Ms Indranee Rajah made a rather curious assertion in the course of her attack on the WP’s slogan to create a First World Parliament. She wants to convey the impression that with a strong opposition in parliament, policies may be blocked. This is echoed by the Law minister Mr Shanmugam as well. He says that what WP really wants to do is ‘to block constitutional amendments. They will also block other policies they disagree with.”
I’ll leave aside the main bone of contention in the to-and-fro between the WP and the PAP over WP’s slogan. But, an impression being given to the electorate is that a first world parliament as envisaged by the WP would involve the opposition effectively blocking government policies.
Let’s get this clear. If the PAP won 50 seats in this election and the opposition gets the remaining 37 seats, then any Bill tabled by the PAP will still get passed because it has the simple majority. No policy proposal is going to be blocked as the PAP has a majority. The gridlock scenario in the US is unlikely to happen here as our system is modeled on the Westminster Parliament.
Any government of the day is only formed because it has a majority in Parliament. Even in the event that there is a hung Parliament, a minority government or a coalition government must demonstrate the support of the majority in Parliament. Therefore, during any Parliamentary term where the ruling party has a majority, it is always able to implement all its policies. In fact, in the UK context it has even been asserted that the near complete fusion of the Executive and Legislature is the efficient secret of the British Constitution. The efficiency is a result of the fact that a government elected through a Parliamentary majority has the legitimate expectation of implementing its policies and in fact has the sufficient numbers in Parliament to be able to do so.
So, on the assumption of my earlier example of PAP winning 50 seats and the opposition getting a sizeable 37 seats, the opposition will not be able to cause the kind of gridlock that arose in the US. What the opposition will be able to do is to prevent Constitutional amendments from taking place. With 50 seats in Parliament, the PAP would not have a 2/3 majority and they would need opposition consent before amending the constitution. What is wrong with that? It is good to have an effective check in Parliament to prevent frivolous, partisan, imprudent, negligent or self-serving constitutional amendments from taking place.
So, if any PAP minister or candidate were to raise the gridlock issue if there is a sizeable opposition in Parliament, he is either naïve about constitutional matters or is ‘throwing smoke’ (which in politics is not unexpected).