Leadership, not Parliament, matters in improving the lives of the people
The elections are coming. As a political science student who has spent the last three years learning about political developments around the world, I feel I have an obligation to share what I have learnt to ensure that Singaporeans make an informed choice before they head to the polls. The Worker’s Party call in the last election was to vote them in to achieve a First World Parliament. Having studied the political developments in several first world democracies in my political science classes so far, I find Worker’s Party call naïve.
Just look at the USA. President Obama recently stated his frustration that his administration was unable to pass gun control laws. The Economist did not mince its words when they said that progress on gun control was politically impossible. In fact, China, a developing economy ruled by a communist dictatorship, was making more progress in tackling climate change than America on its tightening gun laws. A democracy does not ensure the right things are done and that the welfare of the people are a top priority.
You might say that the USA is so different from Singapore. Its history and culture makes it hard to compare properly with Singapore. In that case, let’s look at Malaysia, our closest neighbour with a shared history and culture.
No reasonable person will disagree that Malaysia is a democracy with a strong opposition. Two elections ago in 2008, the ruling Barisan Nasional BN coalition government lost its two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat (Malaysian Lower House of Parliament). The Opposition coalition continued to deny the BN a two-third majority in the last election back in 2013. Some would argue that Malaysia has a First World Parliament because of its boisterous and strong presence of opposition lawmakers.
But a democracy does not promise a corruption-free government where leaders uphold the highest standards of integrity. It also does not guarantee that the leaders put the lives of its people first and do what is right for them.
The ongoing saga involving 1MDB, Najib’s sacking of deputy prime minister Muhyiddin and the arrest of the deputy public prosecutor and others in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission have sent shockwaves across Malaysia’s political scene. It has even prompted PM Lee to express his concerns about Malaysia's stability. Clearly, this ongoing saga teaches us that the quality of leadership and governance matter more than having a First World Parliament.
People in every country deserve the highest standards from their MPs and ministers. Singaporeans have been extremely fortunate that the high standards of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his Old Guards colleagues made it possible for Singapore to achieve and maintain a reputation of a First World Government. It is not a coincidence that so many foreign leaders come to Singapore each year to learn Singapore’s secret. From my own experience, my university classmates from ASEAN countries always tell me how impressed they are with Singapore’s performance in curbing corruption and its achievement in keeping it a clean and green city.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing in March this year was the end of an era. Granted, the current Cabinet under Lee Hsien Loong’s leadership is not the same as Lee Kuan Yew’s old guards. But they continue to deliver, growing our economy and raising incomes across all levels over the years. Having researched on economic development for my classes, I now know how difficult it is for a city state without natural resources to enjoy growth amidst tough competition from neighbouring cities who are ceaselessly striving to improve themselves.
It is easy for a political party not in power to criticise. It is even easier for political parties to promise the sky and dangle carrots like spending more money to reduce the burden on Singaporeans. But come this election, Singaporeans owe themselves and the future generation a duty to scrutinise what they are saying carefully. Every seat in Parliament will be contested and there will be no guarantee that it would be business as usual if we do not elect the right leaders. Whichever way they vote, once the votes are cast and the results are out, there will be no turning back.