Monday, May 02, 2011

May Day

Here in Singapore there is an observed Labour Day holiday today, since May Day officially happened on Sunday, May 1st. Labour Day also happens to be the day when the government begins distributing its "Grow and Share", package - much like the tax breaks those in the USA received last year under the economic incentives package. While the package itself benefits individual Singaporeans (who wouldn't want $800-$100 in extra money?), some Singaporeans have wondered if this isn't just an incentive to vote for the current ruling party, since general elections are happening May 7th. The timing of the payout is a bit suspicious, reminiscent of the recent payouts that citizens of Bahrain received from their rulers.

Politics in Singapore

Singapore has a unique political system: it is a representative democracy in which the same party has been in power since 1959 (51 years!). Either that means everyone likes the current government, or the ruling party has taken pains to write the rules in their favor. Perhaps a bit of both. Some people point to the Group Representation Constituencies as a re-drawing of boundaries to consolidate constituencies which the current ruling party, the People's Action Party, believes it might otherwise lose. Sounds like the age-old battle between Republicans and Democrats on voting lines, eh? Except in Singapore there is no clear opposition - just one party that runs the government.

Don't get me wrong - the PAP has done wonderful things for Singapore, as increases in immigrants to Singapore indicate. But many Singaporeans view the current party as complacent, pointing to increasing pay raises that officials voted for themselves - many times higher than the average salary. With an average of around $2 million, according to IMF and The Economist, political leaders in Singapore get paid the same as many CEOs or sports stars.

What makes this year's general elections slightly different than previous ones is that many more seats are being contested and quality candidates are being put forward by other parties. Response has been quite good for many of these candidates despite the rule that limits campaigning to the 9 days before voters cast their vote (a policy that seems to favor the incumbents) - choosing not to vote is against the law here. Of the 84 seats available, in fact, on May 7th all 84 are open to contest. While most Singaporeans believe the current party will stay in power, many also want Singapore to have a decent opposition party that will bring true democratic debate to the country's decision-making process. In this they hold the sentiment of the middle-aged Chinese Singaporean I talked to:

"I want the PAP to win, but not by too large a margin. We want to give them enough opposition so that they're no longer complacent and start paying attention to the needs of Singaporeans rather than their own interest."

We'll find out what happens when Singaporeans go to the polls on May 7th.

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