Under Singapore’s system of parliamentary democracy, it’s “winner takes all”. For example, in a Group Representation Constituency (GRC) of 5 candidates, the winning party will have all five of its candidates fast-tracked into power. In the recently concluded 2006 Singapore General Election, this form of parliamentary democracy had served the PAP well, sending 82 out of 84 candidates into parliament.
This sort of results obtained under a GRC system over the last few elections has created an impression in the psyche of Singaporeans and foreigners alike that the PAP seems invincible. Is that the case? What makes the PAP looks so invincible?
First, the structure of the electoral system makes the PAP looks invincible.
If Singapore was under a system of proportional representation, the PAP would not have looked so invincible. A proportional representation is a method of voting by which political parties are given legislative representation in proportion to their popular vote. Given 66.6% of the popular votes, the PAP would have obtained only 56 seats in parliament, leaving the remaining 28 seats to the rest of the parties, with the Workers’ Party garnering 13 seats, nearly half of the 28 opposition seats available.
The point is this: One of the reasons behind the PAP’s impressive electoral fruits in parliament is the inner mechanisms of the GRC system.
Let’s examine the effect of such an electoral system. A GRC system makes the PAP’s victory look impressive and overwhelming, creating a perception among the electorate that the Pro-Singapore Alternatives, no matter how credible and capable their candidates are, stands no chance at all against any GRC team helmed by a Cabinet Minister. This, in the long-run develops a mind-set within the electorate that they should only look at the PAP and nothing beyond. This certainly impedes the rise of any Pro-Singapore Alternatives parties in the formation of an alternative government.
Group Representation Constituencies should be abolished, as it dilutes the individual voter’s voice. Instead, elections should be run on single seats. We should also explore the implementation of a Mixed Member Proportional Representation System as practiced in New Zealand.Election deposits too, contribute to the political apathy of most Singaporeans,
increasing the sense of PAP’s invincibility. In order to run for election, one has to put down $13,000 in order to qualify as a candidate. This creates an impression, especially among the youths, that politics is only reserved for the elite and the rich. Subsequently, this kills off any budding interest that a young Singaporean might have in participating in the democratic process.
Moreover, there is a lingering and prevailing fear among Singaporeans about participating in politics, especially if you are on the wrong side of the ruling party.
At the basic level, Singaporeans are worried because they have never experienced a government without the PAP.
They do not know what to expect if the PAP is not in power and this psyche among Singaporeans actually serves to benefit the ruling party in any tough contests, as shown in Aljunied GRC in GE2006. If the PAP were to lose in Aljunied, it means the departure of George Yeo, a foreign minister and a heavyweight in the cabinet.
Notwithstanding the PAP’s ‘scare tactics’ over the years, more often than not, opposition candidates bore the brunt of the PAP’s libel suits
. From J.B Jeyaretnam in 1991 and 1997 to Tang Liang Hong in 1997, the PAP has successfully made Singaporeans adopt a subconscious stance against opposition politics. There’s only one side to be on – the side of the PAP.
Thus, the inherent mechanisms built into the electoral system, coupled with apathy and fear among Singaporeans, have made an opposition victory very unlikely, reinforcing the invincibility of the PAP.However, given what the PAP has at its calling; i.e. financial resources, manpower, and grassroots mobilisation, there is no reason why the PAP should fail to complete a sweep of all the seats in parliament.
Despite this un-level playing field that the Pro-Singapore Alternatives faced, the Workers’ Party at the last managed to retain the Single-Member seat of Hougang with an increased majority of 7%. The Aljunied team managed a credible showing of 43% against the PAP team led by Foreign Minister George Yeo. Even more surprising was the fact that the “suicide squad” won 33.9% of the valid votes deep in the “lion’s den”, Ang Mo Kio GRC.
However the reality remains that the Workers’ Party only won 1 seat compared to the 13 seats that the party could have won under a proportional representation system.In essence, it is the presence of these artificial constitutional barriers put up by the PAP, coupled with the implanting of fear within the electorate, that buttresses the ruling party in power long enough for them to produce an impressive track record.
In reality, the PAP isn’t that invincible after all.