Merits in the American political system

By: Chua Chin Leng

The pro-independence kids in Hong Kong have a serious contention about their lack of independence to elect their Chief Executive of preference. The Chief Executive was shortlisted by China and they felt offended, short changed, as if the election of the Chief Executive of a country by the people is a universal democratic formula.

Did they know that Singapore also inherited the same British democratic system and the Prime Minister was elected by the political leaders among themselves, not by the people? Singapore or Britain did not elect a politician to be the Prime Minister. The politicians elect among themselves.

The American system is different in that they more or less elected their President directly. There is a presidential election though it still has to go through a second election by an Electoral College of Electors or people’s representative to confirm the election by the American public. This is not what makes the American system particularly more democratic than the British system.

What is distinctive in the American system is that the elected President has a free hand to handpick the best men and women as his ministers to assist and support him in the running of the country. These men and women are the Secretaries or equivalent of Ministers, but not elected by the people, not necessary politicians. It goes for several other top appointments of the government as well, including the judiciary and finance.

The key difference here is that these men and women are not elected by the people but experts in their own fields or at least are known to be experts in their professions related to the appointments. Notice the glaring difference between these Secretaries and the Ministers in the British system?

The latter are politicians and not necessary experts in their ministries. The stark inadequacy of the British system is best seen at home when you have eye surgeon helming the foreign ministry, cancer surgeon helming the defence ministry, generals helming education, transport, internal affairs, etc etc.

The obvious Achille’s heel in the British system is that the politicians are politicians and not necessary experts or professionals and are put into ministries that they have no clue about, not train in, no expertise in but are expected to perform like they know everything. Some may perform, some perform hopelessly.

In reality, not many people are so talented to be experts in things they are not trained in or even in things they are trained in. Some may be good in passing examinations but unable to apply what they learned in schools.

Politicians are politicians. Are politicians experts in managing ministries like defence, foreign affairs, health, education etc etc. In many instances politicians are like salespersons, good at presentation or presenting what they want to sell, or like actors/actresses but without the ability to do the professional stuff. They are not knows all.

There is a caveat here of course. Despite the obvious flaws in the British system when non practitioners or non-experts are put to helm important ministries, Singapore is Unique. Our talents are super talents, at least by the measures of their multi-million dollar salaries. And they really become experts overnight in the ministries they are put in charge.  Even at the lower level they could become experts and advisers in all fields ranging from sports, arts, cultural, clans or trade associations.

This is the great difference in Singapore.  Though everyone can see the weaknesses in the British political system, when put into practice in Singapore, it still works, or at least it works in the past and the momentum seems to prove that it is still working, for how long we don’t know.

Conceptually, the American system is more realistic and practical. The President picks the best experts of the respective fields to do the demanding jobs of the respective office. A general to head defence ministry, a finance experts to head finance, health expert to head health ministry etc etc. Logical isn’t it? Of course there are counter arguments that a soldier is bad to head the defence ministry and likewise a doctor to head health.

What do you think? Is there a need to modify our system to allow experts to head ministries that need and demand people with the professional or relevant training and experience to helm them? The American system has no mismatch problem.

Ours definitely have, but saved by the abundance of super talents born to be knows all, to become expert in anything overnight. That is why we did not hear of mismatch in our political system, at least we never hear of any minister or politician being a mismatch in his job.

The British system is flawed and its derivative systems, if copied profusely, would be equally flawed. You not only did not elect the PM/Chief Executive, you have politicians of all colours trying to make the best of their appointments in ministries they have no expertise in.



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