Friday, 25 April 2014

Coalition Government II - More Scenarios, More Speculation

In the previous post, the scenario considered for a coalition govt were that a) PAP won less than 50% of the parliamentary seats, and b) no party won more than 50% of the seat to be able to form the govt by itself.

This post will consider some other scenarios where democracy is thwarted, or circumvented.

Scenario A - When the election result does not reflect the will of the people.

To simplify the math, these are the numbers: There are 100 seats in Parliament to be won. There are 20 four-seats GRCs, and 20 SMCs. Each SMC has 100 voters. Each GRC has 400 voters. Total 10,000 (100 voters per ward in 100 wards) voters.

Question: Is it possible for a party to win the "Popular vote" (i.e. more than 50% of the voters voted for them, but not win more than 50% of the seats in parliament to be able to form the government.

Answer: Yes.

The Math: Party A wins 10 GRCs with 70% of the votes in each GRC, and 8 SMCs with 75% of the votes in each SMC. Total votes for 48 seats = 70% of 4000, and 75% of 800 = 2,800 + 600 = 3, 400. 

The party loses the other 10 GRC and 12 SMCs with just 40% of the votes in each (1600 votes for the GRC  and 480 votes for the 12 SMCs).

Total votes to Party A = 3,400 + 1,600 + 480 = 5,480 votes or more than 50% (54.8% actually) of the votes. BUT it has only won 48 seats out of 100, and cannot form the govt.

If some other party has won 51 seats, they can legitimately form the govt even though they may not have the "Popular" vote.

Question: Can a party win enough seats to form the govt even though it may not have the popular vote?

A: the above would suggest so, but let's work it out.

The Math: Party B win a total of 51 seats (say 10 GRCs and 11 SMCs) - enough to form the government How many votes did they win though? Say they won 60% of the votes. 60% of the 5100 votes, = 3,060 votes.

And the reason they did not win any other GRC or SMC is because they did not contest in any other GRC or SMC. So they have no other votes in any other wards.

It has managed to win 51 seats in parliament, and is able to form the government, by winning just 30.6% of the votes. It can actually afford to win fewer votes. With about 26% of the votes, actually (based on the numbers in this scenario).

Bonus Rhetorical Question: Is this constititional? Is this Legal? Is this even allowed?

Answer: Why yes. See this of the US election system:

Start at 4m 18 sec.

Scenario B - When the second biggest winner in parliamentary seats have to give up a lot to form the government.

In the previous post, I speculated:
"...even though WP has the second highest number of seats, it may well have to trade away a disproportionately large number of ministerial posts (or some other benefits) to the other coalition parties, because they are very vulnerable. If even one small party defects, they lose the chance to form the govt."
From this scenario (Scenario 2 in the previous post):
"...PAP wins 45% of seats, WP wins 30%, NSP 10%, SDP 8%, and RP 7%. PAP with any other party can form the govt. However, all the other parties together united against PAP can exclude the PAP from govt. The opposition, or rather Non-PAP parties, (because at this point "opposition" is a presumptive label) MUST form a coalition to exclude the PAP. However, the PAP just needs to get one party to "defect" from the non-PAP alliance/coalition to form a govt."
Let's say WP is trying to form a coalition government with the other non-PAP parties. WP had attempted to form a coalition with PAP, but was rebuffed (scenario where they are not rebuffed, may be covered in a third post). So they are attempting to form a coalition with all the other parties. However, PAP is also trying to form a coalition government and is actively "wooing" SDP, RP and NSP. From a (fictitious/ presumptive) ideological perspective, PAP feels that NSP has the best fit, but PAP can also accept (i.e. tolerate) a coalition with SDP or RP.

PAP has a lot of options. They just need 1 party to ally with. Any of the parties.

WP has no option other than to hold the coalition together. It cannot afford even ONE party to defect.

Theoretically, WP and the coalition parties can just agree to a proportional split of the ministries based on the number of seats each party has secured in Parliament. There are 15 ministries Plus one PM. As the biggest party in the coalition, WP should get the PM's post. So there are 15 ministries to divvy up.

As WP has 3 times as many seats as NSP, it should have 3 times as many ministers. So if NSP has 3 ministers, WP should have 9. Total 12 Ministers. With just 3 ministries left, SDP and RP can each have 2 and 1 ministries respectively. Total 15.

Here's problem #1. NSP has 10 seats, SDP has 8 seats, and RP and 7 seats. And they get 3, 2, 1, ministerial posts. Proportionally, SDP and RP should have 2 seats. RP is not happy.

How to solve the problem?

Option 1: Create more ministries or ministerial posts. MCCY could theoretically be split into 3 portfolios. This is what is done in countries with coalition government. Like Malaysia. 25 ministries. Two finance ministers. Two Education Ministers. etc. MCCY need not become 2 ministries. They would just have 2 ministers - one for culture, one for community and youth

Option 2: However, coalition members are quite savvy, and can tell if they are being given a "do-nothing" ministry. ("Eh. What does a Minister for Culture do?"). RP or SDP can say, give me a REAL minister or I go to PAP. So WP decides to give them 2 ministerial posts, one from the WP's "quota". So 8, 3, 2, 2 ministerial posts for the 4 coalition parties.

Meanwhile PAP has decided to roll over and play dead.


PAP would be moving from being the government to being the opposition party. Unless...

PAP can make an offer to NSP, SDP or RP. Maybe RP wants the MSF portfolio, but NSP already has it. Or SDP wants the MFA portofolio, but can't have it (Maybe WP wants it for itself. Or NSP wants the Trade and Industry portfolio, but WP has "choped" it.

