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EDITORIAL: Response to PM Lee's speech – strengthen our public institutions

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his Speech on the pending changes to our political system said that “our system depends critically on the competence and integrity of the individuals in the public service”, and that “once corrupt persons get into key positions, that’s the end”.
The PM is right in pointing this out and it is the biggest and most dangerous fault line in our political system.
There may be good men and women in public service and in the Government today, but that is no guarantee that rogues will not infiltrate such institutions and organisations in the future, leading to the ruin of our country.
The biggest problem in accepting the proposed changes is suspicion.
Group Representation Constituency scheme (GRC) has turned out as an easy route for newbie candidates to win elections. Mah Bow Tan and now, Ong Ye Kung came in that way.
Would the changes for Elected Presidency scheme (EP) have been proposed if Dr Tony Tan had not had the scare of his life in the last election?
As long as suspicions like these persist acceptance of any proposed changes to our political system will be difficult.
From the GRC to the EP, there have been many changes to our system within a relatively short period of time. Was the first-past-the-post system we inherited from the British so bad that it needed these many tweaks and refinements to make it unique to Singapore?
If so, perhaps we need to seriously study if there is a need to abandon such an electoral system altogether and move to one of proportional representation.
It’s quite surprising that the People’s Action Party does not trust a system which has kept it in power for 50 years and probably for 50 more. The proposed changes to the political system is not going to be magically ‘better’ just because the Prime Minister said it is going to be so.
Any change to the political system must start with strengthening our public institutions. The Prime Minister should lay the foundations for this by removing the Elections Department from under his purview and by establishing an independent election commission.
Singaporeans, civil society and the opposition will be more forthcoming of accepting political changes if it were to come from such independent institutions.
Without this, political changes proposed by the ruling party will be seen as an attempt to unfairly entrench itself further , and for many more years in Singapore.
Beyond the electoral system, the government also needs to think out of functional democratic practices and consider the wider socio-political climate that makes Singaporeans not just voters, but citizens.
It begins with a more informed electorate that can easily access unrestricted election coverage on all parties in the fray. That can only be done when the government, in general, removes restrictions on traditional and online media, and in specific, withdraw limiting practices such as allocating airtime to parties based on the number of candidates fielded.
This will allow the media to play a credible and positive part towards building a thriving democracy.

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