Assistant political editor Robin Chan was spot on in his observation that MPs "passed up on an opportunity to go deeper into the question of not just what constructive politics is, but how to foster a political culture that best serves Singapore's interests" ("Critical to get S'pore politics right"; last Saturday).
Constructive politics is an ambiguous idea because it is predicated on the proponent's perspective.
The ruling party would welcome a contest of ideas, knowing this would disadvantage the fledgling opposition, which is relatively short on talent and resources.
The opposition is also not going to abandon its winning formula of "checking" the ruling party and wade into areas where it is likely to be overpowered.
Given such divergent motives, the debate in Parliament on what constitutes constructive politics was never going to get anywhere. Observers are right to lament the loss of an opportunity that could have been used to discuss more pressing issues affecting our lives and future.
One of these issues concerns engaging citizens through a more robust and consultative political process.
In this regard, I find the proposal from Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Gillian Koh and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy PhD student Yvonne Guo, to "learn from the Swiss and devolve some decision-making to the people", to be highly relevant ("Adapting Swiss policies to needs of S'pore"; last Saturday).
The writers recognised that Swiss-style direct democracy may not be immediately feasible for Singapore.
To address the consensus gap between the political leadership and citizenry, they cited three insights: information transparency, regular polling and deliberative democracy. However, in some ways, these are already inherent in our current political process.
For instance, the Population White Paper last year was intended to inform citizens of plans to manage population growth; polls on issues such as race, social equity and cost of living have been published frequently; and Meet-the-People Sessions are a process of deliberative democracy at the local level.
Perhaps what is needed is a stronger impetus for such actions and better communication to boost their visibility.
The debate in Parliament on constructive politics could have focused more on strengthening our political process to comfort and assure the populace. Alas, it was an opportunity missed.
Yeoh Teng Kwong
This article was first published on June 04, 2014.
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