The Future of Singapore’s PAP – Part II


Partyforumseasia:  In most countries with a liberal democratic system anywhere in the world any political party would be more than happy with the comfortable absolute majority the People’s Action Party is enjoying since sixty years. PAP 50But there are also few parties world-wide which have ruled as successfully as the PAP (though there are few city states for comparison). The authoritarian style of founding father and patriarch Lee Kuan Yew, now 91, has been gradually softened under successor Goh Chok Tong and more so under son Lee Hsien Loong. So the debate about future dangers to the PAP looks somewhat overly fearful in comparison to the narrow majorities and shaky coalitions in other countries. As already quoted in part I, Netina Tan has described the mechanisms in the Singapore system which favor the ruling party. Link here:
Parliament SGRocking a big boat like Singapore and the PAP is certainly difficult. Nevertheless, losing one six-member group constituency which looked unassailable in 2011 and a by-election 2013 is painful for a party spoiled by decades of success. And one can expect differences within the party, maybe with a faction that does not fully support the softened style of the Prime Minister.
With the 60th anniversary of the PAP, the 50th of independent Singapore and general elections coming up in 2015, the crystal ball is being kept rather busy. The latest contribution by Han Fook Kwang, senior editor at large at the Straits Times (9.11.2014, the question mark cartoon above also in this article), is correctly adjusting the question to what the PAP will have to do to stay in power. For there are no real threats in the party scene with the runner up Workers’ Party far behind with 7 elected and 2 non constituency (or consolation prize) MPs against 80 PAP parliamentarians.
What is conspicuously missing in the public debate so far is the possibility of a coalition government. At least in the next few decades the election law will not make a coalition government necessary if the PAP can win majorities in Parliament even with less than 50% of the popular vote. Neighboring Malaysia has that already since last year and many other countries with majoritarian or first-past-the-post systems as well.
So the PAP may just be nervous about more signs of protest votes in various forms and some activists being more fearless than anyone since the crackdown on Communists in the 1950s and 1960s. Obviously there is a ant-establishment subculture among younger Singaporeans who take all the material achievements for granted and see social injustices from a subjective, if not parochial perspective. The debate about the supposed shortcomings of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) seems to be a point in case. Social security for everybody is difficult to achieve, and increasing life expectancy threatens all pension schemes in rich countries. But in terms of distribution justice Singapore’s CPF system can match most other schemes.

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Singapore: The PAP in the Next 50 Years??


Partyforumseasia: It is very hard to predict, especially the future” is a Danish saying or a quotation of Danish scientist Niels Bohr. Extrapolating political trends or the fate of a political party like Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) over half a century seems to be somewhat daring, even if the party is already in power for 56 years. HoThe daring speaker in a recent event of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) was Ho Kwon Ping, one of Singapore’s most prominent businessmen (The Banyan Tree chain of luxury resorts among other ventures) with a string of important director- and chairmanships under his belt. Ho was suspected of communist ideas in his younger days, even imprisoned in Singapore under the Internal Security Act for two months.His wife, who has been a nominated member of parliament, described him as “a capitalist in his pocket and a socialist in his heart.”
The three possible scenarios described by Ho Kwon Ping are as follows: 1. Status quo, the PAP retains its 85 to 90 % of seats in parliament. 2. PAP loses some support but retains a two-thirds or at least absolute majority. 3. An opposition party or coalition wins power and takes over the government.
The third scenario could happen in the second half of the next 50 years says Ho. Given the success of continuous PAP rule, that is cautious enough a guess, especially in view of the imbalance between the ruling PAP and the few relevant opposition parties. There are sizable amounts of protest votes in Singapore and undercurrents of disagreement with government and PAP,  the social media showing the extent of dissent.
The main opposition Workers’ Party managed to win a group representation constituency with six mandates in the 2011 election and a seventh seat in a by-election in 2013. All the other parties are far from a realistic chance to make it into parliament because of internal problems, lack of funds and organization or credibility.
Mr. Ho’s presentation and the the public debate triggered by it may also be interpreted as a start to the election campaign 2016. There is no doubt that the PAP is determined to win again and continue to rule Singapore.
The underlying reasons and mechanism of the hegemonic imbalance have been analyzed in detail by Prof. Netina Tan: Institutional Sources of Hegemonic Party Stability in Singapore. This country chapter on Singapore is available in our book “Party Politics in Southeast Asia – Organization Money Influence” (2014) at the following links: Amazon or   Barnes and Noble and other internet book retailers.
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Nine New Faces: Singapore’s Nominated Members of Parliament


Partyforumseasia: Singapore is not short of political parties, no less than 28 are registered, but during 49 years of independent statehood the overwhelming dominance of the People’s Action Party (PAP) has not changed much. Though its share of the popular vote has shrunk to an unprecedented 60.14 percent in the last general election in 2011, and two cabinet ministers were voted out, the ruling party won 81 out of 87 seats due to the (British heritage) first-past-the-post majoritarian election system. But for the first time in 2011, the opposition Worker’s Party managed to win a group constituency with six seats. The Group Representation Constituency (GRC) was one of the tweaks to the election system introduced since 1984 and not really seen as making it easier for the opposition.  Parliament
In order to balance the overpowering hegemony of the PAP, however, the constitution allows for a number of unelected members to join Parliament. These are Non-Constituency MPs (NCMP) or “the best opposition losers”, if they can win at least 15 percent in a single member constituency, and Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP). These are nominated by the President for two and a half years after recommendation by a parliamentary select committee under the speaker. This year’s committee included two ministers and five other MP’s including the chairman of the opposition Worker’s Party. According to the defense minister, who was part of the select committee, the NMP’s are expected to enrich the debates on issues like “ageing, economic restructuring and productivity, sporting excellence, a better living environment, retaining Singapore’s heritage and appreciation of its history, challenges of working mothers, youth aspirations, and entrepreneurism.” (Straits Times, 12 August 2011, p.1) On sensitive issues like amendments to the constitution or public finances the NMP’s can contribute to the debate but are not allowed to vote.
Among the newly appointed NMP’s are a lawyer, a social entrepreneur, an architect, a medical doctor, a unionist, a historian, an economist, and a banker. The somewhat naughty application of a social blogger who is being sued by the Prime Minister for alleging inconsistencies in how the government is handling the compulsory Central Provident Fund, has been rejected.

To put the NMP scheme into a proper perspective, it is fair to say that Singapore has only a part-time Parliament with MP’s following their professional careers as normal. Apart from the seasonal sittings of Parliament they are involved in intense grass roots work in their constituencies. So it makes a lot more sense to co-opt specialists than in classical full-time parliaments with professional politicians.

More information on Singapore’s political system can be found here:
Tan, Netina, Institutional Sources of Hegemonic Party Stability in Singapore, in: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed.), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Organization-Money-Influence, Partyforumseasia, Singapore 2014.
The new book is available at Amazon under the following link: Party Politics