Subject: Weak opposition eroding interest in poll
From: SEAH CHIANG NEE
DateTime: 10/04/2005 09:57:35
"The government, however, says that the opposition’s weakness cannot be blamed on the government, adding that it is not its job to help it to become stronger."
In a true democracry, the opposition party is protected by the state. The state support the role of the loyal opposition and the govt is not to impede the functioning of the opposition party.
In tiny dot, the ruling party uses the apparatus of the state to put down the opposition and defines the election rules to tilt them to its favour. And there is nothing to stop them.
Weak opposition eroding interest in polls
INSIGHT DOWN SOUTH
By SEAH CHIANG NEE
THE strong domination of the People’s Action Party since independence 40 years ago has steadily eroded interest in the general elections among Singaporeans.
A sizeable number of people, especially youths, seem switched off when the subject of the forthcoming poll crops up.
Their view is that no matter what, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) will sweep the field again. It has done that in nine elections since independence in 1965.
In four of them, it won 100% of the seats; at no time did it ever lose more than three seats.
"Election has become a mere formality here, we already know the result," says an online writer, reflecting the general feeling in society.
One reason is that the PAP, with its track record, remains very strong, while the resources of the opposition are weak. And the environment doesn’t make it easy for the latter to grow.
The power was felt in the last election in 2001. Even in a serious economic downturn, the PAP won 82 of the 84 seats, cornering 75.2% of the popular vote.
The worrying feature, however, is the large number of walkovers.
Fifty-five of the 84 seats, or 65%, were uncontested; polling took place in only 29 wards. Roughly translated, two out of three voters did not have a chance to vote.
This had been the trend in the past with some years better than others.
While it may be good for the ruling party, the extensive non-voting for so many years is beneficial neither for the country nor for the process of democracy.
On average, only 55% of Singaporean voters actually got to cast a ballot during the past four decades. The other 45% stayed away because the opposition could not, or would not, field a candidate.
Under the PAP’S firm hand, Singapore has grown from a squatter colony to a first-world hub for banking, electronics, petrochemicals, shipping, pharmaceuticals and shopping, etc. This remains its entrenched strength today.
But the large number of non-voters in elections is coming under public debate as a national problem.
For those who live in “walkover” wards, generally considered by the opposition as “no hopers”, the general election has become an infrequent or a totally non-existent event, depending on age. Ironically, voting is compulsory in Singapore.
Why and what are the prospects of changes in a Restructured Singapore?
A fundamental cause is the reluctance of young Singaporeans to join politics or stand in an election. Most prefer to pursue careers or business.
It has made it hard for the financially weak opposition to recruit capable candidates.
The PAP had voiced the same complaints until salaries of ministers and other elected leaders were substantially raised.
The opposition has blamed Singapore’s voting lethargy on government policies and the election system, including:
·frequently redrawing electoral boundaries,
·devising multi-seat wards, some clustering up to six wards into a single group on a winner-take-all basis, and
·a government-linked press, which gives little coverage to the opposition.
Election deposits are set too high and donations to political parties are severely restricted. At S$13,000 per seat, parties contesting a six-seat ground face a big bill.
The leader of the opposition Workers’ Party, Low Thia Khiang, said these government actions had resulted “in many citizens not having the opportunity to vote at general elections”.
The PAP doesn’t appear too put off by foreign criticism of the way it governs Singapore. As long as the city remains stable and open for business, democracy has not been a major issue.
The government, however, says that the opposition’s weakness cannot be blamed on the government, adding that it is not its job to help it to become stronger.
A Western diplomat commented to Reuters: “Elections are run more like the board of a company or a major corporation. The board of directors puts up its slate of candidates and expects them to be elected almost in their entirety.”
“It will continue like this until it stops working. Nobody knows if it will stop working or how it might stop working.”
Will it happen one day? After all, nothing stands still. Singapore is in transition. As it undergoes restructuring, the ruling party is increasingly forced to eliminate “sacred cows” that are no longer useful.
Over the longer term, it will move according to the collective will of the governed. The most important change in a one-man-one-vote democracy is the electorate.
Observers have noted that after four decades, the new generation, which is better schooled, demanding and liberal, have not turned against the ruling party as it once feared.
The fear of “irresponsible” voting by “immature” youths once led Lee Kuan Yew to consider giving two votes to older voters with families to contribute to stability.
Every five years between elections, some 130,000 to 150,000 Singaporeans reach 21 and become voters, and Lee had feared many would vote "adventurously" for the opposition.
As it turned out, this did not materialise. In fact, the landslide 75.3% showed that many new young voters had followed their parents’ choice.
Exactly 21 years ago, PAP polled 64.8% of the votes. Over the next 17 years until 1997, the support votes in four elections were steady at 64.8%, 63.2%, 61% and 65%.
They included a significant change in favour of the young, a sign that the voting patterns have remained little changed.
But the future may be another matter. Many Singaporeans still vote according to their feelings for – or against – the ruling party. If they are contented, the PAP vote goes up; if unhappy, the opposition share rises.
However, a trickle of better-qualified recruits is beginning to flow into the opposition camp for the forthcoming election.
The Workers Party, founded in 1957, recently introduced several of them to the press. The opposition is already working the ground in preparation for polls.
Its strength could rise in the future, especially after Lee, feared and respected, has left the political scene.
That would likely result in more professionals challenging the government. Only then will it push up the number of able opposition candidates to rise and end the “no contest” voting era.