Political Funding by Private Donations and Party Preferences


Partyforumseasia strategy-wise: In Southeast Asia private campaign and party donations are certainly not coming in smaller amounts from millions of citizens. The millions here are more investments by cronies and businesses interested in government contacts and contracts. Nevertheless, an article titled “Live together, vote together” in The Economist, November 22d, page 33, is interesting in the way it shows that peer groups can be rather influential on political choices: “Americans who live and work together are often politically like-minded, according to The Economist’s analysis of more than 1.7m individual contributions of $200 or more made during the 2014 election cycle. The analysis also reveals which cities and companies are most politically engaged, financially speaking.” The survey does not correlate its findings with the election results, but at least the more one-sided results are indicators.
Economist Nov.

In systems with only two parties like the US it is certainly easier to define the areas with better election chances than in splintered multi-party systems. But for political parties in Southeast Asia, apart from the traditional rural – urban divide, it may be useful to study possible partisan clusters in more detail.
One interesting case in point is a pocket of opposition stronghold in the North-East of Singapore, where the Workers’ Party has managed to surf a wave of anti-establishment and anti-PAP feelings and conquer a five seat group representation constituency (GRC) in 2011 plus a single member constituency in a by-election in 2013. The losing PAP normally has a very good grassroots system and its MPs get a feel of the ground in their meet the people sessions every Monday night. Both camps will be trying hard to gauge the voters preferences for the next election which is due by January 2017 latest.

“Singfirst”, A New Opposition Party in Singapore


Partyforumseasia: Three political parties have made it into Singapore’s Parliament: The dominant PAP with 80 seats, the biggest opposition Workers’ Party (WP) with 7elected and 2 non-constituency (NC) seats (which are given to the best losers), and the Singapore People’s Party with one non-constituency seat. There are ten other active parties and twenty-two are registered but not active.
On this background of a splintered opposition camp which had problems in past elections to avoid three- and more cornered fights instead of uniting against the PAP, it certainly needs optimism to start a new party from scratch.

Tan Jee SayTan Jee Say is the man behind this new party founded in May 2014 and registered three months later under the name Singaporeans First or Singfirst in short. Singfirst logoTan is a former civil servant (principal private secretary to PM Goh Chok Tong). He had a short stint in the Singapore Democratic Party, and lost the 2011 presidential election as third of three candidates with 25% of the votes. According to the party’s website (link here: Singfirst.org) Tan Jee Say is the secretary-general, chairman is psychiatrist Dr. Ang Yong Guan, a schoolmate of Tan in the elitist Raffles Institution.  Ang
Under the headline “Chairman says fear no more” Ang explains that Singfirst had to be established because he thinks that the PAP has deviated from the old successful course: “The old service-driven people-connected PAP was able to deliver and people did not mind the tough policies it implemented. Singaporeans were prepared to tolerate living in a nation that is largely apolitical but economically vibrant. (…) The emergence of the new PAP in recent years driven by profits, obsessed with economic growth and disconnected from the people has led to complacency at the top and anger and helplessness on the ground.”
Since Dr. Ang is giving a glimpse into his own political experience as a (PAP??) community leader from 1988 to 2004 and in close cooperation with former foreign minister George Yeo, there may be some space for speculation about different views inside the ruling party and what the establishment of Singaporeans First might mean for the next election, due latest by January 2017.
Partyforumseasia has a little doubt about the expressed intention to find common ground with the other opposition parties. It did not work well among the older opposition parties so far. The choice of the party’s name, though, which sounds somewhat anti-immigrant if not xenophobic, might resonate with the many Singaporeans who resent the pressure created by more than a million foreign workers in the city republic.

PS: Singapore’s “The Online Citizen” (link here) asks what Singfirst can possibly do in Tanjong Pagar, a constituency dominated by Lee Kuan Yew himself since 1955!!! Lee is 91 already and will most probably not run again. With him on the team of candidates no party contested there, providing the PAP with a comfortable “walkover”. See the following chart from The Online Citizen:
Tanjong Pagar

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.

PAP 1PAP 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See the Singapore chapter by Netina Tan in
B&N book

 

 

 

available at Amzon, Barnes & Noble and other e-book retailers.

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.
B&N book

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