An educated electorate the best insurance against political uncertainties

Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung and Banyan Tree Holdings executive chairman Ho Kwon Ping have spoken on the issue of a single-party versus multi-party governing system in Singapore's context ("PAP must be 'open-minded, attract diverse talents and constantly self-reflect'" and "Loss of confidence in PAP? Possible, if complacency sets in"; both published on Jan 25).

We can easily quote examples of successes and failures for either system.

Good examples in favour of a single-party or dominant-party system are China and Singapore, which were able to make rapid progress because of less dissension from within, thus allowing for longer-term planning.

On the other hand, one can also quote examples of failures, such as Zimbabwe, North Korea and Russia.

Likewise, one can also quote examples of obvious weaknesses of pendulum-governments in multi-party democracies - the best recent examples being the events in Britain and the United States.

Hence, outcomes depend very heavily on the kind of leaders elected into government.

With the recent troubling events in many developed democracies, it is fair to conclude that we, too, may not escape such a fate.

However, as a very small nation with few natural resources to act as a buffer for setbacks or failures, the consequences can be dire.

The best insurance against such uncertainties lies in educating our electorate, so that they are savvy enough to discern a good policy from a bad one, and do not fall for unrealistic or damaging populist promises.

It is essential for our electorate to understand political, economic and social issues facing Singapore. I believe it is possible to explain such issues in simple terms.

Our electorate must not support political parties and leaders like fans supporting football clubs.

They must be mature enough to understand that there are no freebies, and that trade-offs, sacrifices and compromises are always required for a society to move ahead together.

Perhaps our target should be to reach the maturity and enlightenment of the Swiss - they are able to run their country through referendums, without much of a central government.

One important benefit to arriving at such a position is that our citizens will always pull together in difficult and challenging times, which we will no doubt face on occasion.

If we can achieve that, then we can all sleep a little better.

Ho Hoe Theng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'An educated electorate the best insurance against political uncertainties'. Print Edition | Subscribe