Straits Times: Only elected opposition offers ‘effective checks’

Best way is to have external checks & balances on ruling party: Low Thia Khiang

BY ZAKIR HUSSAIN
POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT


CRITICAL TEST
“Can we withstand the political crisis that accompanies a government’s downfall, like what happened in Indonesia or the Philippines? Would we be able to survive? I’m not sure.”
Mr Low, MP for Hougang

THE ruling party says the effectiveness of Singapore’s political system lies in its internal checks and its ability to serve the people, but only an elected opposition can provide effective checks and balances, Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) declared yesterday.

The leader of the Workers’ Party said this is because the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) currently dominates the House, can amend the Constitution freely, and controls key levers of power in the country.

What if one day it were to abuse its powers, trample on people’s rights or become corrupt? “What can the people do then?” asked Mr Low.

“Maybe CPIB (Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau) has a role to play. But if the CPIB is under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office, how can it play a checking role?” he asked.

Speaking in Mandarin, he noted that some believed the ruling party would be able to check itself, that it was not “a nest of snakes and rats”, and that even if it were to break up, the remaining half could still run the country.

Mr Low argued, however, that the best way was to have external checks and balances in the system, in the form of a more effective opposition presence.

He was commenting on remarks by President SR Nathan last Monday on how Singapore politics had to evolve over time as the world and society changed.

Stressing that changes to the political system should express the will of the people, Mr Low noted that Singapore’s political system had yet to undergo “the real test”.

He mused: “Can we withstand the political crisis that accompanies a government’s downfall, like what happened in Indonesia or the Philippines? Would we be able to survive? I’m not sure.”

With few Singaporeans willing to join the opposition parties to contest elections, Singapore’s democracy resembled a “one-legged duck”, he said.

As for the PAP’s often-made argument that it is not responsible for helping the opposition grow, he said this smacked of a “winner takes all, loser is a bandit’ mindset.

“But we cannot blame the ruling party,” he hastened to add, noting that Singaporeans returned the PAP to power at every poll.

Turning to arguments that losing opposition candidates can still be appointed Non-Constituency MPs, he said this was not enough as the role of the opposition is “not merely to reflect views and feelings of its people”.

Only by having a geographical constituency would an opposition party be able to grow its support base and strengthen its competencies, he said.

Also, only through weekly Meet-The-People Sessions would these MPs be able to appreciate people’s real concerns as well as assess the effectiveness of government policies, Mr Low said.

Also speaking yesterday, Dr Amy Khor (Hong Kah GRC) noted that the assumption that a system dominated by one party cannot be robust remains untested.

Past changes to the parliamentary system indicate “we will continue to experiment, but in a cautious way”, she said.

zakirh@sph.com.sg

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Posted in 2009 05. Comments Off on Straits Times: Only elected opposition offers ‘effective checks’
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