Friday, May 27, 2011

Interesting reads from around the web

It has been a long time since I last blogged. Last minute studying for the impending law school entrance exams did not leave me much time to write after the two posts about the Singapore General Election 2011.

However, no writing does not mean no reading. I was surfing the internet as much as ever and here are some interesting articles that I recently came across -

  • The Economist - $100,000 dropouts
    • The article talks about a real programme which actually encourages students to drop out of college!!
  • Yawning Bread - Counting Agent Me
    • A very insightful chronicle of a counting agent at the Singapore General Election. How do you think a vote where a person has written "Go to Hell" across the name of a party will be counted in Singapore?
  • Times of India - Debunking six myths about Narendra Modi
    • Famous novelist Chetan Bhagat clears the myths surrounding one of the most controversial politicians in India. The Debate continues - Religious zealot or the most successful chief minister focused on industrial development?
  • TIME - Top Five False Statistics
    • TIME magazine makes a list of the top five false statistics that we often see being quoted in even some of the well renowned publications.
  • Daily News and Analysis - Get basic policing right first
    • Nitin Pai talks about why the Mumbai Police should not be teaching martial arts to women.
And on a lighter note...
Do comment and let me know which one of these articles you liked the most...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

S'pore GE2011 Roundup– My take on the hot issues


National PAP vote share reduced to 60.14%
While opposition winning a GRC and having 6 elected members in the parliament is definitely significant, the reduction in its national vote share will also put some significant pressure on the PAP. In 2006 WP team polled more than 42% but lost in Aljunied. Five years later they won. In 2011, opposition parties have gained more than 40% votes in several constituencies including Joo Chiat SMC, Potong Pasir SMC, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and East Coast GRC. The close finishes will put PAP under pressure to ensure that the policies that they frame in the next five years must be absolutely well thought out and suitable for the common man or they will risk losing these close fought seats in 2016. Secondly, PAP must now deal with the policies targeted by the opposition including the housing and immigration issues amongst others because looking at the results, it is obvious that these matter a lot to the voters. Thirdly, PAP must choose its next generation leaders better because GE2011 shows that the voters will now analyse the candidates carefully and wont just follow anyone who contests under the lightning bolt banner. Marine Parade where PAP fielded Ms Tin Pei Ling in its team saw PAP's gain only 56.7% votes which is below its national average of 60%.

Aljunied dares to pick up the hammer in the high stake game
The much awaited contest in Aljunied GRC finally ended up with the voters picking the Workers Party 'A' team which included WP's veteran leaders Mr. Low and Ms. Sylvia Lim. While I am pleased that Workers Party won, I agree with the PM who said that the residents were being asked not just to select best representatives for themselves but were being forced to choose based on the much larger and abstract issue of whether they desired to have more opposition in the parliament to keep a check on the PAP government. However, I do not think that WP is at fault for pooling its resources and fielding an A team in Aljunied because generally the flaws in the GRC system (Which I have blogged about earlier) tend to favour the party in power.

About Cabinet Minister Mr George Yeo losing his seat
The WP victory in Aljunied GRC means that a couple of MPs who served the previous term as ministers will be out of the parliament for the next five years. This is not regrettable per se as many Singaporeans believe but in the specific case of Mr George Yeo, it is indeed unfortunate as he was a very highly regarded and much loved foreign minister. However, this should not have any direct impact on the Aljunied GRC residents. In theory, he was serving as Singapore's foreign minister, and he was working for his constituents in his capacity as a MP only. Hence, Aljunied residents will still have enough attention paid to their needs. Having a minister as your MP does not have any special significance as far as dealing with your local problems is concerned.

Ms Tin Pei Ling, Mr George Yeo and the GRC system
It can be credibly said that it is the fault of the GRC system that a popular and much experienced PAP leader, Mr George Yeo has been voted out while a young, inexperienced PAP candidate Ms Tin Pei Ling has been voted into the Parliament.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

S’pore GE 2011 – Is the GRC system fair?

As has been common in the last few general elections, the opposition is once again clamouring about how the Group Representation Constituencies (GRC) system of Singapore is flawed. GRC system is a unique system present in Singapore and has no direct counterpart in other Westminster style democracies like United Kingdom and India. Here is my critique of the GRC system -

Some Background Information
GRCs were first introduced in 1988 Singapore in elections. GRCs are super constituencies which are larger than Single Member Constituencies and send 3 or more representatives to the Singapore parliament. In a GRC, political parties must field a team of candidates and the voters only have a choice of choosing the party slate that they prefer and cannot vote for the individual(s) like in a normal constituency. At least one member of each team contesting a GRC must be from a minority community.

