The Singapore General Elections 2015 are drawing near. As a young adult in Singapore, I would like to see more opposition representation and voices in parliament.

This is because I find it hard to trust a system where so much of the power is entrusted to one party alone. In any type of situation, power corrupts.

While the first batch of PAP leaders brought us to economic success and solved several social problems, the new batch was complacent. They ended up creating many problems such as immigration; super expensive property prices; increased restrictions in private transport possession but yet a decline in public transport service and the list goes on.

Thus, I hope that we can have a multiparty state in Singapore. However, I am not too optimistic that opposition parties will do extremely well.

Here is why:

1) The Elections Department is not independent

The Elections Department is not an independent body. It is part of the executive branch under the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong.

This gives the ruling party has advantages in two ways:

Firstly, they can decide the polling districts and polling sites through electoral engineering, based on poll results in previous election. Many complain that redistricting causes competitive districts to be dismembered to ensure PAP dominance.

This re-districting process is not governed by a consistent legal framework. It is also conducted in secret, with no public input or oversight. The staff of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) staff are also appointed by the Prime Minister’s office, compromising its neutrality.

Furthermore, given that the elections department is under the PAP, they can choose a favourable time for themselves to hold the General Elections. In an interview with the media in December 2014, Lee said that the PAP had been hard at work preparing for the polls, and that the elections would be called “as soon as we’re ready.”


2) The PAP has control over the People’s Association

The People’s Association is generally perceived by the public to be an affiliate of the PAP.

For those who don’t know what the People’s Association is, it basically oversees all the official “grassroots organisations”, namely the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCC), Community Club Management Committees (CCMC), Residents’ Committees (RC), Neighbourhood Committees (NC) and the Community Development Councils (CDC). PA also runs the National Youth Council (NYC) and the People’s Association Youth Movement (PAYM), which reach out to young people.

According to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), these “neighbourhood political committees” under the PA were formed in 1964 partly due to “the need for sponsorship of political activity in the centers” and “Lee Kuan Yew’s need for a personal political organization”.

The leader of the various committees is the “Adviser to the grassroots organisations”. This adviser is appointed by PA, presumably with the nod of its chairman, the Prime Minister.

It is the grassroots adviser who gets prominence in all activities and events organized by the official grassroots organisations. The grassroots adviser also has full access to all grassroots resources.

What is interesting is this:

In PAP wards, the elected MP serves as the grassroots adviser.

In contrast, in every ward that has ever been won by the opposition, the leader of the grassroots organisations, also known as the grassroots adviser is the PAP candidate who lost the election.

The opposition MPs are also denied access to grassroots resources and denied prominence in grassroots activities and events. For instance, WP MP Chen Show Mao was excluded from events organized by the Citizens’ Consultative Committee under the People’s Association in his own ward. If residents invite WP MPs to their event, they will not be given permission to use these public facilities under the People’s Association.

According to blogger Ng E-Jay

“This is only one example, though a very important one, of how the government effectively co-opts grassroots bodies to serve its political interests using taxpayer dollars, and denies the opposition resources that it fairly deserves to have access to.”

 

Peoples Association

People’s Association’s blatant affiliation with the PAP


What is even more interesting is that this year which is the year of the General Elections, there is a sudden 51.3 per cent jump in the PA’s expenditure estimates to more than S$1 billion for FY2015. Of course, the PAP has explained their side of the story for this interesting coincidence.

However, many doubts have been raised about this.

In the recent weeks, there have been calls for the People’s Association (PA) to be more accountable in how it uses tax payers money, and also for its role in “its service to all Singaporeans and to all elected MPs (including opposition ones).”

PA responded by conducting “internal panel investigations”. However, questions were raised about the opaque manner where no reports were made public, or details of the investigation.

The PA later also announced that it was setting up a three-person “review” committee to improve “its financial and procurement rules.” However, the three-person committee is made up of its own grassroots leaders.

Personally I think this is unfair as People’s Association is funded by taxpayers money and should remain independent, not take any sides. 

Furthermore, opposition parties are at a disadvantage as they have to rely solely on internal party resources for their election campaigns and outreach programmes, instead of tapping into public funds to fuel their political ambitions.

 

3) Special events in 2015

 

Several special events which are in PAP’s favour have took place in 2015.

Firstly, the SG50 celebrations give PAP an opportunity to highlight the policies the party has made in the past which contributed to economic success of Singapore today.

Secondly, the whole hoo-ha about Lee Kuan Yew benefits PAP immensely. In fact, the general elections are rumoured to be in mid-September which also coincides with Lee Kuan Yew’s birthday – 16 September.

Many people see him as a self-sacificial hero. Personally, I think it is a win-win relationship. Singapore has benefited from LKY’s leaders but he and his entire family has benefited from him being our first PM.

As NSF Chinton explains in his post The Intolerance of Grief

Personally, I hold Mr. Lee in very high esteem. I’ve already discussed in my previous blog post how Mr. Lee, though far from perfect, managed to overcome his personal failings to build a safe and prosperous nation. But to argue (or assume) that the death of a statesman can be anything but political is a painfully naive belief.

