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Singapore's electoral system: government by the people?

  • Tsun Hang Tey (a1)
Abstract

Singapore's Westminster parliamentary system of government was adopted as a historical result of it being a British colony. In its post-independence constitutional development, the dominant People's Action Party political leadership had made a series of constitutional amendments to its original electoral system, introducing innovative schemes such as Group Representation Constituencies, Non-Constituency Members of Parliament, Nominated Members of Parliament and the Elected Presidency. These changes have resulted in an electoral system that is so different and divergent from the Westminster model that it should be regarded a unique regime of its own. This paper advances the view that the constitutional evolution of its electoral system is reflective of a political vision structured along elitist lines – underscored by a desire to restructure the voting behaviour of its citizens, and ensure predictability and the preservation of the status quo. It has been driven by paternalistic assumptions about what is beneficial for its citizens. This paper examines the subsequent implementation of the schemes, before reflecting on how it is a system that has the potential to affect adversely the development of political participation and political pluralism, and dilute democratic politics in Singapore.

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8. Note however that s 52(1) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (Cap 218, 2007 Rev Ed Sing) restricts the number of NCMPs at the moment to ‘3…less the total number of Opposition Members elected to Parliament’.

9. Above n 2, Art 39(2).

10. Parliamentary Elections Act, s 52(3)(a).

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60. See, eg, ‘Change to electoral boundaries “expected”’ The Straits Times 22 November 1996; ‘Ministers defend new boundaries’ Business Times Singapore 25 November 1996.

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62. See KYL Tan ‘Constitutional implications of the 1991 general elections’ (1992) 13 Sing L Rev 26 at 48.

63. See also Wan Wai Yee, above n 47, at 320.

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65. See ‘Changing electoral boundaries’ The Straits Times 2 August 1991.

66. ‘GRC changes risk being seen as tied to coming polls’ The Straits Times 2 October 1996.

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68. ‘Only the best will be appointed’ The Straits Times 22 July 1991.

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71. See, eg, S Andrianie ‘Be mindful of all races, Malays told’ The Sunday Times 21 January 2001; ‘AMP's proposal dangerous for Singapore – DPM Lee’ Channel News Asia 1 December 2000 (Factiva).

72. See, eg, A Osman ‘PM gives assurance on madrasahs relevance’The Straits Times 24 May 2000; ‘Taman Bacaan sooths fears about madrasah’The Straits Times 14 April 2000; Press Statement ‘PERGAS stand on the proposed SE (compulsory education) and the madrasah’ (31 March 2000), cited in PERGAS Moderation in Islam: In the Context of the Muslim Community in Singapore (Singapore: PERGAS, 2004) p 351 ; ‘Schooling for all “threatens madrasahs”’The Straits Times 1 April 2000; ‘Mardrasahs – making them relevant’The Straits Times 10 April 2000; ‘Govt believes in madrasahs’ importance’The Straits Times 22 April 2000; ‘Issue is future of Muslim children – PM’The Straits Times 2 May 2000; ‘Madrasah dialogue – PSLE idea accepted’The Straits Times 20 May 2000.

73. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 54, col 695 (29 November 1989) (Mr Goh Chok Tong); Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 54, col 851 (30 November 1989) (Mr Goh Chok Tong).

74. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 54, cols 14–15 (9 January 1989), (President Wee Kim Wee).

75. Above n 2, Fourth Schedule, s 3(2).

76. Mutalib, above n 29, p 330.

77. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 54, col 850 (30 November 1989) (Mr Goh Chok Tong).

78. See, eg, Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 54, col 727 (29 November 1989) (Mr Tan Cheng Bock); Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 54, col 765 (29 November 1989) (Dr Arthur Beng Kian Lam); Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 54, col 816 (30 November 1989) (Dr Augustine H H Tan); Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 54, col 764 (29 November 1989) (Dr Arthur Beng Kian Lam).

79. See, eg, ‘No good reason to have nominated MPs’ The Straits Times 17 October 1989, Forum; ‘Good people can serve outside Parliament too’ The Straits Times 9 December 1989; ‘The problems which may arise from the NMP Scheme’ Shin Min Daily News The Straits Times 12 December 1989; ‘Upper House would provide alternative voice’ The Straits Times 9 December 1989.

80. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 54, col 722 (29 November 1989) (Mr Tan Cheng Bock); Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 54, col 735 (29 November 1989) (Mr Chiam See Tong); Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 54, col 756 (29 November 1989) (Dr Lee Siew-Choh).

81. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 54, col 727 (29 November 1989) (Mr Tan Cheng Bock); Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 54, cols 842–848 (30 November 1989) (Mr Lee Kuan Yew).

82. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 50, col 332 (12 January 1988) (Mr Goh Chok Tong).

83. Above n 2, Fourth Schedule, s 1(1).

84. Ibid, Fourth Schedule, s 1; Standing Orders of the Parliament of Singapore 2004, s 100(1)(b), available at http://www.parliament.gov.sg/Publications/SO-merge%20with%20SO%20notes.pdf.

85. Above n 2, Fourth Schedule, s 1(1) and 1(2).

86. Ibid, Art 25(1) and 25(2).

87. Sing Parliamentary Debate vol 54, col 698 (29 November 1989) (Mr Goh Chok Tong).

88. Report of the Select Committee on the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment No 2) Bill [Bill No 41/89], Parl 4 of 1990 at [29].

89. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 68, col 471 (27 February 1998) (BG Lee Hsien Loong).

