The catalyst for this article was the above mentioned article by my fellow KRC writer Choon Hwee. I am going to disagree with some of the arguments she has raised against what she considers to be views of an “increasingly irrational bent” by bloggers and commentators on the online media about Singapore politics. Let me dispute three contentions she makes in her article.
Choon Hwee’s first argument is against those who contend that the incommensurability between the number of votes the PAP won in the recent election and that of seats they won in parliament is unfair/abnormal. She quotes the writer of the TOC article who says that in a “normal’ outcome, the number of parliamentary seats won by the respective parties should be equal in proportion to valid votes”. Choon Hwee’s response to this writer is the following:
“This is a highly misleading argument; in the same way that the writer accuses the voting system of “misrepresenting” the people’s will, the writer is actually “misrepresenting” the voting system himself… what he is calling ‘normal’ is actually proportional representation”.
She then goes on to point out that a proportional representational system is used by various countries, and this system is “traditionally and popularly believed to form ‘weak’ governments – more often than not they consist of coalitions”.
The problem with her criticism here is that it unfairly reduces the TOC writer’s comment to a failure to understand the nature of Singapore voting system. While it is true that Singapore uses the first-past-the-post (FPP) system which will invariably deliver such disproportionate results as the ones in this election, the TOC’s writer’s description of this result as not normal may be indicative of his dislike or rejection of this FPP system. Think about it; this writer considers the incommensurability in the proportions of seats won to votes won as being unfair.
Now even if we were to point out to him that this unfairness is endemic of a FPP system, it may not satisfy him, for his concern might be that the FPP system produces unfair electoral outcomes. If this is so, then nothing that Choon Hwee has argued here weakens his point.
To be sure, there is nothing obviously wrong or illegitimate about rejecting the FPP system. Both it and the proportional representation systems are used in democracies around the world. They each have their pros and cons, as Choon Hwee notes. And if Singaporeans (anti-establishment Singaporeans that is) are now betraying their displeasure with the FPP system, then what we have on our hands is a starting point for a very interesting debate about what type of voting system we should employ in our country. Ultimately, it may turn out that these same detractors of the FPP system will embrace it once they fully evaluate its pros and cons along with those of its alternatives.
It is however intriguing to consider what sort of parliament we would get if we adopted the ‘fairer’ proportional representation system. Given that the PAP won about 60% of the votes, they would win only 60 % of the votes under a hypothetical pure proportional representation system. Now one of the biggest desires amongst Singaporeans (and the Workers Party no less) was to see a parliament with a significant number of opposition members sufficient to challenge and keep the PAP accountable. If PAP won only 60% of the seats (52 out of 87 seats), would that provide a large enough base for the opposition to keep the PAP in check? What sort of numbers should we aim for if we want to achieve, in the WP’s words, a “first-world parliament”?