Is it true the PAP can “rush through” controversial Constitutional changes with no fear of being checked by legislators?
They can – if they want to risk a 2011 situation all over again. Let memory not fail us, 2011 was the year the electorate came very close to throwing the PAP out of power.
Each time a controversial decision was rushed through, the PAP’s election results plunged – regardless of how they redrew the boundaries or GRC-ed the system. Here’s a quick stroll down memory lane to indulge in some of the historical losses suffered by the men in white:
2011 – Margin won: 60.11%
We can probably recall this with greatest clarity. Flood of foreigners, high property prices, rising income gap, MRT breakdowns etc. All this led to the party almost being thrown out of power and the greatest opposition presence since 1965.
1997 – Margin won: 65%
The years leading up to 1997 was when the Government first had ideas of high ministerial salaries. They issued a white paper titled “Competitive Salaries for Competent & Honest Government” proposing salaries of ministers and civil servants be pegged at two-thirds the average principal earned income of the top four earners in six professions: accounting, banking, engineering, law, local manufacturing firms and multinational corporations. The result – crashing consensus.
1991 – Margin won: 61%
This was the first election of Goh Chok Tong as he took over the reins of the Singapore Cabinet. The plunging results was attributed to Singaporeans not being used to Goh’s “open/consultative” style of government. In the coffeeshops, they saw consulting as “Weak”.
1988 – Margin won: 64.8%
This was the year that the PAP government launched the “Graduate Mother Scheme” to entice graduate women with incentives to get married. This was based on the idea that superior genes would give superior babies. It was most distasteful and this programme caused a big dip in PAP’s support. Votes plunged by more than 10% to below 70%, the biggest fall and the lowest for PAP since the 1963 General Election. MM Lee recorded in his memoirs recalling how the electorate “punished” the PAP with angry votes.
The effect of these poor results nudged the ruling party towards correction. Or at least bought them time to prove that the policies worked as they intended. The votes then proceeded to rise again at following elections.
There is a pattern to be observed in the ebb and flow of these election results. The ruling party needs better salesmanship and greater consensus. What was seen as “weak” in 1991, is now “love” in 2011 and a lack of consultation, consensus and convincing would almost certainly lead once again to crashing results.
The changes proposed for the controversial Constitutional changes did not begin in 2016. It had been discussed in public domain for more than a year through many segments of society. A Panel was setup and this was chaired by the Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon. A 154 page report was the culmination of 7 months of work that sought extensive feedback, ideas and discussion with members of the public.
Anyone in opposition of these changes should have begun addressing them during the period of gestation which lasted an entire year. The complaint that an Opposition has insufficient people in Parliament to vote down a policy is a valid, but weak argument. By the time a Bill sits to be voted on, it would have already gathered the momentum needed to pass (or not to be tabled at all).
So it is incorrect to say that the PAP can shove their way about Parliament. As the evidence above suggests – they too have to answer to the electorate or risk being shown the door.