Thursday, 23 October 2008

Clarifications by Prime Minister in debate on motion on by-elections: 27 August 2008

This is a little late, so apologies in advance.

Back in August, we had a debate on by-elections, and I spoke in that debate as well. The PM's speech opposing Professor Thio's motion was extensively covered by the MSM, so I won't reproduce that here.

What was not so widely covered, was a couple of clarificatory questions that I posed to him after his speech, and his replies. The PM's commitment to "do the same", in case the Opposition wins a GRC and a seat becomes vacant, is very welcome.

The video and text of the clarifications by the PM are below.

Clarifications by the PM:



Clarificatory questions and response

Mr Siew Kum Hong: Sir, I would like to thank the Prime Minister for a very comprehensive speech and response, but I have two clarifications for the Prime Minister. Firstly, the Prime Minister has described our system as being a second model where voters vote for a party and not the candidate. Is the Prime Minister then advocating some sort of system of proportional representation which is really the pure form of such a second model?

And my second clarification, Sir, is that this second model is about voting for a party. Is it then the PM's position that, if in future an opposition party holds more than one seat in Parliament and one seat is vacated, he will allow the other MPs of that party to cover for the vacated seat?

The Prime Minister (Mr Lee Hsien Loong): Mr Speaker, Sir, first of all, one of the first things you learn in trying to make practical solutions in government is that we do not look for pure solutions, we look for workable solutions. And proportional representation, for reasons which we have explained and which we can debate on another occasion, is the wrong solution for Singapore. It leads to divided politics, it leads to extreme positions being espoused by parties which are going for votes on each side, and it leads to a fracture of our multi-racial and multi-religious harmony. You will have race-based parties, religious-based parties. There will be no end of trouble.

So, we are not talking about proportional representation, we are talking about a system where, when voters vote, they are not just voting for the Member. Look at the Member. Is he honest? Is he a cheat? Is he capable? Will he serve you? But look at the party. What party does he belong to? What is the credibility of that party? What can he do if he is elected in that party? And then make your choice because you are voting not just for the voter, but also for the party. And because of the way things have turned out and the PAP has a overwhelming majority in this House, so we amended the legislation and the Constitution to create NCMPs to give the opposition more representation in this House without having proportional representation.

As for what happens if an opposition constituency falls vacant, I have many options. I could call a by-election or I could allow some other opposition MP to cover for him. There is no difficulty doing that. We do that for PAP constituencies and we will do the same for the opposition constituencies as well.

4 comments:

Kaffein said...

To summarize, if I may, fear-tactics again. The 'What-if' scenarios.

Sorry I no longer buy it.

Just read this excerpt from mrbrown's blog. So true and thought-provoking.

---
Tony Benn lists five questions we should ask any powerful person:

What power have you got?
Where did you get it from?
In whose interests do you use it?
To whom are you accountable?
How do we get rid of you?"

ONLY democracy gives us that RIGHT.

That is why NO ONE with power likes democracy.

And that is why EVERY generation must struggle to win it and keep it - including you and me.

Here and NOW.
---

Kaffein

Siew Kum Hong said...

To Kaffein: Uh I must admit, I'm not really sure what you are referring to. But that's a nice quote.

Chee Wai Lee said...

I'm afraid Mr Lee essentially failed to give a definitive answer, preferring to stick to what an existing (vague) law says:

"As for what happens if an opposition constituency falls vacant, I have many options. I could call a by-election or I could allow some other opposition MP to cover for him."

To me, whatever he says subsequently is of little value: "There is no difficulty doing that. We do that for PAP constituencies and we will do the same for the opposition constituencies as well." He just left open the possibility that he can simply find an exception if and when the same happens to an opposition GRC.

Frankly, as far as I can tell, they have pulled this trick before. They've tinkered around with the rationale behind GRCs when it suited them:

"Goh Chok Tong admits that GRCs are meant to skew"

http://www.yawningbread.org/arch_2006/yax-615.htm

As it stands right now, the PM still possesses the legal right to decide if a by-election should be held. Nothing has effectively changed regardless of what he has said. If he subsequently declares his legal right, nobody can challenge it. A successor may also choose to ignore whatever assurances Mr Lee gives.

I would have felt much better if he had offered to propose a bill making the legal requirements for a by-election perfectly clear and unambiguous.

Still, I appreciate that the matter was broached. Perhaps people will remember as and when this event comes to pass.

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