Two Houses will enrich democracy

Mr Charles Phua Chao Rong and Mr Inderjit Singh have put forward some powerful arguments for Singapore to have a bicameral legislature to "ensure Singapore's survival" in the long term ("Time for two Houses of Parliament?"; Tuesday).

Currently, our Non-Constituency MPs and Nominated MPs are, respectively, the best losers in the general election and those appointed by the president. But they appear to be one-legged legislators in Parliament with no power to vote in a no-confidence motion to unseat the Government.

In the 1970s, there were 45 countries which had a two-Chamber legislature and today, there are about 80 countries. This shows that the bicameral legislature is becoming the norm in most democratic countries.

The US has the Senate and the House of Representatives, Britain has the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and India has the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha.

Bicameralism has enriched the process of democratisation, spreading and intensifying the rule of law by improving legislative production.

The Upper House is selected by members of the legislature and this completes a system of checks and balances in a democracy.

In the US, senators tend to lend wisdom, knowledge and experience to the working of the legislature. Even in India, the Rajya Sabha consists of economists, writers, sociologists and outstanding achievers.

The collective wisdom of the Upper House is required to take a second look at Bills that are drawn in haste by the Lower House.

John Adams, the second US President, said that a "single legislative body would be subject to fits of humour, starts of passion, flights of enthusiasm, partialities or prejudice, and consequently productive of hasty results and absurd judgments".

Thomas Jefferson, the third US President, said that "the purpose of establishing different Houses of legislation is to introduce the influence of different interests or different principles".

In short, a bicameral system ensures more voices are heard, reduces corrupt influence over both Houses, eliminates the ability of power to fall into the hands of a few, and deliberately slows the legislative process to ensure fairness and reduce rash legislation.

Heng Cho Choon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2015, with the headline 'Two Houses will enrich democracy'. Print Edition | Subscribe