Thursday, 14 April 2011

The Myth (and Misunderstanding) of Opposition Roles

One of the arguments for more opposition in parliament is this idea that with more opposition, the ruling party is less able to push through their agenda.

Or that more opposition means that the ruling party has to take more cognizance of alternative views and positions.

While more opposition members may mean more views and more speeches, it doesn't necessarily translate to better arguments or better debate (consider the performance of Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen in the 1991-1997 parliament).

Moreover, as long as the ruling party has a simple majority (which is the definition of ruling party), and as long as party discipline holds (which means MP vote along party lines), the ruling party would be able to hold their own and pass their bills.

The only way for a bill to stall or fail to pass is if members of the ruling party break with party discipline and vote against the bill.

So with more opposition, there may be more opportunity to present more views (but most likely it would be the same old views), but the ruling party has no need to amend the bill to accommodate the views of the opposition.

Voters who think that having more opposition MPs will mean moderated policies are therefore deluding themselves, or they don't understand how parliamentary democracy works.

The whole point of elections is actually to ensure that the party you support, the candidate you support wins, and take control of Parliament and forms the government.

In the US, there are two parties continuously vying for the votes and support of the people. They are about evenly supported, with their political fortunes swinging back and forth like a pendulum. First the Democrats will win, then a few years or few elections later, the Republicans will win. And just because the President is Democrat, doesn't mean the Democrats rule. The majority of Congress might be Republican, so that could check the power of the president. And vice versa.

The whole US system seems to be set up to fail. Or at least not move.

And since the two parties are ideological opposites, over time, they have argued themselves into ideological trenches with neither side willing or able to give ground without betraying their political identity.

It would seem that at best each party, Democrat and Republican, only represents about 50% of the population on average. A two-party system entrenches the polarisation of the voters into two camps, and neither party can ever represent the whole electorate, only half of them on average, and only a majority when the pendulum swings their way. And if your party is not in power, you won't get any benefit and you have to wait til your party gets voted in again. 

In the UK, and anywhere else where govt are formed through coalition with other parties, no single party represents even 50% of the population. 

The fact that in Singapore one party has dominance shows that most people think that this party represents their interest. So most people's interest are being reflected in the PAP's policy. 

But the PAP is not a "populist" government. COE, ERP, and GST are clearly not popular policies. Or Foreign Talent and immigration policies. Maybe these will lose them the election this time. Or cause them to lose more than just 2 seats. Or even a GRC.

More opposition would be a signal to the PAP that their policies are not popular, and the voters are turning to the opposition. And the PAP should take note and respond to voter's signal. That is what the election is about. But unless and until the opposition takes power, they cannot stop the PAP.


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