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Checks and balances high on voters' mind

The Straits Times | Andrea Ong | Monday, Apr 21, 2014

SINGAPORE - The need for checks and balances on the Government is very much on the minds of Singaporeans when they vote for their Member of Parliament, according to a Straits Times survey.

It is ranked very important by 35 per cent of the people asked to rate the importance of six factors in their choice of MP.

They form the biggest group. In contrast, fewer than 30 per cent view each of the other factors as very important.

But going by mean scores, two factors are ranked equally as most important when electing an MP.

These are: the need for checks and balances and a candidate's attributes.

Both have a mean score - which is the average of the spread of sentiments for a factor - of 4.11 out of 5, four being important and five being very important.

Following them are three other factors: national policies and their impact on the voter (4.1), the candidate's party (4.09) and the need for more alternative views in Parliament (4.05).

Least important is local constituency issues (4.02).

Political scientist Reuben Wong of National University of Singapore said voters' emphasis on checks and balances is reflected in the Workers' Party's (WP) electoral success since 2011.

Campaigning on the theme of "Towards a First World Parliament" that year, the WP became the first opposition party to win a group representation constituency, the five-seat Aljunied GRC.

Later, it also won by-elections in Hougang and Punggol East, both single-seat constituencies.

Noting that the WP had found an effective formula, Associate Professor Wong said: "It seems the WP is reflecting a quite deeply held view that you get better government with checks and balances in place."

The survey of 500 Singaporeans done over a week in March also shows that having checks and balances is particularly crucial to the higher-income group, with almost half of those earning above $6,000 a month saying it is very important to them.

It, however, drops in importance for the older folk, particularly those older than 64.

Prof Wong also singled out voters' emphasis on a candidate's attributes over the party.

"The individual - whether he or she is likeable and can be trusted - seems to be as important or even more important than the party he or she represents," he said.

The People's Action Party will have to be more savvy in fielding candidates as qualifications and the party brand are no longer enough, he added. "You need that X-factor, you need personality, you need someone who walks the ground."

The survey findings are broadly similar to the post-election survey done by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in 2011, though with some differences.

The need for checks and balances figures strongly in the IPS study as well, with 43 per cent of about 2,000 respondents finding the issue very important.

The demographic trends in income and age are similar to the ST survey.

But in terms of mean score, checks and balances was about the same in importance as cost of living and the need for different views in Parliament.

All three issues are second to the need for efficient government, which 54 per cent say is very important. The ST survey did not test for this factor.

But as with the ST survey, local issues such as upgrading and neighbourhood facilities score low in importance in the IPS study. Similarly, its separate section to find out how voters view candidates' characteristics shows qualities such as honesty, efficiency, fairness and empathy are more important than their party.

andreao@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 19 in The Straits Times.

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