Are special provisions for minorities necessary?
GRCs were first introduced as 3 member constituencies to ensure minority representation in the Singapore Parliament. However, I am sceptical about the fundamental assumption that minorities need special provisions for representation. If one takes a good look at the electoral history of Singapore, it is evident that many politicians from the minority communities were elected to political office even in the pre-GRC days. Some prominent examples would be S. Rajaratnam of the People's Action Party (PAP) who was Singapore's first foreign minister and the then Workers' Party candidate Joshua Benjamin Jeyaratnam who won a by-election in 1988 in the chinese majority Anson constituency. If these politicians from the Indian community and Singapore's first Chief Minister David Marshall (who was Jewish) could get elected on their own merit without any special provisions, why are special provisions required now when infact there now exists better racial harmony today. After further amendments to the rules, GRCs can now be either 3, 4, 5 or 6 member constituencies but all require only one minority candidate. Hence, it can be said that the minority community members' representation has now been diluted due to increase in GRC sizes.

Hanging on to the coat tails of others
Here lies on of the greatest flaws of the GRCs. Voters must vote for a party team and cant choose between the individuals. Opposition has rightly pointed out that this makes it possible for PAP newcomers to get elected by riding on to the popularity of the more experienced leaders. If the two former prime ministers of Singapore who are still much respected leaders contest along with newcomers the voters do not have the choice of voting in the senior leaders but rejecting the other members of the team. Voters who like some but not all members of both (or more) teams contesting do not have the choice of voting for the exact individuals who they think can represent them the best. If a person is faced with a scenario where he likes one team member a lot but thinks that the others are no good will have to choose between not sending the person he likes the best to the Parliament or sending that person but also sending 3 or 4 other MPs along with him. One must remember that once they are in the parliament, each member has equal voting rights and the team leader is not more special. Single Member Constituencies which are the norm in most countries force no such dilemmas on the voters and present them with a clear choice.

Unequal vote power
Most countries try to adjust constituency population sizes in such a way that each vote has hypothetically the same 'power'. GRCs do not allow this principal to apply in Singapore. Hypothetically speaking each constituency be it a SMC or 3 member GRC or 6 member GRC could be decided one way or the other by a single vote. However, with the GRC system, a deciding vote cast in a GRC can send 3 members to the legislature while a SMC deciding vote can send only one. A 6 member GRC vote can be said to be six times as powerful as a SMC vote. This theoretically creates a perverse incentive for governments to focus development and other projects in GRCs because a swing of 1% there can be 3 or 6 times as damaging as a swing of 1% in a SMC.

The By-Election Question
During the term of the previous parliament, a member of parliament for Jurong GRC passed away. However, unlike in other countries, no by-election was held to fill his seat. It was claimed that the other GRC MPs could fill in for him. This invites the question "Was Jurong GRC overrepresented?". Why was it a X-member GRC when (X-1) members can infact represent it well enough? Holding by-elections for vacant seats is the norm in most legislatures. Large 5 and 6 member GRCs can make by-elections infeasible even though the residents of those GRCs have an equal right to equal representation. Absence of by-elections may drastically alter political equations if the government in future is holding only a razor thin majority in the parliament.

It would be wise for Singapore to scrap the GRC system. GRCs create unfair opportunities for some contestants to become MPs by riding on other teammates' popularity and achievements because many voters do not analyse the entire team but just focus on the achievements of the team leaders especially when the team leaders have held ministerial positions. An all SMC system like the olden days would help to ensure that each candidate is well analysed separately by the voters. I am sure that the Singapore society is mature enough to vote for candidates from minority communities even in SMCs.


This is a post about the GRC system and not about GE2011 as a whole. I am following political happenings with interest and will probably post about the interesting Marine Parade and Aljunied races after the election. But do comment and let me know what do you feel about the GRC system…

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Stop throwing good money after bad…

Despite modernisation of the aircraft fleet, repeated bailouts and multiple rebranding exercises Air India remains an abject failure and is mired in debt. The pilots are on strike again. Here are some stats from an Economic Times article which highlight just how bad the situation is -

  • Daily Earning – Rs. 36 crore, Daily Expenditure – Rs. 62 crore. (These are general figures. Right now, it must be worse because of the strike.) So the airline has to borrow not just to buy aircrafts but for working capital as well.
  • Outstanding unsecured short term working capital loan of Rs 20,763 crore and an annual interest burden of Rs 2,400 crore .
  • The airline is only able to borrow at high rates like 12-14% due to its existing debt burden and dire state of finances.
  • Overdue payment to oil companies - Rs 3,320 crore.

With frequent strikes by Air India staff and strong competition from the private airlines, it is obvious that the company does not have much of a chance of recovering to healthy financial state. Thus the central government will be forced to bailout the company and pay off its debts yet again. Since, Air India has been a recipient of taxpayer funds more than once and still continues to be a loss making PSU, I think it is high time that the government sell off the airline or shut it down and auction off its assets.
It is the time for the
Maharaja to bow out.

What is the use of having a national carrier?