Opinion: Is it really change we want?

Recently, there has been a slew of social media posts from activists, regarding the need for opposing voices in parliament while maintaining a PAP majority government.

Attempts have been made to assure voters that the existence of a PAP government on July 11th is a foregone conclusion, and voters need not consider any possibility of a coalition government formed by the PAP, PSP, WP and SDP.

I will humbly attempt to offer something into this discourse prized by the opposition: an alternative viewpoint. I would like to clarify that this is not an appeal for votes for the PAP, or an appeal to not vote for the opposition, but rather an appeal to reconsider the underlying motivations behind our electoral choices.

Possibility vs Probability

On 4 July 2020 Mr Pritam Singh (WP-Aljunied GRC) said:” I don’t think it’s possible at all” when asked about the possibility of the opposition winning enough seats in parliament to form government. He cited the time in which it took the opposition in Singapore to reach it’s electoral milestones, and implying that there is still some time to go before the opposition would be in a position to fathom winning a parliamentary majority, or for that outcome to be likely.

He may very well be right. Mr. S Iswaran (PAP-West Coast GRC) said on the same day that a PSP-SDP-WP coalition government is an “arithmetic reality”. Both politicians, while pushing opposing agendas, are right, albeit little more than an issue of semantics.

Mr Singh’s words could be better phrased as “I don’t think it’s probable at all”, but the essence of what he has said remains true. The key point here is that statistically, Singaporeans waking up to an opposition coalition government on July 11th is possible, through the electoral process.

After all, all 93 seats are contested, and a candidate (or group of), regardless of party will win the seat(s) if it obtains the more votes than the other candidate(s). It is important to note that this outcome is highly unlikely, but also equally important to note that this outcome is, statistically, entirely possible, and not to be taken for lightly.

The Futility Of 30 And 12

The issue of denying PAP it’s parliamentary supermajority is one that has been raised by all the opposition parties in some way, shape or form throughout the campaign so far. Mr Singh of the WP has set it as a medium-term goal for the WP, and seems to have conceded that it would likely not happen in this election.

The SDP and the PSP however, seem to have it as an immediate goal, one that they expect to achieve on July 10th itself. Mr Leong Mun Wai (PSP-West Coast GRC), on 29 June 2020, called for voters to elect 32 opposition MPs into the house so as to deny PAP it’s supermajority. Dr Chee Soon Juan (SDP-Bukit Batok SMC) said “Our message is very clear, that we need to deny the PAP the two-thirds majority” at SDP’s pre-GE campaign on 23 February 2020. We thus see that the key objective for both parties going into this GE is to deny the PAP it’s supermajority.  

Of the aforementioned social media posts, some seemingly predict the “worst case scenario” results for the PAP, in a bid to convince voters that no matter how we vote, the PAP will still emerge as the government with a supermajority at the end of the day. Ms Kirsten Tan (Instagram handle: @caperkirs) posted a thought-provoking post titled “All Power to the PEOPLE” on 3 July, in which she created a hypothetical scenario in which all “credible OR recognizable name” opposition teams were voted into parliament, and concluded that they would win no more than 30 seats.

Mr Joel Goh’s article, which he kindly shared on his Facebook page, titled “Don’t Vote For The Best Candidate” claimed that the PAP would retain supermajority in parliament, and did a similar thought experiment which the opposition won 36 seats, sufficient to deny PAP supermajority but as he so rightly pointed out, extreme to say the least.

This thus begs the question, what purpose does the PSP and SDP serve in parliament if unable to deny the PAP supermajority, a goal in which they have banked so heavily on prior to campaigning?

Dr Tan Cheng Bock (PSP-West Coast GRC) has often cited the constitutional amendment resulting in the reserved presidency as reason why the PAP must be denied it’s supermajority — 30 seats in parliament would not have stopped that. Ultimately the PSP and SDP would essentially have the same stopping power over any PAP-backed bill or constitutional amendment if it had merely 12 NCMP seats; that is, none whatsoever.

