story Adam Goh, Guest Columnist

Meritocracy - Illustration by Roger Ko

A strong Constitution is the basis of an effective Student Government. We must not play with the Constituition. (Roger Ko)


Imagine a dystopian future where the President of the United States is ‘elected’ by virtue of being a five-time wrestling champion. While this scene from the 2006 science fiction comedy Idiocracy might appear far-fetched, reality might be closer than we think. A proposed amendment to our Constitution, termed the Meritocracy Method, could see part of our Student Government being selected by a competition reminiscent of the reality game show The Apprentice. Even though the Meritocracy Method is unlikely to feature in our redrafted Constitution according to current sentiments in the Constitution Review Committee, it is still important to articulate why the Meritocracy Method is inferior to elections, despite the flaws of the latter.

The Meritocracy Method proposes that candidates looking to be co-opted into the legislative body should go through the Meritocracy Games, a series of trials which test skills such as event planning, financial accounting and diplomacy. However, since the Meritocracy Games only take place over one weekend, they can only assess short-term rather than long-term capabilities. Candidates who perform brilliantly over the course of a weekend might lack long-term commitment or have integrity issues, while passionate and hardworking candidates might perform poorly on one task and lose the Meritocracy Games.

To elect the best representatives, we must take into account all measures of merit, which are best evaluated by candidates’ peers—us students. We work with candidates regularly on academic and extracurricular projects, which are tasks that are often much more taxing than any trial in the Meritocracy Games. We observe candidates at their best and worst, and when they are not putting up a façade for the sake of a competition. When voters vote based on their objective evaluation of candidates’ capabilities, a democracy can be the best form of meritocracy.

Granted, voters might not evaluate the candidates objectively and instead vote based on personal relations or charisma. The Meritocracy Method aims to eliminate this subjectivity and to reduce the risk of elections turning into popularity contests. However, taking away students’ right to vote only worsens the situation. Disenfranchising the student body, as the Meritocracy Method proposes, suggests that we cannot be trusted to cast informed votes. This reflects poorly on our student body, and by extension, the Student Government as well.

Populism cannot be completely eliminated from any election. But we can minimize it by critically engaging and evaluating the candidates. The Constitution gives voters many opportunities to hear candidates out during elections. As mature, thinking college students, our students, I believe, will take full advantage of these opportunities and elect people who we think will best serve our community.

While the Meritocracy Method seeks to improve the effectiveness of the Student Government by selecting the best people for the respective positions, it produces a legislative body without a democratic mandate. For the Student Government to have legitimacy in its interactions with the administration and other external bodies, the endorsement of the student body is required. Without the explicit support of the student body, the Student Government cannot function effectively, regardless of how good its individual members are.

Finally, how people perceive our Student Government is crucial. An effective government requires the respect from others, but we cannot expect others to treat our Student Government with dignity when we treat our elections flippantly. We should not trivialize our Student Government by giving up our collective right and vote for the amusement of watching the candidates participate in the Meritocracy Games.

In the past year, we have seen how having an effective and responsible Student Government can radically improve our lives. With the Student Constitution being rewritten, we have the opportunity to improve our current Student Government model. While we should not frown upon new and untested methods, we also need to consider if the risks we take by doing so are responsible ones. To quote Singapore’s former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on elections, “This is not a game of cards! This is your life and mine!” The direction we take with our constitution now will considerably affect our college’s future. We cannot let our desire for experimentation jeopardize  students of future generations. When the time comes to ratify our new Constitution, we should consider if our future Student Governments will be elected fairly and democratically, and held to high standards of accountability and efficiency. Let’s not reduce our elections to a game of cards.

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