Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan Jin announced on Monday evening that Ms Sylvia Lim’s adjournment motion which has been balloted out twice previously, will be allowed to take place at end of the Parliament Sitting on 3 October.
Writing on his Facebook page, Mr Tan wrote,
“Just balloted for tomorrow’s adjournment motion (3 Oct 2017). Sylvia Lim’s motion has been picked. She was present for the draw, as she had been the previous round. Vikram Nair‘s motion would have to be deferred again for the fourth time. His topic is on the future of NS.
It is important to note that apart from the adjournment motion, we also do have a Private Member’s Motion that doesn’t require it to be balloted. Christopher de Souza is in fact tabling one tomorrow and will see quite a number of MPs speaking on it.
There are various platforms for every individual MPs to surface issues that concern them. Do make full use of these opportunities.”
Workers’ Party’s motion, titled “Counting from President Wee Kim Wee or President Ong Teng Cheong – policy decision or legal question?” was previously filed for a previous sitting on Sep 11 but it was balloted out by a motion filed by Mr Murali Pillai, Member of Parliament of Bukit Batok SMC.
Subsequently, the party refiled the motion for Monday’s parliamentary sitting on 19 September but was balloted out by Dr Intan Azura’s motion, titled “Preserving Green Space and Heritage in Jalan Kayu Constituency”.
Motion for Prime Minister to clarify the reserved Presidential Election
In the party’s announcement of the motion being filed, it said “In the wake of intense public discussion after the parliamentary debates and a court case on the reserved Presidential Election, the Workers’ Party believes it is in the public interest for the Government to clarify this issue surrounding the election of our Head of State,”
The announcement came after the Court of Appeal threw out former PAP MP and candidate in the Presidential Election 2011, Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s appeal against a decision to dismiss an application contesting the legitimacy and timing of the upcoming Presidential Election. Dr Tan’s lawyers had argued that it was unconstitutional for former President Wee Kim Wee’s last term to be considered as the starting point for the count, as he was elected by Parliament and not by the people and questioned the advice given by the Attorney-General to the Prime Minister on the matter. However, the five-judge panel concluded that Parliament is lawfully allowed to do so for the purpose of determining a reserved election and no need to refer to the advice given by the AG to the PM.
In November 2016, speaking on the counting of the Reserved Election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Parliament,
When should the racial provision start counting? The Constitutional Amendment Bill states that the Government should legislate on this point. The Government intends to legislate when we amend the Presidential Elections Act in January next year.
We have taken the Attorney-General’s advice. We will start counting from the first President who exercised the powers of the Elected President, in other words, Dr Wee Kim Wee. That means we are now in the fifth term of the Elected Presidency.
Ms Lim had earlier asked the details of the advice in both Parliamentary sittings but was rebutted by both Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Minister in Prime Minister’s Office, Chan Chun Sing for questioning the advice and challenged her to file the question to the court.
Speaker and PAP MP say Workers’ Party could have filed Private Member’s Motion
Mr Vikram Nair, MP for Sembawang GRC who was mentioned in Mr Tan’s Facebook page for having his motion deferred for the fourth time, had written to the Straits Times Forum to defend accusations by the public that the adjournment motion by Workers’ Party had been “filibustered”.
An earlier ST letter written by Francis Cheng, states that “to deny the WP’s motion on the issue of the elected presidency, which is of public interest, could be seen as filibustering to stop the opposition from speaking. Surely, the other MPs who had also filed motions for the same sitting can postpone or withdraw their questions.”
Mr Nair in his letter, wrote that he finds the the insinuation that he had filed his motion as some kind of filibuster as being absurd, as he had filed his adjournment motion in July, well before Ms Lim filed hers.
Noting that Standing Order 2(8)(d) sets out the procedures for adjournment motions, including that if more than one member raises an adjournment motion for a particular sitting, the Speaker may conduct a ballot to select the topic to be raised, Mr Nair highlighted that MPs, including Ms Lim, would be well aware of other parliamentary procedures, such as filing a private member’s motion, which would allow them to raise a topic in Parliament without it being subject to a ballot and can be done anytime, if they wish.
This alternative motion which WP could have pursued is also what Mr Tan, the Speaker mentioned at the end of his Facebook post.
But one would wonder, given that his recommendation to Ms Lim and that his motion has been deferred for the fourth time, why don’t he file a private member’s motion to talk on the matter then?
So what is the difference between adjournment motion and a private member’s motion?
The difference between the two motions is somewhat explained by Mr Tan’s Facebook post where he said, an Adjournment Motion is where the Member of Parliament is given 20 minutes at the end of a Parliamentary Sitting to address an issue to the chamber and subsequently a Minister will provide a response to the matter, whereas, in a Private Member’s Motion, any Member of Parliament could chip in to give his or her take on the matter before a Minister comes into the picture to give a response and a debate.
Now if anyone were to ask why WP choose to file an adjournment motion instead of a Private Members’ Motion like what Mr Nair has suggested, one can look no further than the fiasco in July where the Prime Minister choose to defend allegations against him for the abuse of power in Parliament. A total of 39 MPs spoke on the matter over the course of two days, however, the attention span of the public including media can only cover so much. Even till today, few really remember or know what have been answered by the Prime Minister other than his denial to the allegations made by his two siblings.
If WP were to file a private member’s motion, there is no doubt that many of the PAP cheerleaders would chip into the debate with their views on why the AG’s advice had no bearing on the elected presidency or to cast insinuations upon WP for being racist or making a mountain out of a molehill for touching on issues that had already passed and that Singapore has more crucial matters on hand to address.
Prime Minister needs to give a straight answer to the public
What the public would want to know at this point is what exactly was the advice, if possible in entirely, given to the Prime Minister for him to declare in November last year that the election that was concluded with a walkover is to be deemed a Reserved Election as President Wee Kim Wee was said to be counted as the fifth term of Elected Presidency when majority of Singapore population only counted four.
Dr Tan has tried to seek the Court’s advice on the matter at his own expense, something which was asked of Ms Lim by the DPM and Minister Chan. But the Court has since thrown Dr Tan’s appeal on the matter back to the Parliament, saying that the Parliament has the authority to decide when exactly to call for the reserved election, refusing to address the point that PM Lee and other MPs had used AG’s advice as the sole justification to dictate the 2017 PE as a reserved election.
It is therefore paramount that the Prime Minister stop hiding from the important question and answer the question once and for all with a straight answer without motherhood statements. Hopefully, the question can be answered by PM himself and not have someone such as Minister Chan to hide from public scrutiny.
Back to Mr Nair’s defence on filibustering by PAP MPs, I do agree with Mr Nair that it is all down to chance when it comes to balloting but one cannot deny that the PAP MPs could withdraw their motion so that WP could file their motion which majority of Singapore population would agree to be of national importance and urgency. And can Mr Christopher de Souza share when did he file the Private Member’s Motion? Though it is uncertain what motion is he filing but as what has been explained above, with Adjournment Motion, one can seek to remove distraction by focusing on a simple question and answer. But with a debate being held on the same day, will dilute the public’s attention on the matter.