90. Above n 2, Fourth Schedule, s 3(1).

91. See Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 75, col 796 (27 August 2002) (Mr Lee Hsien Loong).

92. See, eg, Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 74, cols 571–572 (05 April 2002) (Mr Wong Kan Seng).

93. Rodan, G State–society relations and political opposition in Singapore’ in Rodan, G (ed) Political Oppositions in Industrializing Asia (London: Routledge, 1996) p 104 . See also Report of the Select Committee, above n 88, at [31].

94. Sing Parliamentary Debates, above n 92.

95. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 82, col 877 (14 November 2006) (Ms Sylvia Lim); Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 55, col 1039 (29 March 1990) (Encik Abdul Nasser bin Kamaruddin).

96. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 56, col 519 (3 January 1994) (Mr Goh Chok Tong); Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 52, cols 15–16 (9 January 1989) (President Wee Kim Wee); Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 56, col 461 (4 October 1990) (Mr Goh Chok Tong).

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98. Prime Minister's National Day Rally Speech The Straits Times 10 August 1988, p 1.

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100. Above n 2, Arts 22E, 22H and 148A.

101. Ibid, Arts 22B and 22D.

102. Ibid, Art 22I; s 12 of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (Cap 167A, 2001 Rev Ed Sing).

103. Above n 2, Art 22P.

104. Ibid, Art 22G.

105. Ibid, Art 22C.

106. Ibid, Art 22A.

107. Ibid, Art 22.

108. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 56, col 437 (25 August 1994) (Mr Walter Woon).

109. Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, s 12(3).

110. Above, n 2, Art 148D.

111. Ibid, Arts 22(1)(A), 22A(1)(A), and 22C(1)(A).

112. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 56, col 460 (4 October 1990) (Mr Goh Chok Tong).

113. Above n 2, Art 5(2A).

114. Constitutional Amendment to Safeguard Financial Assets and the Integrity of the Public Services Cmd 10 of 1988 at [6].

115. Ibid, at [11]; Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 56, cols 459–461 (4 October 1990) (Mr Goh Chok Tong).

116. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 56, col 462 (4 October 1990) (Mr Goh Chok Tong).

117. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 56, cols 466–467 (4 October 1990) (Mr Goh Chok Tong).

118. ‘Outstanding issue – “And this was one of them” – NII’ The Straits Times 17 July 1999; ‘I had a long list of problems…’ The Straits Times 17 July 1999; ‘Public officers “need change of mindset”’ The Straits Times 17 July 1999; ‘Issues raised by President Ong Teng Cheong at his press conference on 16th July 1999 (Statements by the Prime Minister and Minister for Finance)’: Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 70, cols 2018–2068 (17 August 1999); The Principles for Determining and Safeguarding the Accumulated Reserves of the Government and the Fifth Schedule Statutory Boards and Government Companies Cmd 5 of 1999; Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 82, col 1238 (12 February 2007) (Professor S Jayakumar).

119. ‘Constitutional Reference No 1 of 1995’ [1995] 2 Sing LR 201.

120. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 56, cols 462–463 (4 October 1994) (Mr Goh Chok Tong).

121. (Cap 2A, 2005 Rev Ed Sing).

122. Above n 2, Art 18(6).

123. Ibid, Art 18(7).

124. Report of the Select Committee, above n 99, at [9]–[13].

125. ‘Why so few takers for this job?’ The Straits Times 4 June 2005.

126. Above n 2, Art 18(9).

127. See VS Winslow ‘The election of a president in a parliamentary system: choosing a pedigree or a hybrid?’ in Tan and Lam, above n 34, p 96.

128. Presidential Elections Act (Cap 240A, 2007 Rev Ed Sing), s 15(1) and 15(2).

129. See Singapore Government Isatana Singapore, available at http://www.istana.gov.sg/PresidentSRNathan/index.htm.

130. ‘Outgoing Singapore President says “teething problems” will pass’ Associated Press Newswires 30 August 1999 and ‘Ex-civil servant S.R. Nathan wins Singapore's presidency’ Asian Political News 23 August 1999.

131. See Thio Li-ann, above n 34, p 134.

132. ‘Presidency: only one issue – who's the best man?’ The Straits Times 8 August 1993; ‘From A to Z on the EP’ The Straits Times 14 August 1993.

133. VS Winslow ‘Singapore has perhaps tried to ensure a safe result’ in Tan and Lam, above n 34, p 96; ‘A contest will be good for the Elected President’ The Straits Times 31 July 1993.

134. Winslow, above n 133, p 96.

135. ‘Singapore Parliament approves new presidential post’ Reuters News 3 January 1991; ‘Singapore passes Bill to give President greater powers’ Japan Economic Newswire 3 January 1991; ‘Tailor-made for Mr Lee’ South China Morning Post 5 January 1991.

136. ‘Presidency: only one issue – who's the best man?’ The Straits Times 8 August 1993; ‘From A to Z on the EP’ The Straits Times 14 August 1993.

137. ‘MM: It's Singapore's turn’ Today 26 June 2008.

138. ‘MM Lee on freak poll results – 5 years all it takes to ruin Singapore’ The Straits Times 26 June 2008.

139. Sing Parliamentary Debates vol 69, col 134 (1 June 1998) (Mr Wong Kan Seng).

140. See, eg, Elections Department Singapore, above n 27.

141. Above n 138.

142. See, eg, ‘Effective leadership, Singapore-style’ The Straits Times 19 October 2000.

143. See, eg, ‘Not drifting with the tide but evolving with each step forward’The Straits Times 7 October 2006; Chew, MHuman rights in Singapore: perceptions and problems’ (1994) 34(11) Asian Survey 933.

* I am grateful to Professor Michael Hor for his insightful and thoughtful review and comments, and Elaine Chew for excellent research assistance.

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