Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What does a credible opposition look like?

As the race heats up for Punggol, and we are possibly halfway to the next GE, I thought it would be interesting to dig up an old post from an old blog, this one written just before the last GE. The argument is always being made that we need to have more credible opposition in government. The question that is always on my mind is, What are the KPI's of a credible opposition? When we look back after 5 years, how do we know whether having more opposition helped us?

So let's imagine what will happen if the opposition manage to win Aljunied and a few of the SMCs. That might possibly give them up to 10% of parliament, which I suppose is a decent number to promote debate. So we should expect a lot more public airing of the issues under deliberation over the next five years. 
The question is whether a public airing of these issues will actually lead to better decisions. Perhaps it will lead to more populist outcomes, but are these necessarily better? And we can expect the blogs and forums to have lots of fun chewing on the debate. 
Fast forward a few years to the next election. If Singapore has done even better than over the past five, the opposition in parliament will probably claim credit for the advances. Meanwhile, the PAP will probably attribute it to their effectiveness in spite of the opposition, or they might say that this goes to show their policy-making has always been sound. Of course, people will fight to claim credit over the successful ones, but that is not always easy to measure in the space of five years.
But what if things go downhill? The PAP will surely then blame the opposition in parliament for slowing down the decision-making process, or making it a popularity contest. The opposition will probably cite this as evidence that PAP isn't as good as it was made out to be anyway. Still, it would seem to me that if a lot of opposition gets in, the PAP would have a slight incentive to make these next five years not quite as good as the last.
The bottom line is that five years later, it will be very difficult to tell if having more opposition in parliament helped us. So what then, do we kick them out of parliament or give them an even larger share so that they can try again? What are our KPIs to know if having more opposition helped? Will having more debate in parliament actually improve the decisions, or will it just provide fodder for armchair critics?