Friday, May 6, 2011

Voting along municipal lines: Penny-wise, Pound Foolish

I have never accepted the logic behind voting along municipal lines in Singapore. Never.

For many years, one of the main reasons that Singaporeans have given for not voting for opposition party candidates is that the quality of candidates standing in their constituencies has been poor. And the quality of opposition party candidates has indeed been generally poor for much of Singapore's history.

Even Singaporeans disgruntled with the PAP frequently vote for the PAP when they perceive that opposition party candidates in their constituencies are inferior in breeding, credentials or capability compared to PAP candidates, which is often. I expect this election to be no different.

On the surface, this would make perfect sense. After all, who wants a doofus to represent them in Parliament? How could a clown the likes of many opposition party politicians effectively champion the interests of their constituents, particularly in a PAP-dominated parliament that is known to place Singaporeans in opposition wards last?

To me, however, this is missing the point entirely. Think of the last 5, 10 years. What issues have impacted your life the most? What have your heaviest concerns been about? What are the root causes of your worries, your angsts, and the things that keep you up late at night?

Almost without exception, I think I can state categorically that the most immediate concerns of most Singaporeans stem from issues related to national policies implemented in the last 10 years. These policies heavily impact important issues such as the cost of living, housing, influx of foreigners, income inequality, unemployment, health care, retirement and education.

In Singapore, the PAP designs and implements all major policies that govern the lives of Singaporeans. These are NATIONAL policies. In this country, national policies impact your life the most, and they have far-reaching effects on you, your family and your children.

These policies are more important than whether your MP can successfully petition for public funds to be spent in your constituency on playgrounds, covered walkways, refurbished wet markets and other matters that I deem of little consequence. Even the value of your property (if you own one) is dictated more by decisions made at the national level, e.g. zoning and land use planning done by the URA, or transportation infrastructure planned by the LTA.

If you feel hard done in by the PAP's policies, and practically every middle-class or lower income Singaporean is a victim on some level or in some aspect of their life, but you vote PAP because you think that the opposition party candidates standing in your constituency "cannot make it", then you are shooting yourself in the foot. You are being penny-wise, but pound foolish.

Realistically speaking, the PAP will still form the next government after this election due to the preponderance of their vote-share. That means they will still get to appoint all the cabinet ministers and still get to set all national policies.

This election is not about forming a new government. It is a referendum on the policies set by the present government. If you can't stomach the thought of voting in that unknown MP wannabe from the opposition in your constituency, think of it not as him representing your interests, but as him a visible signal of your displeasure with the PAP and how they must change their policies for the benefit of all Singaporeans.

All of the above would be true even if the quality of all opposition candidates was uniformly poor. But that is not true today. Today, the quality of many opposition candidates is as good, if not better, than the PAP candidates.

Many Singaporeans are excited about the contest in Aljunied, and I dare say, envious. They are envious not because voters in Aljunied actually have a realistic chance of voting in opposition party politicians in this election, but because Aljunied voters are in an enviable position of having to pick between two credible teams vying for their vote. It is not a dilemma, as some fool of a PAP supporter pointed out. It is a lovely feeling to be courted. A feeling that unfortunately few Singaporeans can claim to have experienced.

If you live in a constituency that has credible opposition party candidates, and you are unhappy with the current government's policies, you have no excuse not to vote for the opposition party.

If you are like me, and you live in a constituency contested by opposition party candidates that lack credibility, you still have good reason to vote for the opposition if you have felt victimized by our current government's policies. As I have highlighted above, voting along municipal lines is a case of being penny-wise, pound foolish. The wiser decision would be to vote along party lines.

Related to this is the great fear, played up by the PAP and their sycophantic mainstream media, that voting in opposition party candidates is tantamount to inviting legislative gridlock.

First of all, as I have pointed out above, legislative gridlock is a dim possibility given that the PAP is unlikely to lose more than 50% of seats in parliament. They will likely still get to pass all the policies they want. In fact, they are likely to retain more than the two thirds majority required to change the constitution at will, the highest law in the land.

Secondly, and this is an important point that I have not seen anyone in the media or blogosphere make, from my perspective as an average Singaporean, I do not think that legislative gridlock is such a bad thing if the policies that would have resulted otherwise were to impact my life negatively.

The PAP's greatest claim to fame is their contribution to economic growth. But as is patently clear to anyone who has an operating brain cell, the fruits of economic growth in this country have not been shared evenly, just like their costs. With every gain, there is a concomitant cost. The impressive rate of economic growth in recent years looks considerably less impressive when one takes into account the increased stresses that all of us experience from the rising cost of living, yawning income gaps, longer working hours, angst over retirement, more foreigners and strained infrastructure.

With regard to economic growth, ask yourself this: cui bono? Then ask yourself, who has borne the bulk of the costs?

Net-net, do you genuinely think that you are better off today? You MUST know the answer to this question if you are to vote wisely.

As a Singaporean, the last thing that I want in a government are smart, ambitious, capable people working against my best interests. Gridlock would be preferable. As Warren Buffett once put it, "In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you."

Even though the opposition party candidates in my constituency are less than impressive, I value them for what they are and what they represent to the PAP, rather than what they can do for me. I may not think highly of them, but they disagree with current PAP policy and like every opposition party, it is part of their campaign platform. As an instrument to convey my displeasure, that will suffice for my vote, at least for now.  

1 comment:

Ponder Stibbons said...

I see this penny wise and pound foolish attitude mirrored in our economic policies. We look to save pennies by cutting labour costs in the short term so that MNCs won't up and leave, ignoring the long term effects this has on our ability to transition to a knowledge-based economy. Short-term GDP increases are prioritzed over planning for long-term robustness in the economy.