SDP Intern: Everyone’s duty to get involved in politics

Singapore Democrats

The SDP is proud to introduce our latest intern, Ms Carson Turner who comes to us from the University of California at Berkeley. Ms Turner, a US citizen, is a political science major and has done research in the area of voting systems.

She is with the SDP as part of our on-going internship programme and will be with us until end of July 2017.

The SDP has hosted several interns in the past.  As part of her placement programme, Ms Turner will be involved in our research and policy studies unit. Below is an interview we conducted with her (photographed above at the SDP’s office).

SDP: Why did you select Singapore to do your internship and why politics here?

Turner: As a political science major in the US, Singapore is almost always mentioned in my courses as a model for the positive effects of open markets and globalization. Its rapid development and economic success is always portrayed as such a miracle given Singapore’s challenges demographically (i.e. multiculturalism) and geographically (i.e. small size, few natural resources). I wanted to come to Singapore to demystify the country – to see for myself how this “miracle” functions on a day-to-day basis politically as well as socially.

What’s the most striking feature of Singapore’s political system to you?

For me, it is the sustained one-party dominance, particularly the psychology behind voters’ perception of the PAP. I find it fascinating how much trust and confidence Singaporeans have put in the PAP over the last 50 years, allowing the party to shape the national narrative and achieve ideological hegemony on every policy and social issue.

I think that the performance legitimacy that the PAP enjoyed was more or less well-deserved following independence and initial nation-building efforts. However, now that Singapore is well-established and stable, it seems to me that the electorate has begun to shift away from complete confidence in the ruling party.

Singaporeans are slowly seeing the need for scrutiny and accountability of the government, and I am very interested to see how Singapore’s ruling elite attempts to cope with this increasingly critical and skeptical environment.

What’s one drawback of the political system in the US and how can we in S’pore learn from it?

In the current state of US political affairs, although this has been an issue for decades, politics is extremely polarizing and divisive. The gap in ideology between our two dominant political parties is widening, and this is leading to stagnation in the legislative process, hostility amongst voters, and sometimes political apathy when voters are simply exhausted with partisan conflict.

The first-past-the-post electoral system promotes two-party systems and discourages voters from expressing their true preferences, which actually tend to be more moderate than their candidates. A better system of elections is Ranked Choice Voting (aka Instant Runoff Voting or Alternative Voting). This is a system in which voters can rank their preferences for candidates rather than choosing just one. Candidates do best in RCV elections when they try to appeal not just to their voting base, but to as many voters as possible in hopes of getting their 2nd and 3rd choice votes. This encourages moderation in candidates, making them more representative of the population as a whole. Additionally, RCV provides more opportunity for voters to express their true preferences and eliminates the potential for the “spoiler effect”.

Although there are features in the political system that not only sustain, but worsen, polarization, there are also institutions in place that serve to preserve the principles of limited government and civil liberties that the US was founded on. These include our bicameral legislature, our independent and free media, our independent judiciary which has the power of judicial review, and other checks and balances set forth in our constitution to prevent the concentration of power in any one branch of government, party or individual.

Do you think that young people should get interested in politics or should they concentrate on their studies and building their careers?

I would strongly advocate for everyone getting interested in politics and participating in democracy as much as possible, and I think it’s misguided for young people to think that they have to choose between this and concentrating on their academic or professional development. Of course, working on one’s career is an important part of becoming a member of society, but I would argue that youth also have a civic duty to fulfill that is equally important in becoming active members of their society and communities.

People always express the cliché that young people “are the future.” While this is correct in some obvious ways, I think it’s important for youth not only to think of themselves as the future, but also to embrace the meaningful role they can play in the present.

The policies that are being made by our elders today are inevitably going to affect us in the long run, and with virtually every aspect of modern life being influenced by politics, it is about time that young people express their preferences on these issues.

What would you say to a young person who thinks that politics is for old people or is a “dirty business” that they should not get involved with?

If anyone, young or old, thinks that politics is too dirty to involve themselves, then they need to change their mindsets. It is so easy for democracies to fall victim to the free-rider problem in which members of society who do not contribute to the common good can still reap the benefits of the work of a few politically persistent and active peers.

Politics is so pervasive and inescapable in our lives that if you are unhappy at all with the current state of affairs then it is your own responsibility and duty to do something about that. Young people like myself who live in nations where we enjoy civil liberties are so incredibly lucky, and to take that for granted and choose not to take advantage of opportunities to influence policy is negligent and irresponsible.

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