As a student myself, I can see how a youth parliament might be beneficial to the development of policy discourse in Singapore. If they can voice their thoughts and opinions in a legitimate, non-partisan assembly recognised by the government, then the age-old description of apathy and disinterest may finally be put to rest.
It’s important to note that WPYW was merely spearheading discussions on the possibility of such a structure in Singapore, and that its members do not have a firm idea of what it should be like yet. Indeed, Bernard was quick to remind us that the Workers’ Party does not officially endorse its idea.
Before we get too taken by the notion, however, there are quite a few questions worth asking, starting with the very definition of a youth parliament and what it seeks to achieve.
There is, as David explained, no real definition of what a youth parliament is. Such an institution exists in countries from the United Kingdom to Pakistan, with surely their own nuances and unique cultural workings. So on what principles should a Youth Parliament in Singapore be based on?
An informal show of hands at the panel discussion revealed that the general consensus was for such an assembly to remain non-partisan. The Wikipedia entry for the European Youth Parliament, which was founded in 1987 and currently holds three international nine-day sessions per year, perhaps puts it best:
“The European Youth Parliament (EYP; in French, Parlement Européen des Jeunes, PEJ) is a politically and religiously unbound non-profit organisation, which encourages European youth to actively engage in citizenship and cultural understanding.”
That definition encompasses the independent nature of the youth parliament, and its main purpose – to give stakeholders of the future a legitimate platform to discuss issues which matter to them, and have their voice taken seriously by the “adults”.
This sounds to me like a good base to work from to define what a Singaporean youth parliament might look like.
Since the youth parliament will ideally be non-partisan, how then would representation work?
According to Liane, the Youth Parliament “ideally adopts a system of proportional representation, in order to provide equal opportunities to youth parliamentarians”. But she does not go on to elaborate what that “proportional representation” will be based on.
In the UK, young people elect their local areas’ Member of Youth Parliament (MYP), and the number of MYP positions is proportionate to the population of young people in the authority. In other words, representation is based on your geographical area.
In Singapore, it may be possible for aspiring MYPs to stand for election within existing electoral boundaries, but these boundaries will likely have to be redrawn to take the population of youth into account.
But with Singapore being such a small country, our small population of youths will arguably have the same issues to raise, whether we live in Pasir Ris, Yishun or Jurong.
Another possible way could be to use school clusters as defined by the Ministry of Education (MOE), and perhaps even have the cluster superintendent act as their mentor. But this, too, is not without its problems, as we may find the youth parliament to be dominated by students from particularly well-known institutions, resulting in undesired homophily.
Lastly, what exactly does a Youth Parliament do? If all it purports to do is provide a platform for youths to speak up and make their voices heard, then lets not put on any airs and call it a “parliament”.
In fact, WPYW Organising Secretary Sandeep recognises the trappings and difficulties of trying to engage youths in such a manner, and suggests that “a good starting point would be to start up a consultative committee of youths representing as broad a spectrum of our community as possible, across race, culture, politics, and class lines, so we can engage in a form of permanent dialogue with our Members of Parliament.”
Regardless, I don’t dispute the fact that the youth in Singapore is ready for additional avenues for discussion on policy, and a non-partisan institution like the youth parliament might just do the trick. But at the same time, we shouldn’t jump the gun without thinking about how best to conceptualise and form such a “parliament”.
All pictures from: WPYW Facebook Page.