Just make elections free and fair, no need for wayang

May 28, 2009
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

If there is any indication that the Government is nervous about the unhappiness of the people, it is the latest increase in the number of NCMP seats and the consolidation of the NMP scheme.

Anxious to avoid facing an angry electorate, the PAP is desperately trying to divert the attention of the voters by telling them that they don’t have to vote for the opposition because seats will be allocated to opposing voices.

In the first place, Parliamentary seats are not for the Government to give out. They are legislative positions to be earned by competing parties and candidates whose power is derived from the voters.

The problem with such schemes is that parliamentary seats given by the Government also means that they can be taken away at a whim. Unfortunately this epitomises all that plagues Singapore’s politics. The PAP runs the country like a fiefdom and appoints law-makers rather than have them elected.

In the second place, all these changes are purely cosmetic aimed at trying to prettify the ugly face of an election system that is neither free nor fair.

Parliament, if the PAP needs to be reminded, is not a feedback session to canvas for a “wider rangeā€ of views. It is an institution where laws are made and where the Executive is called to account for its actions and policies.

As such, rigorous debate is called for and each legislator brings his popular power to bear on the arguments that he makes. Even then, if the PAP is truly desirous of a wider range of views in Parliament, then it should implement five simple measures:

  1. abolish the GRC system
  2. announce the constituencies at least 6 months before elections
  3. ensure that there is at least three weeks for the official campaign period
  4. give at least one month between the dissolution of parliament and polling day
  5. free up the media

There is no need to conduct this wayang exercise with the NCMP and NMP systems. Do the right thing by ensuring that the electoral process is transparent, free and fair.

Electoral process: Best practices

Below are some existing commitments for democratic elections in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) participating states. Compare them to the ones in Singapore.

OSCE: When necessary, redrawing of election districts shall occur according to a predictable timetable and through a method prescribed by law and should reflect reliable census or voter registration figures. Redistricting should also be performed well in advance of elections, be based on transparent proposals, and allow for public information and participation. (emphasis added)
Singapore: In the 1997 GE, the Election Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC), after substantial alterations of the boundaries, presented the redrawn electoral map less than a month before elections were called. In the 2001 GE the boundaries were announced 1 (yes, one) day before the elections were called.

OSCE: The administration of elections must be conducted autonomously, free from government or other interference, by officials or bodies operating transparently under the law.
Singapore: Elections are conducted by the Elections Department which is supervised by the Prime Minister’s Office.

OSCE: No additional qualification requirements, beyond those applicable to voters, may be imposed on candidates except, for certain offices, concerning age and duration of citizenship and/or residence.
Singapore: A candidate for the presidential elections must have been a Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker, Attorney-General, Chairman of the Public Service Commission, Auditor-General, Accountant-General or Permanent Secretary, chairman or CEO of a statutory board, chairman or CEO of a company with a paid-up capital of at least $100 million. Or anyone who in the opinion of the Presidential Elections Committee is qualified to do the job of president.

OSCE: States should provide an adequate opportunity, on an equitable and non-discriminatory basis, for election contestants to inform the public about their candidacies and political programmes, including through the state media.
Singapore: All media organisations are controlled by the PAP. Reporters Without Borders consistently rank Singapore’s media amongst the lowest in the world.

OSCE: States must ensure that equal access and fair treatment of election contestants is provided by all state-owned media outlets, including all electronic and print media. This obligation extends to news reports, editorial comment, and all other content.
Singapore: See above.

http://www.osce.org/documents/odihr/2003/10/772_en.pdf