Ruling party rejects political reform proposal

October 1, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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South China Morning Post
28 September 2002
By Jake Lloyd-Smith

SINGAPORE’S ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has poured scorn on suggestions that the country should reform its political system by making it more transparent and incorporating best-practices from other democracies.

The denunciation suggests that the call for change – which came last week in an independent report commissioned by a government ministry – will make little or no headway.

Ho Peng Kee, the PAP’s second organising secretary, said: “The idea of adopting a set of `best-practices’ for Singapore’s political system, cherry-picked from other systems, is naive and simplistic.”

In a letter in yesterday’s (Sept 27) Straits Times, Mr Ho said: “Our system may not be perfect, but it has delivered a better life for our people, not just materially, but in terms of freedoms which our citizens enjoy.”

He dismissed the proposal that Singapore should have an independent electoral commission, to oversee the running of national polls. “Elections are honest, voting is secret,” he wrote.

The PAP has ruled Singapore since self-government was granted in 1959. In national elections since independence in 1965 it has frequently won every seat up for grabs.

Opposition parties routinely complain that the country’s political playing field favours the continued dominance of the PAP.

They say that electoral boundaries are redrawn at short notice and the domestic media backs the PAP government.

These observations – and many others – were endorsed by last week’s report, which was drawn up by the Political Matters and Media Group. The group, headed by a local businessman, channels independent views to the government via the Feedback Unit, which is part of the Ministry of Community Development.

The report provoked considerable debate within Singapore. One local civic group, the Roundtable, backed the move, saying that reform would make the political system “more open, participatory and fairer”.

But the PAP’s Mr Ho was adamant that no change was needed.

“The most ideal legal safeguards on paper, seldom translate into the best governance in practice,” he said. “Singapore’s political system must suit our own circumstances and work for us.”

At the last election, the PAP garnered 75 per cent of the vote and secured 82 of 84 seats on offer.

The ruling party managed to win a fresh term in office before polling day as the opposition put up candidates in less than half of the constituencies.

Mr Ho said: “Whether an election is hotly contested does not depend on how electoral boundaries are demarcated, but whether the government and its policies enjoy the support of the people, and on the quality of the candidates fielded by both sides.”

He even had words of advice for political rivals. “Serious opposition parties intending to contest the next elections in 2007 must start preparing now,” he said.

PAP leaders have already said that they want to take every seat at the next poll.

See also Can we have democracy, pretty please?