In Taichi, there are two very important principles. One is the principle of using gentleness to overcome brute force. Another is the principle of moving back to gain ground. PM Lee’s proposal to change the constitution to have more NCMPs and give them the same powers as other MPs is the epitome of these two important principles in Taichi. Why?Because by ostensibly giving something that can be said to be quite significant to the opposition, PM has gained immense ground. At least in three ways: (1) appearing to be super magnanimous by showing that the Government is taking concrete steps to institutionalise diversity of views in Parliament, (2) making a clean sweep of all the seats in the next GE (and many more to come) for the PAP almost a fiat accompli, and (3) preparing for the worst.
PM’s move appears to be super magnanimous
PM’s proposal makes it look like that the Government is taking concrete steps to institutionalise diversity of views in Parliament. The people who are unhappy and upset about PAP’s policies, now have 12 people in Parliament who, for all intents and purposes, are full-fledged MPs to speak up for them. Don’t say that you don’t have an alternative voice in Parliament anymore. It appears to be the ultimate concession of power to the opposition. Something that he doesn’t need to do. In doing so, PM appears to be really magnanimous.
Clean sweep of all seats for the PAP in the next (and many more) GEs almost a fiat accompli
In GE2011, because Low Thia Khiang took a massive gamble and left Hougang to contest in Aljunied GRC, residents of Aljunied GRC were suddenly shoved the responsibility of determining if there will be any opposition members elected into Parliament with all the powers of a proper MP. I personally know of some people who stay in Aljunied GRC and voted for WP because they were really concerned that there may not be opposition members in Parliament with the full fledged powers of a proper MP. So anecdotally, the desire to want to have opposition members in parliament that have all the powers of a proper MP and the fear that there might be none are considerations that some people have when deciding whether or not to vote for the opposition.
But now with the changes to the NCMP scheme, where we are guaranteed to have 12 opposition MPs who have the same powers as PAP MPs, there is far less reason to vote for the opposition. Singaporeans now CAN have their cake AND eat it! They know it is guaranteed that there will be alternative voices, who can vote against the PAP on important issues, in Parliament. So just vote in PAP candidates, who are probably better at handling town council issues and in writing appeal letters to various government agencies, to… handle town council issues and write appeal letters! Best of both worlds!
Given how most Singaporeans think, I am fairly confident that with this constitutional change, we will see PAP having a clean sweep of all the seats in the next GE and many many more to come. In other words, this will go a long way in preventing “freak” election results where PAP suddenly loses the GE and can’t form the government. Therefore, in apparently giving ground, PM has cemented PAP’s position as the ruling party for many many years GEs to come.
Preparing for the worst
Having said the above, it is still possible that PAP loses a GE and ends up not being the ruling party. I can think of three conditions under which this might happen: (1) PAP does such an absolutely terrible job that the majority of people are so pissed off that they would rather vote for Zeng Guo Yan than vote for PAP, (2) an opposition party gets its act together and become so brilliant that people are (somehow) convinced that the opposition party would make a better than the PAP (even if the PAP is still doing a good job), or (3) the PAP doesn’t do well (but not necessarily terrible) but an opposition party has proven itself capable of doing a better job that the PAP.
I hope that we will never have the first situation where the PAP screws up so badly that we would just vote in any Tom, Dick or Harry (not Lee). It would be ideal if somehow our system can produce the second scenario. But I think there’s greater chance of a snowflake surviving in hell than that happening. The third scenario could possibly happen.
No political party can stay in power forever. Look at Taiwan’s most recent election. And look at Japan in the 1990s. Chiam See Tong’s very astute observation about Japanese politics in the 1990s serve as very good guiding principle:
“Politicians there in the LDP, which has been the ruling power for over 40 years, I believe, have become greedy. But luckily, in Japan, there are patriotic and good people in the opposition who are ready to take over power and make sure that things do not get too bad for Japan.”
Lee Kuan Yew himself was very pragmatic about this. He had said that his ambition was “not to preserve the PAP, but the system that produces the answers that we must have as a society to survive.” But in order for that to happen, Lee Kuan Yew suggested that there should be good opposition MPs with “two to three election terms, 12 to 15 years on the opposition benches in parliament” before they are able to “understand the system and, if they take over, there is a chance this system of governance can continue.”
In a single move, PM Lee has very likely done what is needed to fulfil his father’s ambition – to preserve the system that produces the answers that we must have as a society to survive. He has ensured that the PAP will be guaranteed to stay in power for a very long time to come. This will provide a lot of stability for a more conducive business environment. It will also give the opposition parties to get their act together and become good enough to take over from the PAP, become the ruling party and ensure that Singapore continues to thrive even after the decay of the PAP (as it must, as all things do). Brilliant move, PM!
[Featured image: PM Lee announcing proposed constitutional changes in Parliament. Photo from TV screen grab]