one leading and in this instance, leading the country is the Prime Minister – someone who has good people skills and has the respect of all party members regardless of parties and is a visionary. Assisting him will be his Deputies who’s job will be to manage the vision he has set to the right group of people with matching capabilities whilst the others’ task is to assemble a separate group of people who’ll be able to go down to the ground to network and communicate the policies effectively as well as to garner feedback.

      Allow me to explain on Malaysia and Indonesia, like Malaysia and Indonesia, a democratic parliamentary debate will no doubt see a variations in opinions which could lead to ‘circus’ like acts that we’ve seen on tv. Whilst there are occasional ‘circus’ acts, these are only committed by a small minority of ill-disciplined individuals who have no respect for decorum. I would like to believe that our candidates here standing for elections, are a group of individuals who are disciplined and is able to respect decorum.

      My answers might not be the best, but I’d be open to hear your thoughts and ideas.

  7. As usual , thanks for your balanced riposte .

    Agree with your assessment about networking and communicating of feedback. I believe that the PAP assiduously gathers feedback from the public and in my experience , they have replied directly to me each time I offered constructive ciriticism.

    However, the mechanism they employ is rather opaque which gives the impression that they have not gathered any talkback at all. They need to be more visible in their efforts to collect feedback .

    Furthermore , their mechanism to disseminate policy decision is equally turbid, having to trickle down the byzantine corridors of bureaucracy.

    Back to the multi party issue, the problem with the current opposition is that they are nothing more than a bullhorn for people’s discontent. Are they to blame for this ? Definitely not , the blame lies with the electorate . For too long, all we have asked of them is to throw stones at the neighbours spanking new house when we should be asking them to produce a blueprint for a bigger better house !

    The opposition idea of an alternative voice in government is defined narrowly as a glorified debating club to register people’s unhappiness . It needs to go beyond this by giving logically defensible policies. It has struggled with this.

    If you read their manifestos, delve deeper. They will soon catch on that the electorate expects more of them than just being verbal ruffians throwing brickbats at the government. Once they start producing real concrete policies and BEGIN MOVING MOTIONS in parliament( sorry for the caps , not shouting but emphasizing), then we are on the road to a “First World Parliament”. Right now, they are just rattling the cage.

    How do we register our desire for more ? By asking specifics. I have asked them what their numerical targets are for limiting foreign talent , what knock on effect their plan will have in terms of GDP and how they plan to offset it? How will they balance this off with an aging population , critical by 2030 when only 2.5 working adults support one elder above 65.

    Many more such questions can be asked about housing , cost of living etc. the point is to light a fire under their seat and give us Singaporeans what we really want , an intelligent opposition . If we can’t reach this stage , then your asking whether a country is best served by a single or multi-party is moot .

    Btw , I wish more young Singaporeans can be so balanced and even handed like you !

    • Daniel,

      Many thanks for your reply.

      On the issue of the opposition being a bullhorn for people’s discontent which you mentioned, I’d have to partially agree on that. Reason being, as politicians, it is imperative that they use anything available to their advantage and in this case – the discontent expressed by the people as a result of PAP’s policies. Therefore, it is only expected of the opposition to use that in trying to win voters over.

      Having said that, I feel that this year, some groups of the opposition has shown that they are capable of not just being an alternative voice but also capable to serve to lead. I’m particularly impressed with the manifesto put up by Workers’ Party and how the Singapore Peoples’ Party has conducted themselves at rallies. In my humble opinion, I feel that WP has produced a reasonably good manifesto, worthy to be given deep thought at for consideration and the SPP didn’t ride on people’s emotion at the rally, instead they focused on what they planned to do for the electorate when they get voted in, which was worthy of respect.

      As to your request for specifics, I don’t think it’s ever possible to have specifics in politics because the world environment constantly changes and governments need to keep re-adapting their policies accordingly to achieve the objectives. Providing specifics also means that they would be shooting themselves in the leg should they not be able to meet the specifics. Further to that, I think when we request for specifics, it’d look a lot like sales target in which at the end of the day, the target might have been met but perhaps intangible items might have been affected (happiness, satisfaction).

      Lastly, I do believe there are many others like me out there. I’m just one of the many that you came across in your online surfing. Nevertheless, thank you.

