Not red vs blue? Why not?

M&M -

Why settle for just red or blue?

Singapore can’t go down ‘red vs blue’ path, says PM Lee Hsien Loong. No, he was not talking about birth control pills versus Viagra to boost our birth rates, in which case I may actually agree with him. In his exact words: “If Singapore had a blue constituency and a red constituency, I think Singapore will be in trouble.”

It is moments like these that I shake my head, sigh, and mutter to myself: “Here we go again.”

Why not, PM Lee? Will Singapore be in trouble, or is it the PAP who will be in trouble?

The PM may be forgiven for saying that because he is, after all, the leader of the PAP and has the interest of the party to look after. What is worse is that many Singaporeans actually subscribe to the same thinking. In the TODAYonline article linked above, you see reader comments such as this:

I like this inclusive politics, decisive government. Surely our little red dot cannot afford the kind of democracy and politics especially like US (dysfunctional administration overwhelmed by polarised politics, selfish politicians and crazy tea parties) and Thailand (so much resources and potential but stifled and damaged by a hugely unstable political situation).

And this:

What PM Lee said is spot on, we cannot have red vs blue…

Are they products of decades of mental conditioning? After all, we have heard so many times from the PAP that anything other than a single-party system will result in political deadlock and instability, and that this is something a small country like us can ill afford to have. The question I have for these people who believe so is:

Why not?

Let’s not look at the US but some other countries comparable to us in population size. You may have already seen the new birth lottery index from the Economist Intelligence Unit. Singapore has done very well at number 6, and I don’t dispute this result in spite of the scepticism from many Singaporeans. As mentioned before on this blog, we have all struck the birth lottery — I for one fully acknowledge that I would rather be born in Singapore than any other country outside the top 30, and even many others within. Yes, I do know when to be thankful, and credit to this government for bringing us to where we are today.

But it is a complete myth that small countries can’t afford partisan politics. A quick look at the other small countries in the top 10 of the index reveals Singapore as quite the anomaly in fact, as shown in the table below. And note that the table only shows the current ruling governments; some of these countries have as many as eight parties with seats in parliament. There are enough ‘talent’ to go around despite their population sizes. Having more than one political party has not stopped these countries from being rated the best in the world in terms of democracy, standards of living and other socio-economic measures.

Small Country Politics -

Countries in the top 10 with less than 10 million population*.

* Hong Kong is excluded for the obvious reason that it is a special administrative region of China.

Given the unhappiness of so many Singaporeans today, we should question whether the current single-party system has reached the limits of its ability to advance our country further, and if the way forward is to allow more parties into the fray. Not just red or blue, mind you, but a whole assortment of colours.

And before you go “but Singapore is different from other countries”, allow me to preempt your rebuttal by pointing out that this is a non sequitur. Every country is, by definition, different from other countries. To use this to justify anything shows, at best, a tendency to cherry pick arguments or, at worst, a total lack of coherent thought.

Now if you go “but Singapore has no natural resources”, you are getting me started on my pet peeve. But I will save that for a further post.

Critics of the government will agree that polarised politics is a better option than a single dominant party that has either become complacent, remained too stuck to their views, or simply run out of ideas. It is an outcome that appears inevitable to me, and, as the electorate continues to mature and free itself from the shackles of a fear of the political alternative, the only question is how many election cycles to go before it happens. And when it eventually does happen, I’m willing to bet that Singapore will manage just fine.