Aljunied: A painful choice

— May 5th, 2011, 11.59pm

Aljunied: A painful choice

Singapore's opposition party Workers' Party last election rally at Serangoon stadium attracted more than 30,000 people. However, it remains to be seen if that will translate into votes. Photo: Wong Yuntian

Why can’t we get our best into parliament anymore? To ensure that minority representation doesn’t compromise meritocracy, Singapore should build an alternative to the GRC system soon.

Tonight, more than 30,000 people attended the Workers’ Party rally at Serangoon Stadium in Aljunied GRC.

They cheered, screamed and waved the blue and orange flags in frenzy, and concluded the rally with the recital of the Singapore Pledge, led by Pritam Singh. The WP’s ‘A’ team, including Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim, has made many speeches to win the hearts and minds of Singaporeans. WP’s star catch Chen Show Mao is a top corporate lawyer by international standards and has plenty to contribute to Singapore.

Over at an open field in Ubi is the incumbent PAP team, anchored by one of Singapore’s more popular ministers, Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Lim Hwee Hua. Yeo has largely escaped the scathing online criticism faced by other ministers, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has weighed in to lend his support at its rally.

But the true battle lies in a realm of silence—the fence sitters who remain undecided about their final choice till polling day.

Unlike the core supporters of the PAP and opposition parties, these swing voters are probably less partisan-minded, liking and disliking different individuals from both sides. They will feel the pain of losing a favourite candidate on one side no matter how they vote.

Another dilemma lies in Marine Parade. Tessa Wong, a Straits Times journalist and a first-time voter at Marine Parade, wrote a column how torn she is between Nicole Seah (NSP) and Tan Chuan Jin (PAP), opposing candidates in Marine Parade GRC.

NSP's Nicole Seah (bottom right) and PAP's Tan Chuan Jin (top right) are in opposing teams in Marine Parade. Both are immensely popular in a teams that contain a mix of stronger and weaker candidates. Unfortunately, voters can only choose 1 team, and hence either Tan or Seah, to represent them in Parliament. Photo: Insing.com

“Both Ms Seah and BG Tan are candidates whom I badly want to see in Parliament. One represents my desire to see more spirited voices in Parliament who can speak on behalf of young Singaporeans. The other represents my desire to see a change in the PAP’s style of governance. If you think about it, they’re actually complementary, representing my ideal government: one that strives to run Singapore well while thriving on robust debate, one in which young people feel included.”

Wong is not alone in feeling this way. One thing is increasingly clear to voters in hot spots like Aljunied and Marine Parade. Whether the PAP or the opposition wins, Singapore will suffer a big loss.

This painful choice means that Singaporeans have to re-examine the GRC system more carefully after the polls. While it was originally created to ensure minority representation, GRCs did not allow voters to choose between individuals, forcing them to choose between teams that has a mixture of strong and weak candidates.

A better system of minority representation should be created, such as creating a minority quota of candidates presented by each party.

Besides ethnicity, improvements can be made in the representation of opposition and religious groups in Singapore too. In a Lianhe Zaobao article, half of PAP’s 24 new candidates are Christian even though they only come from 18% of the country’s demographic. In contrast, there are only 2 Buddhists despite coming from the largest religious group in the country (33%).

There is also a danger that opposition voices would not duly represented in Parliament despite the 9 NCMP seats. In a column titled “The PAP’s greatest fear” dated 31st March, Chua Mui Hoong from the Straits Times wrote that:

“The PAP has worked hard to project Singapore as an open, vibrant society globally. It has tried to meet Singaporeans’ desire for more opposition in Parliament without real risk to its dominant position. A clean sweep at GE 2011 would thus send a very wrong signal to the rest of the world and to Singapore, about the foibles of the Singapore electoral system.

That should be the biggest fear for the PAP: not a freak election result that sends it out of power, but a freak result that returns it to 87 out of 87 elected seats in Parliament.”

A near-clean PAP sweep despite an expected falling popular vote would also polarise Singapore further. Dissenting voices with insufficient representation in parliament might be disillusioned with the political process and become more difficult to win over in the future.

All these must be taken seriously because while Singapore had been polarised across racial lines in the past, this is less so today. What are seeing, however, is the polarisation of Singapore across partisan lines.

The government should not underestimate the deadly power of partisan divides in a country. Take an example like Thailand, a very homogenous country in langauge, ethnicity and religion. Polarisation between the elites in Bangkok and the peasants in the countryside has led to clashes between the ‘Red’ and ‘Yellow’ shirts.

The PAP has taken great pains to ensure racial minorities are represented in parliament, they should start caring about opposition and religious representation more carefully too.

Regardless of the outcome in Aljunied, Singapore has to find a way to ensure minority representation without harming meritocracy in Singapore. Both are important to our country and their interests should not conflict.

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