PAP can make an offer to NSP: "you can have MTI portfolio if you defect to PAP's coalition." Maybe PAP is confident that NSP will not sabotage the economy. Or PAP has analysed NSP manifesto and finds that their proposals or philosophy is in line with the PAP. Or the PAP may have conditions - NSP can have the minister for Trade and Industry, but the Minister of State will be a PAP member.

The WP coalition with 4 members will be harder to keep everybody happy. PAP just needs one party, and just needs to keep that one party happy to have a coalition.

So here's problem #2 for the WP coalition: How to keep their 3 partners happy so they join the coalition in the first place?

WP may want to decide what are the key ministries that they would not relinquish.

I would argue that Finance. Defence. Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, National Development, Health, Education, and Trade and Industry are key ministries for the security and continued prosperity of Singapore.

But so are the other ministries. Transport, Manpower , Law, MEWR, MCCY, MSF, and Communication & Information.

And this is just my assessment. Maybe MSF can be a useful ministry to win votes? Or Transport?

Or maybe MND, MOT, and MOE are troublesome, no-win ministries. No matter what you do, you will alienate some segment of the public and that would lose you votes.

Or maybe some ministries can be on "auto-pilot": Defence. Education. Home Affairs. Comms and Info.

I can't propose a solution, but these are the consideration for each of the Ministries. These are my personal assessment.

- Finance. Other than the PM's office this is the most important Ministry that controls taxes (revenue) and approves the budget of each of the other ministries (expenditure). If you control this Ministry, technically, you could revise tax rates, and if necessary choke other ministries by restricting their budget. In a single party government (e.g. PAP currently), this is a true threat. In a coalition, having given the MSF portfolio to another party, trying to choke the ministry financially would be bad faith, and you can expect the party to defect. This ministry would allow you to provide for zero GST for basic necessities like rice, cooking oil, sugar. Could win some votes.

- Defence. Not a vote winner, unless you abolish NS. Maybe. The main thing you can do with this portfolio is to cut the budget to free it up for other ministries. Which you could also do via MOF. It is important to maintain our defence capability, but this is a long-term commitment and short-term raiding of this ministries budget will not lead to any immediate adverse effect. Could probably run on auto-pilot mode and nothing will happen... for a while at least.

- Foreign Affairs. Another important ministry, but not a vote winner.

- MTI. The "Engine" or "engineer" of our economy. Maybe. We don't know. Anybody wants this? (Really. I believe it is important, but I don't know why. But probably not a vote-winner)

- MND. A biggie. HDB is under this Ministry. So it is important. And a possible vote-winner. You could control HDB prices, ramp up HDB building plans. Ensure everyone has a flat. Cheap. Of course that could crash the market and retirees trying to cash in their flats for their retirement might be adversely affected. Tough.

- Law. Another "Important but not a vote-winner" ministry. What has the ministry of law done for you lately? 377A, anyone? It's a niche interest that will win votes for a targeted segment of the population, but may alienate the conservative vote.

- Education. Yes! Change the education system. Change the primary school registration process. Scrap streaming. Scrap mother-tongue requirements. Or not. Controversial ministry. For everyone who has been disadvantaged by the current system, there are 5 or 6 who are doing Ok, or even very well, and will not be happy with changes.

- Transport. Yes! Scrap the COE and the ERP, and the Vehicle Tax! This is one way to buy votes fast! Advice: do this just before calling for election, so people can buy cars, but before they realise that with 200,000 more cars on the road, and no ERP, entering any major roads is like joining one big carpark. But could win votes, and then after the election, reinstate ERP. (BTW, it won't work. See this post.)

- MSF. Free food for the low income! Redefine low income so more people can benefit from govt programmes. This should be a core ministry for winning votes.

- Health. Another vote-winner! Just provide free basic healthcare. Sure win votes.

- Manpower. Scrap Maid Levy. Win votes instantly! Freeze Foreign Workers Permit. Win votes instantly!

- MCCY. People’s Association is under this ministry I believe. Now the WP Coalition can use the power of the PA to connect with the people on the ground, and shut out the PAP. Who wants this Ministry? May have to ballot.

- MEWR. Another "Important but not a vote-winner" ministry. What has the MEWR done for you lately? I guess if a FW dumps his girlfriend's body in your HDB water tank, maybe it might be important to you. Oh wait - Dengue mosquitoes, Hawker Centres, and floods. Troublesome ministry. Magnet for complaints. Do things right and nobody appreciates. Do things wrong and suddenly everyone is an expert on dengue, floods, and hawker centre management. Steer clear.

- Home Affairs. Another possibly controversial ministry in charge of the Police, SCDF, Prisons, Customs and Immigration. It seems like they are important. But the post just attracts trouble. You only hear from them when there is trouble - riots, protests, crime, immigration checkpoint violations, Mas Selamat, corruption. How to win votes with this ministry?

- Communications and Information. The ministry in charge of censorship, internet and mobile phones. BUT, how to win votes with this ministry? Scrap censorship? A few liberal citizens might like that, but most Singaporeans are quite conservative and may not care about that.

WP could give out Minister's post but there are 7 HOT ministries, control of which could help the parties win votes. The other 8 are probably important, but can the coalition government leverage on these Ministries (Law, Defence, Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, etc) to win votes?

How to distribute these Ministries so that all the members of the coalition will be happy?

From a non-partisan point of view, the more troubling question is what does it mean for SG?

Defence, Foreign Affairs, Trade & Industry, Home Affairs, and Law are not very "voter-friendly" ministries, but they are critical to Singapore's future and present and well-being. BUT in a coalition govt, these ministries are at best neutral burdens, and at worst, political deadweights which provides little or no political advantage. 

A coalition government with very immediate concerns and short-term focus (win the next election) would mean that these strategic ministries will be unfocused, and that has implications for SG's long term wellbeing.

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