  8. I thought your latest reply was tautalogical! The reason why we are asking for an alternative voice is so that they can go to parliament and ask specifics of the government and then to debate on it . I cannot believe that we should ask this of the PAP and not of the opposition ! We are asking the opposition to be our check and balance , but has it occurred to you who will check and balance the excesses of the opposition ? I put it to you that an intelligent unbiased electorate is the final check and balance for both .

    Unless of course you have now departed from your usual balanced reparte’ and think that the opposition is untaintable and needs no such checking . I read today about Hawazi’s dismissive attitude to you and others . Are you saying that all moral’s now reside only with the oppoisition and that no opposition would react this way forever? Naive…

    Maybe you think it is too much to ask S’poreans to act like an intelligent and unbiased electorate then ?

    • Daniel,

      I think there has been some misunderstanding with regards to my earlier reply.

      Specifics that I was mentioning was regards to specifics asked during the campaigning period. By all means, the opposition, once voted into parliament should request the PAP for specifics on the numbers for check and balances.

      And yes, I agree with you that an intelligent unbiased electorate should be the final check and balance for both.

      With regards to morals of the candidate, I’ve had a bad experience with Hawazi but others might have had it better. It should be left up to the electorate in the constituency to judge for themselves on how they wish to vote.

      But as an experienced MP, I was hoping that he would have at least shown some genuine concern to address the issue raised especially since he is managing an ageing estate.

      A similar incident could happen to someone frail and weak in the safety of their own home and if by any circumstances, the person dies as a result of something which I had brought up to be addressed, wouldn’t it then be too late to cry wolf.

      Regardless, I believe that MPs need to also be individuals who genuinely care for people and are willing to listen first.

  9. There was no misunderstanding on my part. I reiterate, for the opposition to raise the level of their game, we the electorate should raise clarifying questions.

    Years ago when the opposition was a ragtag bunch of disenfranchised misfits, the electorate said they would not vote for them if their quality did not improve. Fast forward 20 years, they have heard the electorate and have responded. If you don’t push them now with tough questions, they’re just going to be a bunch of parrots trying to outshout each other about people’s discontent. I’ve never known solutions to emerge from banal platitudes and rhetoric, have you?

    Its ludicrous to posit that questions not be asked during elections time. That’s exactly when it should be asked, when they are most sensitive to comments! That’s incentive enough for them to level up their game, don’t you think? In asking specifics, you are not trying to get a concrete plan of action, but to crystallize people’s thinking.

    Even the PAP can respond to tough issues raised during campaigning by offering an unprecedented apology, are you saying the opposition is too obtuse to behave similarly?

    I was one of those young ideologues in the 80′s who was almost militant about democracy. I’ve learnt to be less partisan , less formulaic, less biased. I’ve learnt that in conflict resolution, you give credit where credit is due and that sets the tone for real problem solving.

    Make no mistake, you would not have the luxury to wag your finger at the PAP if they did not drag this god forsaken mosquito infested fishing village out of economic boneyards of the world into fully developed status. Your ass and mine would still be dangling out in the cold air without some deft handling on their part during the credit crunch when the world teetered precariously. So give credit where its due, dispense with your judgemental pontification about the apparent misdeeds of a PAP MP and get on with the real work of rational , unbiased debate. Your greatest contribution will be in this arena, not parroting the partisan drivel that is commonly found on the internet.

    Speaking from personal experience, I’m saving you a lot of grief and disillusionment by telling you that the even handed approach is better than raucous irrational cheerleading that opposition rallies have descended into. The opposition will one day disappoint you too, trust me, but does that mean you will go out and bay for their blood like you do the PAP? No, if you believe in an alternative voice in government like I think you do, you should work with them. You can do that by being a voice of reason.

    Right now, you think the PAP is your enemy, so your enemy’s enemy is your friend. So you embrace the opposition. This week should be a lesson for you. When Russia entered Afghanistan, the CIA adopted the same strategy you did. So they embraced Osama and was one of his first sponsors. I think you know how the story ended.

    Sorry if its a bit long, but I think you are smart enough to pursue that reasoned debate , that’s why I say what I say to you.

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