Friday, October 28, 2005

Voting For Lawmaker or Estate Manager?

Voting For Lawmaker or Estate Manager?

Yes yes, I have promised to write the second part of Innovative Economy but this is a topic that was inspired by my engagement with HK's recent Distict Council by-election which I feel help us to understand our situation in Singapore.

I have modified one of the posting I have made in sammyboy's forum for this article.

In Hong Kong, the middle class people are normally supportive of the democratic alliance. However, this is only valid when they are voting for "natinoal issues", not "local issues".

There are two types of MPs or representatives in Hong Kong. One is the local representative which they call District Councillors. These representatives are just like our RC chairman of a small zone or district but they are elected by the people, not appointed by the govt. For policy making body, they have legislative council (Legco) which representatives are also elected.

During the recent by-election of one district council which consists of mostly middle class voters, the candidate from HK's Democratic Party who is also a Legco member, LOST to a little known independent candidate who is the chairman of management committee of one the largest private estate in the district.

From this result we can see that voters are rational when it comes to voting. For district councillors, they are expected to take care of the district and local issues. Thus, voters will choose a "grassroot man" over a "political star". But when it comes to electing people into the law making body Legco, their consideration in voting would be very different.

In Singapore, I would say PAP is quite ingenius in their structural approach. PAP understands that Singaporeans at large wanted more checks and balances in our parliament. This is shown by the huge vote swing and support level garnered by the opposition in early 80s till early 1990s. Even the GRC system could not prevent close fights whereby opposition garner over 40% of the valid votes.

The idea of setting up Town Councils for elected MPs to manage is to reduce the overwhelming urge of voters wanting more opposition voices in parliament. They have deliberately mixed up the function and role of MPs as lawmakers with local estate management representatives. This is unhealthy as it blurs the line of representation. And this is also where HDB upgrading comes into play. This is a systematic way of distorting voters' preferrences.

I would say that our election is not merely "issue driven". It is basically the tactic of blurring the functions of a law maker (i.e. MP) with local estate management. There will be two pulling forces for voters: are they going to vote according to the consideration of having responsible and effecive lawmakers or to the consideration of having good town council management and of course, HDB upgrading for their estates?

In the short term, it may seem that this "conflicting" struggle of self-interests vs national interests will work favourably for the incumbants. Issues like human rights, freedom of speech etc would be "too abstract" for the voters to put a "tangible" value against the concrete self interests of "better management of Town Council", HDB upgrading etc. Bread and Butter issues, though still abstract a bit, but it could still be "felt" and this feeling or resonance would be useful against local considerations. Thus, it is important for oppositin parties to find that efficient and yet effective angle which could counteract the blurring of roles for the lawmaker as the chairman of Town Council.

In the long run, such tactic will not work any more for PAP. The initial anxiety of voters (not getting HDB upgrading) will reduce and that is why we see that even with $160million promise of upgrading, there is little impact on the ground. Then, what's next? ;)

Will abstract issues or values like human rights, freedom of expression etc win over local concerns? Maybe not. Then what is the important ingredient for us to win votes?

If the slate of candidates presented by the opposition is lousy, the voters will have DOUBLE REASONS for not voting against PAP: it is a very realistic and rational considerations, why should one sacrifice his own tangible immediate "well being" in his living environment for a lousy opposition? The reasons for not voting against PAP Even if the voter feels strongly that we need opposition voice in parliament are:

1) the opposition candidates are lousy
2) It is not worth sacrificing self interests for such lousy candidates.

Thus, the only way of winning the support of Singapore voters is not merely issue-based, but rather, what could you offer to convince the voters that you are worth their self-sacrifice?

In short, in my opinion, I feel that there will always be chance for us to win if we could provide reasonably good candidates to convince voters to make sarcrifices in voting us. Whatever issues at hand is no longer vital as the NKF saga has more or less initiate the awakening of the need to have checks and balances in any system, especially our political system.

