Singapore – Workers’ Party (WP) Member of Parliament Jamus Lim took to social media to dispute Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s comment on voters supporting opposition parties, describing them as “free riders.”
PM Lee and the Leader of Opposition Pritam Singh engaged in a heated debate on Wednesday (September 2) on the issue of Singaporeans voting for alternative parties, with the prime minister noting the People’s Action Party (PAP) would still end up as the ruling power.
Any political party that encourages citizens to vote for the opposition is a “free rider,” said PM Lee. This strategy would result in the system failing, he added.
PM Lee noted in his statement that elections were all about choosing who will run the government, and the entire political system would only function optimally if the voters practice their right “sincerely, honestly, and in accordance with what they really want.”
Pritam Singh replied by saying WP MPs work hard to prove their worth to the residents, which could be seen in their victory at Aljunied, Hougang and the newly-formed Sengkang GRCs. They are “not free riders,” said the WP chief.
Mr Lim took to Facebook on Wednesday night to expound on the term “free rider,” highlighting the meaning from an economics standpoint.
The associate professor of economics at ESSEC Business School noted that a free rider was “an individual (or group) that reaps the benefits of the actions of others, without paying the cost (or underpaying for it).” He added the term was “a form of market failure, and characterizes non-excludable goods (those whose use cannot be restricted).”
Mr Lim appreciated the “insight and candour” of PM Lee during his opening address to the 14th Parliament, having drawn on his “deep experience in government and as Prime Minister.”
“PM Lee also suggested (and I paraphrase) that the argument that voting for the opposition because others will still return the PAP to power is what the economist will associate with being a free rider,” said Mr Lim.
He then mentioned the response of Mr Pritam, wherein the voters who chose the WP to represent them in their constituencies were reflecting a genuine desire for an alternative voice and were not free-riding off anyone.
Mr Pritam also suggested that there were aspects of politics where the WP “experienced higher costs, such as the lack of access to grassroots functions operated under the auspices of the People’s Association or Residents’ Committee,” Mr Lim added.
Exploring on the “free rider claim” from an economist’s view, Mr Lim explained that the votes at the three GRCs were “potentially costly” as it required the residents’ trust in their candidates. “This did not strike me as consistent with free riding,” commented Mr Lim.
They also spoke with the voters after the elections and discovered they did not vote “tactically for the WP, hoping that the PAP would still form the government.”
“If anything, they (the voters) overcame their fear of the untested, and voted for the WP regardless.”
In closing his statement, Mr Lim disclosed the people had voted “with their hearts and conviction” that alternative voices were needed in the government. “Sure, they did so with some reassurance that the PAP would likely continue to form the government,” he admitted. “But it certainly wasn’t because they were looking for a free ride.”
A free rider, as defined in economics, is an individual (or group) that reaps the benefits of the actions of others,…