Monday, 8 January 2007

Myth #3 - Ownership and Equal Rights

Let's begin with a test of your knowledge on election knowledge. Let's say you're the People's Action Party (PAP) and it's General Election Year. You are an MP in a single-seat constituency and that constituency comprises of 50% Singaporeans and 50% Permanent Residents and Foreigners. Does the law allow permanent residents and foreigners to vote during the General Election?

No. Only Singaporean citizens can vote during the General Election.

Why is it that only citizens have voting rights? According to an article in Electoral Studies (2001), Blais et al* pointed out that 48 out of 63 countries (democracies) have included a clause that limits voting to citizens only. The restriction is based on the notion of community membership and having a personal stake at the votes :

"Before being allowed to vote, one should be fully integrated in the society he or she lives in. Recently arrived immigrants may be presumed to be less familiar with the issues.. Some find shocking that recent immigrants .. might prevent the majority of citizens of long standing from getting what they want" (Blais et al 2001: 52).

I draw the analogy between voting rights for General Election and voting rights for Collective Sale because both have to be seen in terms of community membership and the personal stakes involved, rather than just purely financial stakes. By 'personal stakes' I mean those subsidiary proprietors (SPs) who own a unit in the property, and have been staying there for a substantial amount of time (eg 6 years or more). For these SPs, which I call 'owners', they have formed social attachments to the place - they are familiar with the surroundings, enjoy the various conveniences in the area, have formed social networks with neighbours, with retailers etc, have children who go to school in the area etc. They have a substantial personal stake in the collective sale because if they move, they lose all these social attachments. For them, 'home' is not just a financial value, a profit from the en-bloc sale (although to some it can be that); to owners 'home' is a place they find sustenance in familiarity and where they find a sense of community - a nurturing of their social being. A person who moves too often very quickly loses any sense of attachment to place; 'home' becomes an empty void, just an address to reside in until the next move.

Investors, the other group of SPs, intent on selling their units for a profit, call this 'sentimentality'. They cannot understand why people would NOT want to sell for a large profit, and yes, it is very likely that if their own home (not the invested unit) could be sold for a tidy profit, they'd upheave and move elsewhere. No attachment, no social sense, no obligation to anyone but themselves and their profit margins. The investors are similar to non-citizens, people who have decided not to take up citizenship and create attachment to the place.

And yet, these non-citizen investors have the same equal rights to decide the fate of the property as the "citizens of long standing" owners.

There is a fatal flaw in the definition of ownership in en-bloc sales. Any collective property should be seen as a 'mini democracy', one where more voting rights should be accorded to those with community membership and personal stakes, and less voting rights to those who have no vested interest in the 'mini democracy' except for financial ones. If the future of societies should be decided only by those who are actively involved in it (citizens/owners), why should this be any different?

Why should your property be dictated by people who hold no sense of attachment to the place beyond the financial?

Obviously if all owners decided to vote for the en-bloc sale to proceed, that is only fair and one cannot find fault with that. But more often than not, some owners are the minority, who do not wish to sell, and yet are often drowned out by greedy people (be it owners and/or investors).

Owners, SPs who have stayed in the property for more than 6 years, should have double the voting rights, compared to SPs who have stayed for less than 6 years. Those who stayed there long, should decide what to do with the place, not newcomers who care not for the place at all.

* Blais, A, Massicotte, L. and Yoshinaka, A. (2001), Deciding who has the right to vote: A comparative analysis of election laws. Electoral Studies, Vol 20, pp. 41-62.

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