Mr. Lee wasn’t just the founder of modern Singapore – he was also the founder of the political party that currently governs Singapore. If you were to ignore Mr. Lee’s mistakes, his proclivity toward crushing his political opponents, and his disregard for liberal democratic values, then you too are guilty of using his death as a vehicle to advance political interests. There will forever be an unbreakable connection between Mr. Lee and the PAP.

To laud Mr. Lee uncritically is also to strengthen the claim to performance legitimacy that the PAP so craves. To say only the good things about Mr. Lee is also to dismiss the bad things carried out under the banner of his PAP government.

I am not sure if people will be discerning enough to tell that the leaders of the past who played a part in the progress are now gone and the new ones that took their place are responsible for majority of the problems we have today.

Ironically, they draw a much higher pay cheque than the previous batch of awesome PAP leaders who did a much better job than them.

 

4) PAP controls the media which is hostile towards Opposition Parties

Mainstream media plays a critical role in shaping public opinion in Singapore. Yet it is extremely one-sided and biased towards the PAP.

As described in a recent report Performance Legitimacy by the Economst:

The Singapore government benefits from a tame mainstream press that is largely hostile to the opposition and rarely covers it between elections. During the campaign itself it tends to favour the government in the crudest way. “Is S’pore ready for a gay MP?” asked a headline in 2011 in the New Paper, a tabloid, about an opposition candidate.

How exactly is the media controlled? The two main media companies Mediacorp and Singapore Press Holdings are somewhat controlled by the government.

Mediacorp is owned by the government.

SPH is a public listed company with many shareholders, Temasek Holdings is one of them and owns 1.14 percent of SPH’s ordinary shares. However, it also owns other companies who are management shareholders of SPH. It also stated as per SPH’s annual report that “the power of management shares is 200 times more powerful than that of ordinary shares on resolutions relating to the appointment or dismissal of a director or staff of the company”

Furthermore, there has been several reports about OB markers and how journalists have to be careful when writing unfavourable things about the ruling party. 

In June 2012, a retired SPH editor also admitted that the newspaper was “obscuring truth”.

According to Wikileaks, journalists have to toe the line when writing for the Straits Times.

Singapore journalists say they are increasingly frustrated with GOS-imposed limits on their domestic reporting. Political leaders put pressure on the Straits Times (ST) staff to ensure that the paper’s domestic coverage follows the government line. Reporters say they are eager to produce more investigative and critical reporting, but they are stifled by editors who have been groomed to tow the line… Reporters have to be careful in their coverage of local news, as Singapore’s leaders will likely come down hard on anyone who reports negative stories about the government or its leadership

Thus, it is no surprise that press freedom has been declining annually over the past five years. We were ranked 153th out of a total of 180 countries, below Afganistan, Ukraine, Russia and Myanmar.

Given that a significant proportion of Singaporeans only read local news and do not bother to read alternative online news such as Mothership and The Online Citizen, they are likely to be very pro-PAP and have a negative perception of oppoisiton parties. This is because their opinions are likely to be shaped entirely based on what they see on television and The Straits Times.

Not saying that alternative news do not have their own affiliations. For instance, Mothership’s editor Belmont  Lay is Nicole Seah’s ex boyfriend. The organization is also founded by former PAP MP’s George Yeo. The Online Citizen also tends to be more pro-opposition.

Since every news website would not be entirely free from bias-ness, I would definitely encourage all Singaporeans to read from a wide variety of sources to gain a complete picture about things.

Read: The Government Counting On The Media

 

5) Shortcomings of the GRC system

Since 1988, Singapore has been using the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system. According to the Constitution and the PEA, there must be between three and six MPs in a GRC. These candidates comes together to stand for elections to Parliament as a group. Each voter of a GRC casts a ballot for a team of candidates, and not for individual candidates.

One good point about the GRC system is that it provides a fair opportunity for minority races to speak up and allow minority representation in parliament.

However, a downside is that it allows unpopular members or newbies to tread on the coattails of more popular individuals. Read: 5 Observations That The Ang Mo Kio GRC Is Actually Just PM Lee

The biggest downside is probably how the votes do not correlate with the number of people representing us in parliament. For instance, the PAP’s national vote share was just little over 60 per cent. Yet, it won 81 out of 87 seats (93 percent).

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Ending off, I am not trying to pour cold water or discourage any opposition parties from running in the upcoming general elections. What I am doing is basically highlight some of the obstacles that they may face.

Of course, I myself hope that the playing field will be as even as possible given and people would try to be fair and all that integrity is one of the core values in our Singaporean society. However, I think it’d be naïve of me to expect so. This is politics after all.

Do you agree with the points I have raised? What other barriers do you think the opposition party would face in the upcoming General Elections 2015?

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I write regularly on issues of interest to Generation Y such as strategy, dating advice, career, personal development, lifestyle and commentaries on social issues. To find out more about me, check out my profile here. If you would like to stay updated on my life and entries, do follow me on Facebook and Instagram.