Bread. June 2006
Goh Chok Tong admits that GRCs are meant to skew
As if Lee Hsien Loong's remarks denigrating Australia were
not enough to convince people how anti-democratic the Singapore government
is, Senior Minister (and former PM) Goh Chok Tong has now provided more
There! He has admitted it. The State and its electoral system have been corrupted to serve partisan ends.
Goh was quite brazen about it. He said that the role of GRCs was not just to ensure minorities are adequately represented -– a nearly 2-decades-old justification for GRCs. By doing so, he has conceded that for the last 2 decades, the PAP been less than truthful about their motives.
His logic was that the ends justify the means. The PAP wanted to put "younger and capable candidates" into Parliament, but they might not want to risk their careers to join politics. Solution? Remove risk. Change the electoral system.
Not only do we have a winner-takes-all effect in GRCs, in practice, every GRC team is led by a minister or political heavyweight and new candidates get into office by riding their coattails.
The arrogance displayed by such distortions to a democratic system that we inherited from the British may be bad enough, but now, there is the added arrogance of Goh saying to the effect that: Yes we distorted the system at the price of fairness, so what?
They are not even ashamed of themselves.
But why now? Why has Goh now admitted it?
I think this change in tack has to do with the realisation that pretending that the system has not been distorted no longer washes. That battle has been lost. Singaporeans, by a large majority, in my opinion, agree that GRCs are electorally unfair.
This explains Goh's new line of defence. So it's unfair, he says, but it's for Singapore's good, because it's the only way to get top talent into government. Singapore benefits, is his message.
* * * * *
An equally acute question raised by Goh's statement is this: What constitutes talent? There is the suspicion, once we talk about "talent" in the singular, that it is measured on a kind of linear scale. Once it is seen as linear, there follows the tendency to determine "talent" by very selective measures.
A good example is the experience of IQ measurement. We now know that in fact it is a very narrow measure, and that it can't even measure things like kinetic intelligence, animal empathy or aesthetic sense, let alone other essential life skills such as the ability to get along with others and a sense of ethics.
Using IQ measures alone to choose the "best" would give one a very skewed sample. Some critical skills would likely be under-represented among the select.
Yet we also know from ecology that it is diversity that gives a community resilience. Unexpected changes can happen to the external environment and it can be the individual with previously under-rated skills who may hold the key to survival. Selection using a narrow set of determinants tend to result in great similarity among the selected, but ecology tells us, a colony of clones is the worst possible situation to find yourself in.
Is that what we're getting?
Consider this: if candidates win election because the playing field is tilted in their favour, how capable are they of convincing and moving people? And when adverse conditions hit Singapore and tough decisions or sacrifices need to be made, who is there with the skills to persuade and lead? Isn't that a "talent" that needs to be identified and tested?
How many Singaporeans identify with any of the PAP ministers and new MPs? What is the ratio of trust to cynicism?
If they have to be invited to serve, with green lights assured to be flashing all the way into Parliament House, with material perks to match, how much passion will these people have to stay and soldier on when things turn rough?
So what do we mean by "capable"?
The Straits Times interviewed 2 new MPs. Both added to justifications (rationalizations) for the GRC system. Teo Ser Luck said that a rookie politician would face a "steep learning curve and may not have enough time" if he had to stand for election on his own rather than be part of a team.
Interestingly, he didn't seem to question why a steep learning curve was so bad that it should be avoided by rigging the system.
Lee Yi Shyan said "If the system can remove as many impediments as possible, then the political system will be able to get more people to join."
If this is the quality of "talent", heaven help us! Lee does not seem to realize that he has just confused the "system" with the PAP. Get more people to join? Join who?
One can equally argue that the political system has made it more difficult for people to join, and that far from "removing impediments", it has thrown up barriers of entry to others who do not wish to be co-opted into the PAP.
Do we see groupthink here? And what is the difference between groupthink and being a colony of clones?
Please, someone prove me wrong. Dare I hope for even one PAP guy to stand up and say Goh was wrong and that his comments further damaged Singapore? Adding to political cynicism can't be good for our republic. If any PAP man or woman has any integrity left, he should come out of the closet and say it is wrong to distort the system thus, and that the wrong must be rectified. At once.
© Yawning Bread