- Increase the number of NCMPs from 3 to 9.
- NMP to become permanent feature.
- Increase in single constituency wards from 8 to 12.
- Reduce the average GRC size from the current 5.4 to 5 as a max.
The PAP does not make these changes out of generosity - they are doing this because there is a rising risk of losing more ground without these tweaks. PM Lee himself said these changes were made in response to the changing aspirations of Singaporeans. They are clearly tweaks of the existing system because there are mainly changes in numbers not the system itself. The main message is to tell you that you don't have to vote for the opposition, they will get in anyway as NCMPs. But to understand why the PAP govt feels the need for these changes one has to look at the bigger picture....
40 years ago, Singapore was the most democratic nation in the region. The Thais and Indonesians were under martial law and the Philippines ruled by a corrupt dictator. S. Korea had a succession dictators and generals running the place. Taiwan was under the control of KMT which had the country under martial law. Where are all these countries today relative to Singapore in terms of political progress? As these countries transform to vibrant democracies in the past decade, the Singapore govt took many steps backwards culling the opposition, reducing the freedom of the press and taking away the rights of the people...all the infamous acts (Printing Presses Act, Film Act, Public Order Act) that took away the freedom of people to gather and exchange ideas. In the late 80s, the citizens realised that it was in their own interest to have more opposition members in parliament and there was a clear shift in support for the PAP as seen from the rising % of votes for the opposition. To preserve its hegemony, the PAP govt introduced the GRC and linked votes to estate upgrading. That was the most blatant form of pork barrel politics in the world. Later they introduced the NMP & NCMP schemes to persuade the people that they don't have to vote against the PAP to be heard. The pattern is always the same, whenever there is a shift towards the opposition, the PAP tweaks the system to preserve its own power and the system becomes less democratic with every change. These changes I believe will ultimately hurt not just Singapore but the PAP itself - I will explain this a little later. Whatever change they can invent, the one thing they cannot do is remove the "one man one vote" system.
When the PAP govt created the GRC, the initial size was 3 but the grew it to 6 over time. The GRC tied in very nicely to the PAP internal system of selecting candidates to run for MPs. They selected from a list of elites that consisted mainly ex-civil servants, SAF officers, GLC directors etc. According to PM Lee's own account, many of these people were reluctant politicians who had to be persuaded to run for office. The GRC provided a 'guaranteed' way enter parliament on the coattails of more established politicians usually ministers. In a true democracy, politicians have to spend time campaigning to connect with the people. Using the GRC system, the PAP could bring onboard many part time politicians with busy careers into parliament. The GRC is probably the main reason why we ended up with so many disconnected MPs who show no passion for the job and no compassion for the people. Many of them won't get in without the GRC - why would anyone vote for an MP who hardly speaks in parliament and can barely squeeze in the time for meet the people sessions. These mollycoddled MPs were chosen primarily because they have succeeded within the PAP govt's elitist system and are unlikely to rock the boat ...not for their ability to represent and serve the interests of their constituents.
PM Lee talked about the need robust leadership when he announced these changes to the system but wouldn't we have more robust leadership had they kept our democracy intact and politicians have to compete fairly for votes. I believe the PAP govt has gotten itself and the country into more trouble in the long term continuous tweaking the system in the wrong direction.
For a long time, the PAP received strong support as a result of rapid economic growth. In the 70s, 80s and early 90s, living standards improved every year and every 4-5 years when elections are held, people voted for the PAP simply because they were better off since the previous election. The one-off economic transformation when Singapore became industrialised and many people move from the poverty into the middleclass is now over. We are starting to see a generation of people whose lives are no better or sometimes worse than their parents. The bottom 20-30% see their lives are worsening year after year for more than a decade due to the growing income gap. Many Singaporeans travel or are educated overseas can see for themselves the freedom they are missing in Singapore. The Internet broke the PAP's monopoly on the dissemination of views and information. The PAP runs a system that cannot meet the aspirations of a growing number of Singaporeans, many of whom want a fair, transparent and open system. The latest tweaks does not take us one inch closer to what many Singaporeans want.
Our forefathers fought for Singapore to be freed from the shackles of colonialism and for us to be able to run this country for our own interests instead of those of our colonial masters. Two generations later we find ourselves struggling again to restore democracy and bring about a govt that works for our interests instead of its own.