Tuesday, March 02, 2010

TOC: A minister must fall in the process of change, says NSP sec-gen

A minister must fall in the process of change, says NSP sec-gen
Tags: general elections

By Fang Shihan

Longtime opposition stalwart, Mr Goh Meng Seng (picture right, middle), is no stranger to Singapore’s politics. Having just been elected Secretary-General of the National Solidarity Party (NSP), the former Worker’s Party politician is decidedly confident.

“The PAP is ultra capitalist!” he says. “They think that running a country is like running a company… but in a country, surplus and deficit is not the same as profit and loss… [they have] no moral bearing in a political sense.”

Effectively bilingual, the owner of a small business in Ang Mo Kio and part-time translator switches between the two languages with ease during the interview. He also sees this as an asset should he come up against Mr Mah Bow Tan in Tampines GRC in the upcoming elections.

Views on the current political system

An economist by nature, Mr Goh compares the political system to a marketplace. He feels that the opposition must be the spurs in the PAP’s hinds to make the PAP more competitive.

Only by challenging the PAP’s power status will the PAP ‘up’ its competitiveness. This, he clarifies, is not the same as asking for welfare, which merely functions as a stopgap measure. Quite often, systemic faults are the cause of unemployment, preventing people who want to have an opportunity to work from lifting themselves out of poverty.

Drawing an analogy with the public transport system, which he derides as inadequate and not competitive, he says, “If you had a total monopoly of power, there is no incentive to do better…. There is no urgency or need for those in authority to heed your demand.”

Aside from the opposition, there needs to be participation from the people in order to get a more responsive and caring governance. A multi-pronged approach with the media, the social worker and politician as equal partners negotiating with the state would make for the ideal political system. Opposition leaders, he explains, are needed as political leverage to threaten the ruling party with the danger of losing voters.

“If Singapore wants to set the best deal for government, it needs [political] opposition in contestation for power.”

Another paradigm-shifting party?

Mr Goh says that the political system must change to serve the new electorate. Unlike the previous generation which was willing to sacrifice political freedoms for economic growth, the post-65 voters do not feel beholden to the PAP. The fact that the ageing Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew is largely responsible for holding the integrity of the ruling party together , and that post-65 voters will form more than 50% of the electorate in the next elections, there is an imperative to think about Singapore’s political future in the post-LKY phase.

According to Mr Goh, these post-65 voters are more educated and want to see political debate. More importantly, they wish to see substance in the political process.

The NSP, he says, “may be small, but it has a role [to play] to be the agent of change.”

The NSP, Mr Goh says, will be very open about its political strategy, something never seen before in Singapore. In line with the post-65 electorate that wishes to see more political debate and substance in the political process, the NSP will not wait for the 9-day campaigning period to begin educating voters on its vision for Singapore.

“Voters cannot make a good assessment within 9 days,” he reasons.

What NSP will be pushing for

Mr Goh declares that the NSP is planning to contest in Tampines GRC with its Malay candidate at the fore. There has never been a Malay MP from the opposition, which has led to a myth that only Malay PAP MPs can take care of the community’s welfare.

The NSP’s minister-policy centered strategy will see the NSP targeting Mr Mah Bow Tan, questioning him on the HDB policies which have led to rocketing flat prices. “Look deeper into the problem,” Mr Goh explains. “It is not just asset devaluation. We must ask: Is the minister doing his job?”

He will also be pushing for a minimum wage policy. Attacking the latest ESC (Economic Strategies Committee) report, which proposed levies for foreign workers, he says that this will only escalate the existing price war between lower-skilled local and foreign workers.

There is an imbalance of supply and demand in the labour market, driven by unlimited supply from foreign workers, he explains. These workers are therefore bound to be exploited through wage suppression as their wages are driven down by price competition.

Singaporeans are even worse off, he continues, as unlike their foreign counterparts who are able to rent rooms at $160/mth fromgovernment agencies, they instead have to pay a mortgage for their flat. Even if they were to rent a flat, a subsidized 2 room rental flat costs between $205 – $275/mth for second timers, if the gross household income lies between $801-$1500. Foreign workers also enjoy an effective lower cost of living, as their families are overseas.

“The burden is shifted to the foreign workers who have to settle for even lower wages. Levies don’t make sense without minimum wage,” he insists.

He thus proposes a limitation of supply by quota, together with minimum wage, to level out the competition platform. When asked if this would make locals uncompetitive, he responds that there needs to be a distinction between labour competitiveness and labour exploitation.

“A minister has to fall” in the process of change

The PAP came about through a people’s power movement, he says. But now, because there is no fear of competition, it has become a monarchy, building its palace and walls and shutting themselves off from the people. Citing the recent TOC feature on homeless people in Singapore, he asks if the MCYS knew about the homeless. And if they did, were they too busy to do anything about it? This, he says, has led to a situation of disaffection.

The ruling party should not think of how to maintain a monopoly, he urges. For example, the electoral system is structured such that a minister would be removed if the opposition won a GRC.

“Imagine if you lose a good minister because of the system that has been built. Is that good for the nation?”

He has no doubts that the PAP would still be dominant. However, this would mean that, upon losing a GRC, the PAP would still be in power, but with inferior stock.

The NSP believes in proportional representation, he says, for the sustainability and stability of the political system. A more dynamic model that reflects the wishes of the people is needed, instead of one that is designed to perpetuate a monopoly. However, he muses, change will only come in view of a reluctant monopoly of power – a minister must fall in the process.


Anonymous said...

Dear Goh Meng Seng,

I have a suggestion about GRCs. The winner takes all situation in Singapore right now does not allow for proportional representation. How about we create proportional representation based on votes within a GRC?

For example, if party A wins 60% and party B wins 40% in a 5 man GRC, then party A sends 3 members into parliament, while party B sends 2 members. Of course, we can round up for the party that has at least 50% of the vote.

I see this has several advantages. First, there is proportional representation, and every vote counts. Second, a minister need not fall, unless the PAP has less than 20% of votes in a 5 man GRC or 16% of votes in a 6 man GRC. Third, the best people in the political parties can serve the people.

Or we can even do this on a national scale. Such systems are already in place, for example as explained in the 3rd lecture of http://www.math.cornell.edu/~billera/misc/Messenger.html

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

As a Hongkie, I don't understand why you are keen on the idea of proportional representation system which only favors small parties and encourages fragmentation of parliament. Poland before WWI, Italy and France nowadays, more or less, are condemned to be quite ineffective because of this system, especially Third Republic of France before WWII, in which many governments cannot survive for more than a year. Such system could condemn France to the path to hell, as the frequent collapse of coalition made them fail to respond to Hitler's aggression. We Hongkie recognized the weakness of such a system, as we experienced the advantage of simple majority system in elections before 1997. Many of the pro-Peking candidates simply cannot win enough seats of critical mass under pre-1997 system. Thus, I would suspect the main hurdle of further democratization of S'pore is PAP, which hinders the growth of opposition via other means, like lawsuits or, I don't know, maybe limitation on news coverage, rather than the parliamentary or election system itself.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but the issue here is the rampant redrawing of electoral boundaries/ gerrymandering . A proportional representation system allocates the proportional number of representatives into parliament, and this number will be independent of how much gerrymandering is going on.

During the last elections, the electoral boundaries were known only 7 weeks before the election. In the elections before that, the electoral boundaries were known only 1 week before the election. With rules like this, we might as well not have elections.

Right now the internet is serving as a free press. They used to keep quiet on things and pray that nobody ever brings them up, but they will only look stupid if they try to do that now. I would say that the internet is a bigger headache for the PAP rather than the number of opposition members in parliament!

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