Sunday, March 31, 2013

Tweaking the NCMP scheme

Mar 29, 2013

Mix of electoral systems can work

BOTH Dr Jack Lee Tsen-Ta ("Changing system not the answer"; Wednesday) and Mr Devadas Krishnadas ("Proportional representation has its limitations"; Wednesday) have made valid comments on my commentary ("Picking out the winners in electoral systems"; last Saturday).

The proportional representation system has a long established history and been adopted by more than 80 countries. The interplay of many factors, socio-economic and cultural, determines the selection of a most suitable system to meet the needs of a nation.

[The "interplay of many factors" therefore undermines and renders irrelevant your "long established history" and "adopted by more than 80 countries" point. If the "interplay" determines the most suitable system, then what was the point of the preceding point? Verbose fillers?]

In Singapore, the first-past-the-post method has served us well, and it was never my intention to propose a replacement of the existing system by proportional representation.

However, a tweaking of the system by modifying the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme may add value and help solve the problem of scouting for capable people to stand for elections.

The suggestion of adding 10 NCMPs is merely an example; it could be increased to a greater number after we have gained adequate experience in future.
It is incorrect to say that "first-past-the-post" and "proportional representation" cannot be mixed.

There are a number of variations of proportional representation. Many countries adopt a mixed system of the two methods. Australia uses proportional representation in its Senate elections and preferential voting in House of Representatives elections. Germany, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea adopt mixed proportional methods.

[If I understand you correctly, what you are saying is that for bi-cameral legislative bodies, one body (or house) may be elected with one system (say first-past-the-post) and another body or house can be elected by proportional representation. This is NOT the same as having a chimera (not to be confused with a bi-cameral parliament) voting system. So no. You have NOT proven that it is incorrect to say that the two systems cannot be mixed. Or rather, you have not proven that the two system HAVE been mixed in other places.]

I share Mr Krishnadas' view that there are limitations. The proportional representation "with the largest remainder method" used in Hong Kong favours small parties and encourages vocal minorities. But this is only one of its few variants.

Without the "largest remainder", it has worked well in Taiwan and other countries.

It is true that the system by itself may lead to fragmentation of votes and hence the need for a coalition government. But what I have suggested is to keep the "first-past-the-post" system largely intact, and just add a small number of NCMPs by proportional representation. The fragmentation of votes will not occur in our case.

Under the present Constitution, NCMPs are eligible to be appointed as ministers. It is again incorrect to say that this is "politically illegitimate".

[There is a difference between legally permitted and politically illegitimate. Devadas point was that it was contrary to democratic principles to have someone rejected at the polls to be allowed to make policy. So no, you do not seem to understand "politically illegitimate" to be able to say that it is incorrect.]

The American president appoints Cabinet ministers who are not elected members. In Hong Kong, ministers are appointed by the Chief Executive and they are not elected. The Taiwanese president appoints his premier and ministers who are not elected members.

[Yes. And the appointees are appointed by someone ELECTED by the people, and the appointees were not directly REJECTED by the people in an election.]

People may pose many questions on the present NCMP system. More should be discussed to make it relevant and useful in our parliamentary institution.
Ker Sin Tze (Dr)

[Relevant and useful is a good starting point. Unlike your proposal.]

Mar 27, 2013
Changing system not the answer

DR KER Sin Tze ("Picking out the winners in electoral systems"; last Saturday) proposed that the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme be altered to increase "participation in the decision-forming process" and "reduce the difficulty of enticing bright talents to serve in Parliament and the Government".

With regard to the first justification, the proposal might indeed have the effect of increasing diversity in Parliament.

As Dr Ker pointed out when discussing the Hong Kong electoral system, proportional representation tends to favour smaller parties and independent candidates. If that is the intention, should proportional representation not be extended to choosing all the elected MPs in Parliament?

Perhaps Dr Ker suggested having proportional representation for only 10 additional MPs so that the number of such "vocal minorities" remains small and unable to pose much of a challenge to the majority party's policies.

If so, it is rather difficult to see what the proposal adds to the existing NCMP and Nominated MP (NMP) schemes. I suspect people will be sceptical about the proposal, seeing it as merely introducing token alternative voices in Parliament with no real clout.

Incidentally, I am not sure why the NCMP scheme was termed as being "inactive" until Parliament revised it in 2010 by increasing the potential maximum number of NCMPs to nine. We have had NCMPs in Parliament since the scheme was introduced in 1984, except after the 1991 General Election when there were four opposition MPs in Parliament.

As for the second justification, it is already possible under the present constitutional system for any MP, including an NCMP and an NMP, to be appointed a minister, or even prime minister if that individual commands the confidence of a majority of the MPs.

Of course, in practice, it is highly unlikely that MPs other than those from the political party having a majority in Parliament will be appointed to the Cabinet. Increasing the potential pool of MPs by 10 will not really help to address the issue, because the true challenge that all political parties face is finding suitable people to stand for election in the first place.

Jack Lee Tsen-Ta (Dr)
Assistant Professor of Law School of Law, Singapore Management University


Proportional representation has its limitations

WHILE it is always useful to study other political and economic systems, it would be a mistake to do so without considering the historical and current differences in culture, law and politics ("Picking out the winners in electoral systems"; last Saturday).

Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore share similar characteristics as competitive economies, but that is where the similarities end. Even the fact that Hong Kong and Singapore were British colonies can be stretched too far - as evident by the contrast between Singapore's current sovereign status and Hong Kong's special relationship with China.

Applying the proportional representation approach to the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) system is unsound.

First, we cannot have two systems of electoral practice - "first past the post", as is the current practice, and proportional representation. For harmony in our political principles, it must be either one or the other.

Second, if we were to change our parliamentary system to a proportional representation model, we should look at its limitations, not just its superficial attractiveness as being more democratic.

Proportional representation is a model that typically leads to coalition or minority governments. This may be a supportable outcome in large countries with powerful regional cities and provinces, but not in a tiny island with no economic or social distribution of power.

Third, appointing NCMPs as ministers is contrary to democratic principles. It would be politically illegitimate for someone not elected by the due electoral process to be given policy responsibility. It would not only give the incumbent an unfair advantage, but also cheat the people of their electoral choice of leadership.

It is possible to contribute to policymaking without distorting the political model, which has served us well to date.

Furthermore, the idea of introducing proportional representation for the NCMP system as a way to "entice talent" is oxymoronic. If a person cannot get himself elected, then either he is not seen as talent or the people have decided that the electoral winner is better.

We should not create "backdoor" routes to political leadership. If anything, given the growing electoral success of the opposition, the more pertinent question to ask is if the NCMP system will continue to have justification beyond this term of government.

Devadas Krishnadas

[Devadas point in the last para is, this may be the last election/parliament with NCMP. Dr Ker's proposal would seem to be a proposal to tweak the horse-drawn carriage with the Ford Model T in full production.]

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