Friday, April 8, 2011

A single party can't represent all views

Apr 8, 2011 PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong's argument that 'if the PAP can't assemble a second team, I don't think the opposition will find it easier' shows a misunderstanding of multi-party democracy ('Not enough talent for two A teams'; yesterday).

It is not the job of the ruling party to assemble a second 'A team' - it is the opposition's. A two-party system is not about providing just two competent teams but also two different policy options.

Voters would not simply want two 'A teams', each with similarly impressive credentials but from the same party and holding largely similar views.

The point is to have two 'A teams' that represent different views and needs of constituents. The dialogue of these multiple viewpoints in Parliament is what refines national policy, ensuring all sectors of society have their interests considered.

Scarcity of talent is a poor argument for not having a multi-party system. No one party can presume to speak for the needs and views of the entire populace. In the last general election, the People's Action Party (PAP) garnered only 66 per cent of the vote. This means there is a sizeable minority of the population wishing to be represented by a different voice in Parliament.

The PAP may call itself a 'pragmatic party' that is 'ready to take in good ideas', but being pragmatic does not mean it does not have its own underlying ideologies and principles - meritocracy, for instance.

[I understand the point, and I understand the problem. Saying the PAP has an ideology such as "meritocracy" is like saying the PAP have an ideology like "rationality", or "fairness". What I mean by understanding the problem is that a two party system requires -- no, practically demands ideological absolutes. One pro-life. One pro-choice. One for hands-off govt, one for govt intervention. But PAP is not ideological except for its stand on integrity (non-corruptibility), and meritocracy. How does one take a viable stand against those position.]

However open a party may be to new ideas and differing opinions, it has its own party line to toe and cannot possibly stand for a plurality of viewpoints, especially when they are contradictory. Voters would be unreasonable to expect a single party to represent all viewpoints; that is why we have multiple parties.

[Yes, there will always be multiple viewpoints. What does that mean politically? This is what happens in the US: When the democrats are in power, businesses are tax, and welfare is provided. Then a few years later the republicans take over and reverse the policies... and then some. Then the democrats come back, reinstate their policies, reverse other new policies enacted by the GOP, etc. Two steps forward, 3 steps back. Legalise abortion, cut funding to planned parenthood. Allow gay marriages. Cancel it. Does this remind you of our northern neighbours political decisions and announcements?

The solution to this is to based policies not on ideology, religion, faith or even philosophy, but on rational consideration of the facts and the effects. Which is not to say that policies have not changed under the PAP. From family planning to pro-marriage and fertility. From no casino to two IRs. But such reversals are publicly discussed and all views are aired. There were strong religious resistance to the IRs, but secular reasoning prevailed, despite the presence of some religious people in the Cabinet.]

It would also be wrong to characterise the job of the parliamentary opposition as 'waiting and watching just in case the PAP screws up'.

[PM Lee was not saying the role of the opposition was to watch and wait. His example was of someone who is competent, talented and wants to contribute. He can either join the PAP and start contributing immediately, or join the opposition and wait for the PAP to fail so that he can start to make policies.]

The very point of the multi-party system is that opposition politicians, though not forming the government, can still contribute to policy discussion and refinement in a very real way, which is through Parliament.

[Idealistic at best. Look at the US with its mature two-party system. Opposition obstructionist tactics do not "refine" policies or bills. They weaken, distort, dilute, and divert efforts and initiatives leading to compromise that waste time and resources. The US govt will shut down on Friday (Sat noon SG time) because their partisan and gridlocked Congress cannot agree on the budget.

Realistically, opposition can raise discussion on issues, and if in the course of the discussion, the PAP or ruling party fails to answer to the satisfaction of the people, this can be pointed out during election to remind the people of the inadequate response of the ruling party and perhaps persuade the people that it is grounds to vote out the party.

But if that is the role, then NCMP and NMPs can perform just as well if not better. I always felt that Siew Kum Hong and Walter Woon were great NMPs and perform better than opposition MPs.]

The parliamentary opposition's raison d'etre goes far beyond whether the ruling party 'screws up' or not. So long as there are different views in society and voters who do not wish to be represented by the ruling party, there is a need for more than one party in Parliament.

Michael Cyssel Wee

[Let's just say I disagree. Not every view is worth a party. Some views are so narrow, they become one dimensional caricatures. Some views are temporary. Some views are irrational. Some are misguided or dumb.]

No comments: