GE2020: Why the PAP needs a strong mandate in parliament

The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has told us it needs a strong mandate. Yet it is intentionally unclear about what “a strong mandate” means and why it needs it.

So, let’s assume that “strong mandate” refers to a supermajority in parliament, i.e. at least two-thirds of seats. I’m sure most of the PAP means something much stronger, like 100% of the seats, which is why they keep trumpeting the NCMP scheme.

But for the sake of this discussion let’s assume two-thirds of seats, i.e. 62/93 seats.

Dear PAP,

You do not need a strong mandate to…

…form the government. 47/93 seats enough.

…pass laws, including ones like POFMA. 47/93 seats enough.

…address any serious social and economic issues that face Singapore. 47/93 seats enough.

…ignore the opposition’s vote in parliament.

They can say all they want. They can all vote against you in parliament. But with 47/93 seats, you can still pass laws and run Singapore.

…maintain a healthy relationship with the civil service, the Singapore Police Force, the Singapore Armed Forces, and all the other great institutions in this country.

These are all meant to be independent of politics.

Please don’t on the one hand tell us about how great our institutions are, and then on the other say that these same institutions depend on your strong mandate.

No. They. Don’t.

…address the pandemic.

Many of the best responses around the world have come in countries with multi-party democracies with NO strong mandate. See New Zealand, see Taiwan, see many Scandics.

Have you considered that our COVID response might have been better without a strong mandate? Maybe Chia Shi-Lu (handing out masks during CB) and Josephine Teo (meeting residents in Jalan Besar in early April) would not have been so arrogant as to engage in politicking during the biggest public health crisis of our generation.

Maybe without your strong mandate, you would have created a better COVID task force. You would not have handpicked only natural aristocrats.

You may have actually included somebody like Paul Tambyah, the incoming head of the International Society of Infectious Diseases.

Heard of him?

So, no, you do not need a strong mandate to help Singapore fight the pandemic. Have the humility to see that diverse opinions from a multi-disciplinary team is what Singapore needs.

You do, however, need a strong mandate to…

…suka-suka change the constitution whenever you want.

In 2017 the changes got Halimah into power in a walkover. What’s next?

…control the mainstream media.

If the opposition broke your supermajority, there would be much greater pressure for the MSM to lose their awful bias, imho.

…create numerous ministerial office holders and not face blowback.

Singapore’s sixteen ministries (including PMO) have over forty public office holders, from parliamentary secretaries to prime minister. You claim that all these positions are necessary. Many wonder if this is so. Many worry about the dangers of offering up so many exorbitantly-paid positions to so many from the same party.

Think about it. In Singapore, population ten, oops, five point seven million, we need over thirty ministers, each drawing millions. Meanwhile, the likes of New Zealand (5m), Taiwan (24m) and South Korea (52m) can make do with fewer ministers.

Strange, isn’t it?

Strange, isn’t it?

…maintain the position of the natural aristocrats who will be re-elected as part of the “strong mandate”, and many of whom are enmeshed in a complex web of controlling interests.

Directorships in dozens of companies. Prime Minsister’s wife heading up Temasek. Prime Minister’s former personal lawyer now the Attorney General. Josephine Teo’s husband running the international arm of Surbana, a company that has won contracts to help address the pandemic. (I could go on, but that might take days.)

To be clear, the problem with this has to do with potential conflicts of interest. It has got nothing to do with nepotism and cronyism, for which there is no evidence. All of you got there, as you say, through merit.

But we shouldn’t be blasé about potential conflicts of interest. When there are too many among such an elite group of natural aristocrats, the electorate starts to wonder about transparency. It undermines public trust in the system. It leads to the belief that different rules apply to different folks.

In any other democracy these potential conflicts of interest would have raised eyebrows. In Singapore, with your strong mandate, you can ignore any criticism.

Dear PAP, I hope you see why it is important to clarify what the “strong mandate” is and exactly why you need it.

Many Singaporeans believe it has nothing to do with the first half of this article; but only the second.


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CORRECTIONS: An earlier version of this piece said that all 31 ministers are in the Cabinet of Singapore. That is wrong. Some ministers are outside the cabinet. I have also removed the comparison to the UK, which has more ministers overall than Singapore, and the US, where there are numerous office holders of all sorts. So yes, of course, there are countries with more ministers than Singapore (but with much bigger populations), and some with less.

Some have said that cross-country comparisons are not relevant to this debate. Fine, point taken. Another way to think about it is simply observing the ministerial bloat over time. Lee Hsien Loong’s first cabinet in 2004 had 20 ministers, based on a quick count from Wikipedia. Not clear how many non-cabinet ministers, if any. Would be great to have all this data easily available.

Other GE-related stuff:

GE2020 Video 1: To help the PAP and Singapore improve, I’m voting opposition

GE2020 Video 2. The natural aristocrats: We know everything. Just listen to us

GE2020SG: Why I’m glad to see Paul Tambyah and Tan Jee Say. And other thoughts from the past week.

GE2015: Final thoughts. My series of four articles from five years ago, which is still strangely relevant. In particular, you may be interested in Part 2: The nexus of power, which has much more detail on the complex web of controlling interests in Singapore.

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