I read this a few days back and was very shocked and mulled about it occasionally over with friends and decided to finally blog about it.
The Straits Times Article:
June 27, 2006
GRCs make it easier to find top talent: SM
Without good chance of winning at polls, they might not be willing to risk careers for politics
By Li Xueying
SENIOR Minister Goh Chok Tong yesterday gave a new take on the role of Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) in Singapore politics.
Their role is not just to ensure minorities are adequately represented in Parliament, he said. They also contribute to Singapore's political stability, by 'helping us to recruit younger and capable candidates with the potential to become ministers'.
'Without some assurance of a good chance of winning at least their first election, many able and successful young Singaporeans may not risk their careers to join politics,' Mr Goh said at an event marking the appointment of members to the South East Community Development Council (CDC).
In other words, the GRC system further allows the PAP to convince their choice of select Singaporeans to join PAP, win and serve the people. The GRC system is equated with the “assurance of a good chance of winning.” It is moot that such will only serve the party that has the ability to assure these select Singaporeans a good chance of winning.
There are four questions that could be raised, and their answers, reflect a situation that ought to be properly debated in Parliament.
The first question is whether this coincides with the nation’s best interest.
When the choice of leadership becomes further removed from the heart of democracy: popular choice, what are the potential effects? The PAP is suggesting implicitly that their choice is the right one, and will hence coincide with the nation’s best interest.
Alex Au asks, “Who gets to define talent?” and how subjective this might be. He also suggests that groupthink is a bad thing and this system creates groupthink.
The fear I had and have is similar: the GRC system has the potential of focusing greater power on the hands in a single party. The PAP governs your life today, and now, it appears to indirectly govern the choice of your leaders in the future. This broken linkage between popular choice and leaders might be bad for the nation.
Who should do future leaders aspire to serve under such a scheme? Should they aspire to serve the people or the PAP? Will they aspire to serve the PAP more because the PAP is the party who shall give them the assurance to win? Legitimacy in a democracy comes from the people’s support, not party politics. Intelligent clear-headed inspired leaders will no doubt recognise that their final masters are the people, and no party. We have already agreed that PAP is not Singapore, and PAP is not the people.
The PAP is the ruling party while the people are your masters. Let no politicians, even those who are assured of winning, fail to recognise that. This system however, does not encourage explicitly, especially during election time, our would-be new leaders to recognize that.
This of course could be salvaged by sufficient party indoctrination and education that the PAP serves the People, and that individual politicians ultimate responsibility is the people. But how does that politician really know unless he gets that mandate directly?
The second question is what types of people are the PAP looking for
The article also suggests that some PAP winners need the assurance of victory before joining politics. “Society before self?” In other words, does it not imply that there are current PAP winners who will not have risked their careers to serve the people? The question whether this is a trait of suitable candidates were not questioned. Instead
SM Goh added,
'Why should they when they are on the way up in the civil service, the SAF, and in the professions or the corporate world?'
In other words, SM Goh feels that this is justified because these people were already so good, they only could lose by joining politics in Singapore and not taking risk is the norm. Are these the type of people Singapore want?
Of course these men and women might be great at their work and will serve Singapore truly well. Yet again, the answer to the second question exposes risks in the recruitment process as such people appear to be willing to put self over society when called to serve. They are not willing to take the plunge and the risk.
This again decreases moral authority. It might be more efficient, might attract “better people” but the GRC system seen in this perceptive places faith in the recruitment process. What if it goes wrong?
The third question is whether there are really risks in joining PAP politics
Let us assume that the first two questions are answered in the affirmative for the PAP; (that this truly serves the best interest of Singaporeans, and that this is the type of people we are looking for) the next question is whether such fears to their careers when they join PAP politics are justified.
I have personally never come across any report since the introduction of the GRC, which shows that ex-PAP candidates have done poorly or terrible relative to their ex careers after retirement from politics (save for those who ran foul of the law.) There are examples that joining the PAP might bring one less monetary incentives but that problem is already supposed to be fixed by the pegging of Ministers pay scale to the private sector.
Being unsure, I have doubts whether this is entirely accurate. In other words, the fears might not be even justified. Should policy decisions be made on fears that are not all that clear yet?
The fourth question is what this does to opposition politics?
By making it easier for the PAP new candidates to enter office, the system might deprive more deserving opposition candidates (deserving defined here by majority ballot votes in an imaginary one on one scenario).
Do Singaporeans want to make it more difficult for opposition members to enter Parliament?
At the end of it all, GRC does not make it easier to find top talent, as the headline suggests. What it does, however, is that it makes it easier for the PAP to pick future leaders for Singapore based on their criteria. A criterion that is explicitly un-required is that these talents do not need to risk their careers – need not risk their careers to serve the people. It creates a system where it is less clear the newly selected's mandate comes from the people. Finally, it makes things harder for the opposition.
Is that what we, Singaporeans, want?