Monday, 14 April 2014

Coalition Govt

On 13 April, the press reported that PM Lee was asked if he envisaged a day when the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) is not running Singapore.
He said it could well happen, but he doesn't know how it will work.

The Financial Times report then goes on to suggest that Mr Lee "hints that the PAP is beginning to consider the possibility of one day forming a coalition government".
The British newspaper quotes Mr Lee saying: "It may not be one team in, one team out, it may be more complicated - you're getting used to more complicated than that in Britain now."

Based on this portion of the FT report, an earlier version of the Channel NewsAsia report was headlined "PAP considering possibility of forming coalition government one day: PM Lee."

It has been pointed out that this is inaccurate.
PM Lee was misquoted by the British press. But what would be the scenario for a coalition government?

The scenario is PAP wins less than 50% of the seats in Parliament and cannot form the govt by itself. No other party has 50% +1 seat to form the govt either. What then?

A - PAP forms a coalition govt with another party.
B - All the other non-PAP party form a coalition govt.

Is A more likely than B, or vice versa? Seriously, I do not know.

Scenario 1 (WP biggest winner at 45%)

Let's say PAP win 40%, WP wins 45%, and NSP (for illustration purposes) wins 15% of the seats in parliament. Any two party can add their seats together to exclude the other party from forming the govt.

It DOESN'T mean that the two parties with the largest percentage MUST form the coalition. PAP could team up with NSP (for 55% of the seats) to form the govt. Or WP can team up with NSP for 60% of the seats to form the govt. The interesting fact is that NSP as the weakest winning party, actually has clout beyond their 15% of seats. NSP in effect becomes the "kingmaker". Whichever party it chooses to ally with gets to form the govt.

NSP as "kingmaker" would probably ask for at least one ministerial position in the new govt. Maybe more. As "kingmaker" they would be wooed by both PAP & WP. If PAP offers 1 ministerial post, WP could offer two. NSP will be in a very good bargaining position.

WP and NSP could team up to exclude the PAP (scenario B). WP would be happy to offer more ministerial posts to NSP as they have everything to gain.

Why can't PAP and WP form the govt? At 45%, WP would and should likely have more Ministerial posts and the PM should be a WP Member (as the winningest party). Would PAP agree to this? They may have to.

Scenario 2 (PAP with 45%)

Another scenario: 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.

In this case NSP, SDP, and RP could all be potential "kingmakers" for the PAP. Any one of them could team up with the PAP and it would be sufficient for the PAP to form the govt. This means that PAP can go for the lowest bid - which party offers the best deal/least cost to the PAP. If SDP and RP are content with 1 Minister, and SDP wants MSF, and RP want MND. then the question would be whether PAP values MSF more or MND more.

Alternatively, 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.

Wither Democracy

More importantly, is democracy better served by a Coalition govt? Note that in all the "horse-trading" above (which is quite expected), the question in all the negotiating parties' minds is what is the best deal for my party, not for the country or the voters.

In other words, say 45% voted for WP (in scenario 1) which is the biggest winner, but does not have enough to form a govt. PAP can form a coalition with another party and exclude WP, even though they have the most seats in parliament. Similarly in Scenario 2, PAP may have the most seats (45%), but can be excluded by a coalition of all the other parties.

Also Ministerial posts will be traded based on the Interests of the parties, rather than their ability. Or ministerial posts may be traded based on the political leverage the ministry has (to win more votes) rather than a coherent policy or principle.

For example, MSF may be highly valued because the Minister in charge can make more liberal welfare policies. And this minister can make the decision without considering the need to align to other policies.

Or maybe MOT would be more valued because of COE and ERP.

MND may be valuable, but the "anchor" party would be unlikely to trade this off.

It would be interesting to see which Ministries are "tradable" and which are non-negotiable, or core: Finance? Defence? MND? Law? MHA? MOH?

WP gambit

Here's another alternative outcome to scenario 2 (or even 1): WP offers PAP a bargain. WP holding 30% of the seats (or 45% of the seats in scenario 1) offers to ally with PAP (with 45% of the seats, or 40% in scenario 1) to form the govt, and WP offers a really sweet deal - they just want 1 ministerial post. Or better yet, they just want Minister of States in all or some of the ministries, or even Acting Minister of State. And PAP gets to pick the PM!

Sweet, sweet deal for PAP!

Or is it?

Yes, PAP gets to stay in power, choose the PM, and control most if not all of the ministries. For one more term.

They are in effect training their replacements during this last term.

WP would be smart to request Minister of State posts in some if not all key and critical ministries, so their members can understudy the PAP ministers and understand the task of running a ministry.

So though it may seem like a sweet deal for PAP, they would be prudent to be wary. Moreover, the inner circle of government will be full of "secrets", for example in the debate and discussion on the Integrated Resorts, it would have been interesting to have an ear in the meeting room to hear what everyone had to say. Well, now WP would have ears in the room. And that may well curtail open, candid, and honest discussion.

It may well be that there would a an "official Cabinet" meeting which is just for show, while the PAP have secret cabinet meetings, and the WP have shadow cabinet meetings.

Government will be less efficient. Maybe even less effective.

Say PAP ministers come up with a plan that will benefit SG. They will of course want to ensure that PAP members/MP/Ministers get the credit. Is WP going to stand idly by and let the PAP take credit?

Of course not!

WP will either try to a) claim credit as well, b) sabotage the plan, c) blame the PAP for the failure of the plan (sabotaged), or d) roll out a better plan from the mistakes made and lessons learned from the first plan.

This means that it may be better to wait for the other party to make a move and then sabotage it, because coming up with a plan is always risky, and sabotaging plans are a lot easier. Moving first is not always an advantage, but moving second allows the second mover to use the lessons learned.

This will mean that govt could well become paralysed.

Of course PAP should do the right thing and "train" the WP... but why should it? Or would it?

For the good of SG?

Like PM Lee said, we don't know how a coalition or some compromised govt will work.

[For a real world example of Coalition Politics and manueverings. See "The Three Kingmakers"

Part II of Coalition Govt.

Part III of Coalition Govt.]

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