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By Khairulanwar Zaini with contributions by Ravi Philemon and Andrew Loh
Sylvia Lim has welcomed the Trojan horse to enter Troy, and whatever good that can come out of this, it will be a Pyrrhic victory for the Workers’ Party.
Her speech was awkward and painful, not least for the inconsistencies of argument, but also the fact that the Workers’ Party – undeniably the best prospect among the multitude of opposition parties – sacrifices principles to swallow hook, line and sinker the PAP’s tactical masterstroke.
The NCMP scheme fulfills the exigent need of more opposition presence, but retards the overall growth of political liberalization and the concept of an elected representative legislature.
NCMP: So that we can “serve the people in Parliament”
The exercise in political expedience would have yielded an unprecedented seven parliamentary seats for the WP, a fact not lost on them in their endorsement of the scheme. Their justification for the ruling party’s benevolent largesse – “greater recognition to the desire of (opposition) voters” and “facilitate opposition parties serving the people in Parliament” are doublespeak for ruthless political opportunism to accrue Parliamentary presence for the opposition - democratic and electoral principles be damned.
To be fair, it was a hard argument to make – particularly when what follows is her rejection of the Nominated MP scheme. Despite both the NCMPs and NMPs being unelected, Lim argues that the latter does not deserve a Parliament seat because they did not “contest the election” – for she maintains that it is an “essential precondition to obtain some sort of mandate from the people.”
The legitimacy of electoral experience and “some sort of mandate”
It is already very difficult to justify a Parliament seat for any unelected representative, but the double act of justifying a seat for the NCMP cabal yet denying the NMP coterie is certainly much harder – resulting in the pathetic quibble of hustings experience to distinguish between the two.
A Parliament seat cannot be sufficiently attained only with “some sort of mandate” – that is a mockery of democratic elections, notwithstanding the drawbacks of the first-past-the-post system. The WP has capitulated to the opportunity for more seats without due consideration for the sanctity of Parliament as an elected House.
Parliament: representation without substance
The hallowed halls of Parliament may soon be an elected legislature only in nomenclature. Taking into perspective the total numbers of MPs returned by walkovers, NCMPs and NMPs, this yields a House alarmingly composed of a substantial number of non-elected representatives. If the changes were retroactively applied to 2006, there would have been a total of 54 unelected seats.
The greatest disappointment though is that the WP, in its selfish party-political considerations, displayed scant regard for the Parliamentary democratic system; a future Parliament may result in potentially more un-elected Members of Parliament, which will be a travesty of democracy.
Legislative changes which affect the community we live in the most, can only be effected by those in parliament; and for this reason alone, the representatives in Parliament must be elected by the people so that they would be truly representative of the people. This representation then could be trusted to bring about the change the people want.
And the changes which must reflect the will of the people must most importantly be reflected in the amendments to the Constitution, Budget and in initiating a motion of 'no confidence' in an incompetent government. It is these three key changes (if necessary), that both the NMP and NCMP scheme deprives the people of, and on these grounds alone, both schemes should be rejected.
It is disappointing that WP fell into the PAP’s conflation of the progressive ideal of a mature, inclusive and representative political democracy with the fact of more parliamentary presence for the opposition. The expanded NCMP scheme treats and panders the latter as the ultimate end while ignoring the spirit of the former.
The flattering imitation of future victory
The ruling party has orchestrated a well-played tactical coup this past week, and Chiam See Tong should be flattered. By introducing a disincentive to voters hoping for an opposition to check on the government, the expanded NCMP scheme is reminiscent of Chiam’s 1991 by-election strategy.
That brilliant maneuver returned a historic four opposition seats.
Not just WP but all opposition parties should see that the latest move by the PAP is a reverse tactical ploy which will help the PAP retain the upper hand in the next elections.