Singapore's political system: Tweak, tinker or overhaul?

If there is to be an overhaul of the political system, a potential change is to the office of the elected president. It has been 25 years since the president started being chosen via election instead of being appointed by Parliament, in the last majo
The opening of the sixth Parliament sitting at the old Parliament House in 1985.PHOTO: ST FILE

While the system is in good heart, what areas might the announced review look at to ensure its health in the long term? Insight explores the issue on pages B2-B6

Singapore's political system must be refreshed from time to time as circumstances change, President Tony Tan Keng Yam said on Jan 15 as he announced that the Government will study it for possible reforms.

No details were given in the President's speech about the review, but ministers and MPs may touch on the topic in this week's debate on his address.

What changes might be in store?

If it is a tweak, then perhaps it will be to the Non-Constituency MP and Nominated MP schemes, which debuted in 1984 and 1990, respectively, and have been expanded gradually over the years.

But if it is to be an overhaul, an obvious potential change is to the office of the elected president.

It has been 25 years since the president started being chosen via an election instead of being appointed by Parliament, in the last major overhaul of the political system.

To be sure, the system has been continually refined, such as having MPs be elected in teams in group representation constituencies.

But even smaller tweaks, such as the introduction of the Cooling-off Day in the 2011 General Election, are a re-engineering of sorts, to keep up with the heat of debates online.

But the political climate of 2016 is very different from that of 2011.

While the People's Action Party suffered a 6.5 percentage point swing in votes against it in GE 2011, GE 2015 gave the party its strongest mandate since 2001 - 69.9 per cent of the vote.

On the review's timing, political watcher Eugene Tan said: "It's the Government's way of seeking to manage the pace of political change, rather than have that pace dictated to it.

"It seeks to pre-empt criticisms that the political system is long overdue for a review."


Why are political changes afoot now?


PAP candidates (from left) Dr Augustine H.H. Tan, Mr Ang Nam Piau, Mr Lawrence Sia Khoon Seong, Mr Lim Kim San, Mr E. W. Barker, Dr Lee Chiaw Meng, Dr Chiang Hai Ding and Mr S. Dhanabalan on Nomination Day in 1976. ST FILE PHOTO

With a strong electoral mandate behind it, now may seem an odd time for the People's Action Party (PAP) Government to review the political system, a move announced by President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Jan 15 at the opening of Parliament.

After all, why bother to fix what isn't broken?

And doesn't doing so now run the risk of giving sceptics the impression that the PAP is seizing the chance to entrench its dominance?

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Keeping the presidency a force for stability


Supporters of Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam gathering on Nomination Day for the 2011 Presidential Election. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

To do a U-turn or not to do a U-turn on the elected presidency?

This question was posed by public intellectual and dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Kishore Mahbubani in a column in The Straits Times last week.

With the next presidential election due by August next year, this debate, first raised in the aftermath of the 2011 Presidential Election, has become timely again.

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Consider return to Singapore's election system of 1965

There is a new guessing game in town, on what changes the Government has in store for the political system here.

This, after politics made a surprise appearance in the President's Address at the opening of the new Parliament.

Since it is so rare for the "P" word to be the subject of so much attention in this particular formal setting, I should quote exactly what President Tony Tan Keng Yam said: "Our political system has delivered stability and progress for Singapore. But this system must be refreshed from time to time, as our circumstances change. The Government will study this matter carefully, to see whether and how we should improve our political system so that we can be assured of clean, effective and accountable government over the long term."

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NCMP, NMP and GRC: Issues to address


Ms Lee Li Lian (right) of the Workers' Party has turned down the NCMP seat offered to her. The WP wants another of its office-holders to take the seat. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore's trio of political siblings introduced more than 20 years ago - the Non-Constituency MP, Nominated MP and group representation constituency (GRC) schemes - may be due for an update.

The NCMP scheme turns 32 this year. GRCs were born 28 years ago, and the NMP scheme, 26 years ago.

These innovations have allowed alternative views to be aired, and ensured minority communities are not shut out, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam on Jan 15.

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Lee Kuan Yew on why a Constitution must suit the needs of its people


British Constitutional Law expert Sir Ivor Jennings meets the Merdeka Committee at the Assembly House. PHOTO: ST FILE

Members who have participated in the Second Reading debate all assume that our system of one-man-one-vote will succeed, will thrive, will endure, and that perhaps tinkering with it may be a necessary evil but may be unwise. I think it is useful if we see this in perspective.

First, there is no guarantee that one-man-one-vote can continue to work in Singapore and improve beyond a PAP (People's Action Party) government, or perhaps beyond the tenure of office of those who are today in charge.

How long has the system lasted? Since 1955, partially representative government - 29 years. What was the premise based on? A British decision that decolonisation must take place in an orderly way and they must have an elected legislature to which they could hand over authority. What is their system based on? How long has it lasted?

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2016, with the headline 'Refreshing S'pore's political system'. Print Edition | Subscribe