New methods of governance needed

Posted on 30 August 2011

After two elections in less than four months, there must be new methods of governance, says Simon Tay.

The prime minister and newly elected president have called on Singaporeans to unify to face the challenges ahead after a tightly contested presidential election.

This is a timely call as economic uncertainties abound, stemming from America and Europe.

To avoid the fractured politics that characterise these regions, new ways of governance needs to be found here, with the government taking the first step and the energised citizenry needs to adjust accordingly.

The fundamentals of politics in Singapore are changing, judging by what happened in this year’s elections, but not necessarily for the better.

But the status quo cannot remain. This presidential election has shown that there are different views about the president’s powers to act as checks on the government.

Even candidates varied in their attitude. Tan Jee Say acquired 25 percent of votes when he positioned himself as a candidate who would check on the government.

Tan Cheng Bock voiced the need for independence and judgement to use the power of office when necessary. He narrowly lost.

The conclusion is that 65 percent of voters wanted a representative who would disagree with the government.

With the Workers’ Party gaining eight seats, Singaporeans’ appetite for debate can be satiated with public discussions and alternative policies in parliament.

With regards to the new media realm where discussion will spill into, many in the government and civil service are uncertain about how to respond, partly due to some citizens going beyond the assertion of their rights to the point of undue aggression.

Therefore, much of this new compact also rests on citizens’ responsibilities. They cannot be overly aggressive, they have to argue facts with passion, wit and civility, and it would be wrong for citizens to quarrel and terrorise the government.

How the government treats the Workers’ Party will also be monitored by citizens who do not want to perceive one-sided rules against the opposition. But citizens must also be ready to speak up against opposition political parties who may be in the wrong.

As for individuals who do not belong to the ruling party in particular, they can be incorporated into the establishment. Some will be looking towards Tan Cheng Bock for a clue as to where he can fit into the new dynamics for the betterment of Singapore.

Treatment of critical but widely used blogs will also signal the government’s approach to online media. Online media should also be held to high standards of accuracy and fairness. Or else citizens will judge them as bias and unfair.

However, unity cannot mean the single rule of one man or the government.

Both government and citizens must do their part.

This commentary is a 60-second reduction of the original article published in Today, Aug. 29.

The writer is Simon Tay, former Nominated Member of Parliament, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs and Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore.

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