If this was a conversation, it would often be at this juncture at which I am questioned, if I believe that there should be no opposition in parliament if they offer no stopping power, and isn’t that a very extreme, all or nothing way to see things? No. The opposition still plays a role, and have the ability to contribute in parliament, even if they do not offer stopping power. However, the point I am driving at here is this: If a party sees itself and it’s role in parliament as a gatekeeper and a kingmaker of sorts for constitutional amendments, then it has to achieve the required threshold for it to be of the use that it sees itself, and if it doesn’t, then it’s utility at 30 seats and 12 seats are essentially the same.

In making the toppling of the supermajority a key campaign goal, certainly the PSP and SDP do have a reasonable amount of confidence that it (and given that neither party fields 32 candidates), and other opposition parties have the ability to pry a cumulative minimum of 32 seats. Based on both Mr Goh’s and Ms Tan’s hypothetical elections, it would include the WP winning most of it’s seats, the PSP winning in West Coast, the 2 SDP bigwigs winning in both SMCs, and the SDP winning in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC. They have both stated that this outcome is extreme, but surely, the SDP and PSP have a certain level of confidence (be it founded or unfounded), that it may happen. Thus, at this point, I ask you to engage in a suspension of disbelief and see this scenario as “reasonable”, through the eyes of PSP and SDP.

Surely, if we consider Mr Tan Jee Say (SDP-Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and team beating Mr Vivian Balakrishnan and team as possible, we also have to consider Mr Francis Yuen (PSP-Choa Chu Kang GRC) as equally likely to win. The same logic would then apply to Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC (4), Bukit Panjang SMC (1), Tanjong Pagar GRC (5), Keban Baru SMC (1), Yio Chu Kang SMC (1), Yuhua SMC (1), in addition to the 36 other seats the PAP had already ceded in Mr Goh’s post. The total opposition seat count is now 53, sufficient to form government. As stated above, this is statistically possible but highly improbable, but it does go to show this: If we are to vote for the opposition in trust that they do topple the supermajority, we also must give credence to the idea that the PAP may lose it’s grip on power.

So what are we voting on?

I am not advocating for any one voting pattern. After all, it is your right to do as you wish. We are not the same person facing the same problems, our priorities are thus different. But I do wish to ask that we vote for who we want.

I understand that there are people among us that are disgruntled with the government, and are motivated to vote for the opposition to “vote them out”; there are those among us that feel a conviction for certain policies mooted by a party; there are those among us who vote on balance, and those who vote on the personality and likeability of candidate; and those among us who vote on democratic principles. All equally valid reasons to cast your vote for whomever you may wish to cast it for.

I personally have always found voting for “checks and balances” to be counter-intuitive, it involves voting for a party and hoping (or trusting) that they will not become the government. Of course, there is nothing wrong with doing so, but understand this, when you cast your vote for the opposition solely to check and balance the PAP, or to diversify our parliament, you have voted on, and prioritized ideals. It is perfectly fine to do so, but as with everything we do, we must recognize the opportunity cost, the trade off that we made casting that vote.

As Mr Chan Chun Sing (PAP-Tanjong Pagar GRC) puts it, you feel the government has done well, but you punish them. This is your trade off to make. What I would warn against is voting for the opposition in the hopes (or trust) that someone else votes for the PAP. I do believe, the collective action problem works both ways. If you wish to vote for the opposition, please, do so with conviction. 

We also must recognise that in the pursuit of “checks and balances”, not all opposition parties are the same, and we do have to make a distinction between the parties and not see the opposition as a monolithic entity, a vote for one may not be a vote for all. A person who supports the WP and its ideals living in Bukit Batok may very well find that his ideals are more closely matched by the PAP than the SDP. It is critical that this distinction is made.

12 WP MPs may serve a very different purpose in parliament from 12 SDP MPs. They may very well oppose very different things, and propose very different policies. It is crucial that we don’t simply see ourselves as “For PAP” and “For Opposition”. The opposition varies greatly, and the PAP has to be measured against each opposition party separately.

I reiterate, I am not here to tell you who to vote for, or what is the right voting pattern. I simply ask that we consider things from another facet before heading to the polls. If you’ve reached this part of the article and remain unconvinced, and your voting consideration has not been swayed, it’s all the same to me. It is your right, use it well.

— Mervyn

Mervyn is an undergraduate at NTU majoring in Public Policy and Global Affairs.

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