On the macro side, in my humble opinion, we should cultivate altruism and not destroying it unwittingly by such political system. We always like talk about "National Interests" but in the end, PAP has set up a political system that are suppressing "altruism" in which voters are discouraged to think from the "National Interests" perspective when they go to the ballot boxes. Instead, "SELF INTERESTS" such as HDB upgrading and Town Council management are deliberately play up to entice voters. This is absolutely unhealthy.

The role of lawmakers must be very specific and it should not be blurred systematically by other additional functions.

Workers' Party MP Mr. Low TK has the ability to take care and manage Hougang Town Council efficiently and effectively. We are not afraid of the additional job of managing a town council. In fact, I would say that there are benefits for us to manage the town councils if we win. It is easier for us to entrench ourselves with the control of these town councils. We could initiate alot more grassroot activities with a friendly town council in place. But it is in the Nation's interests that our political system must cultivate the correct mindsets instead of nurturing selfish mentality.

I would suggest that representatives to manage the town councils should be elected separately just like what Hong Kong did. In fact, I think even those RC chairman should be elected by the people directly. PA, as they claim, should be non-partisan in accepting the direct choices of the residents. No favourism should be practiced else we are sending the wrong values to our voters and children at large.

For the time being, I don't see how we could change the political system unless Workers' Party become the government. For the mean time, I would urge Singaporeans to make careful consideration about making their sacred votes.

There is one Chinese saying, if there is no country, there will not be home for us. Thus in my opinion, a vote in our General Elections is a vote for National Interests as the MPs will be part of the important lawmaking process. One should consider the LARGER picture when they vote. It is our future generation that we are voting for. Don't just vote for your estate manager but vote for a LAWMAKER that will decide your future as well as mine.

Goh Meng Seng

2 comments:

Thrasymachus said...

In my honest (yet unimportant) opinion, I think the oppositions in Singapore should fight for the right the sit in the CCC of the constituency they've won.

Ask any political science professors in NUS, NTU or SMU, they would say that one thing the oppositions never able to do (as in do it successfully) in Singapore is to challenge PAP in their strongest ground, which is the economic policies. Egalitarian movements on local grounds will not gather great movements if parties like the WP can't show that they are good number 2. And to be a good number 2, WP should have a strong direction on economic policies...not just the nitty gritty stuff (even though they are important and win you votes). Ultimately, WP has to show that they are ready to take over the baton when the time calls for it. Otherwise, WP and other opposition will always be a minimal threat to PAP.

Just my 2-cents worth...

code22x said...

I believe that this proposal will reduce the power ?estate managers? and isolate law makers from its people. Now our MPs have direct access to the people (residents) through periodical ?meet the people? sessions, and the people can see their MPs at work and decide if he is appropriate or just a talker. An example would be like S. Chandra Das who was nearly voted out of his office in the early 80s because his residents only ?see? him before each election. Among was mother wanted to talk to her MP to resolve my schooling issue, but couldn?t find him ? for whatever reasons. But after the system was then changed to GRC?but that is another topic.
The real danger of your proposal is that MPs being isolated can be very academic and charismatic speaker. The policies and laws are based on surveys and data; speeches done by professional speech writer. Thus our people do not know the MPs? personality, perception and management capability.
Like a large company, it is very difficult for the Executive management to go out on-sites for direct, open, face-to-face discussions with their employees. But once they do, they get better picture of their employees and customers that no survey, feedback form, financial or performance indicators can give. Like in the business world for top Executives, I believe politicians should have both strategic, management and functional capabilities in order to create and implement policies successfully, as these policies have great impact to our people?s lives. And of course if they can only speak properly with pre-written scripts, worse, can even cause a war when they have dinner with other world leaders. What better ways to know their management capability, art of delegation & empowerment, people skills, personality, ability to attract good followers/employees than also being a humble and practical estate manager.
For the academics with brilliant ideas and want to change policies, they should keep their debates at the universities and try to convince politicians and bureaucrats instead.

Just my view. Cheers.