The Workers’ Party (WP)’s secretary-general Pritam Singh has called on voters to reflect on the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) decision to increase the number of seats allocated to Non-constituency Members of Parliament (NCMP) under the scheme.
The minimum number of NCMPs in Parliament was raised from nine to 12 in 2016. Amendments were also made after the last general election to allow NCMPs to have the same voting rights as elected MPs.
Responding to a question from CNA during the party’s walkabout in Kovan on Thursday (2 July) on whether WP will change its stance towards having NCMPs, Mr Singh told reporters: “I think we’ve made our views known about the NCMP scheme.”
Posing a pertinent question to Singaporeans, Mr Singh asked: “Why is the PAP so magnanimous in offering additional NCMPs?”
He urged every voter to reflect on his question, adding that WP “will, of course, make the point through the course of this election”.
Mr Singh’s comments followed recent statements by PAP leaders in response to his’ warning during the unveiling of WP’s “Make Your Vote Count” manifesto last week that the opposition risks being wiped out from Parliament after the next election.
PAP secretary-general and former Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong branded Mr Singh’s warning as “reverse psychology” to get Singaporeans to vote for WP.
“But I can tell you that I don’t take that attitude at all,” said Mr Lee in a PAP press conference on Tuesday, adding that while PAP will “fight to win every vote and every seat”, he knows that there is “a certain balance” in Singapore which will not “be completely upset” this election.
Former Second Minister for Finance, Law and Education Indranee Rajah said on Monday that “no matter what the outcome of this election, and even if PAP took all the elected seats, you will still have 12 opposition seats in Parliament at a minimum, and of course in addition you have NMPs”.
“Then the next question would be, ‘Oh you know, can we be as effective in Parliament as NCMPs, for example. And the answer is that if you have full voting rights in Parliament, that is the platform for which you can advocate and do all and say what you want to say with respect to the policies.
“So, basically, the voice in Parliament, the ability to influence policy in Parliament, is all there,” she added.
Economics professor and WP Sengkang GRC candidate Jamus Lim, in his summing up of a CNA political debate yesterday, argued that it is not a mandate that WP is trying to deny the PAP but “a blank cheque”.
Former Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing commented on Dr Lim’s statement, saying that it is not “a correct characterisation” of what this election is about.
“I don’t think there is anything such as a blank cheque as if the PAP can do anything without accountability … Everything that we do, at every step of the way, we have to be responsible to Singaporeans, their welfare, their well-being and we have to be responsible for the long-term survival of the country,” he said.
NCMPs “ideas can be ignored” in Parliament, S’pore needs opposition MPs with voices that “carry the weight of the people’s full mandate”: Former NCMP and GE 2020 Aljunied GRC candidate Leon Perera
Former NCMP and current Aljunied GRC candidate Leon Perera argued in response to Ms Indranee’s comments that “a Parliament where the only Opposition is NCMPs who have lost the election and do not have the full mandate of the people are MPs whose ideas can be ignored”.
Mr Perera, who is also WP’s Youth Wing president, said in a Facebook post yesterday that Singapore needs “responsible Opposition MPs whose voices carry the weight of the people’s full mandate”.
“Only then would the government listen and adjust its policies, at the risk of losing more seats. Only then would their ideas have a meaningful impact on policy-making. Only then would their ideas move the needle. Only then would their ideas matter, rather than being ventilation that can be ignored,” he added.
Mr Perera also pointed out — in response to Ms Indranee’s point that “the weaker a government, the greater the inability to deliver for people” — that a party only needs over 50 per cent of seats to become the governing party, and only a minimum of 66 per cent of seats to change the Constitution.
“Do you need 93% or 100% of fully elected seats to govern? No. But as an incumbent political party, you need over 66% of the seats to change the rules of the game.
“I can understand why the PAP would want over 66% of seats. It is in the interests of the PAP. Is it in your interest?” Mr Perera questioned voters.
Noting that Ms Indranee did not make “any substantial comment” on the content of WP’s manifesto when asked on the matter — based on media reports he has read — Mr Perera said that changing the subject to why there is no need to vote for alternative party candidates is “in a nutshell” why Singaporeans “need to vote responsible, fully-elected Opposition MPs”.
WP’s Hougang SMC candidate Dennis Tan called the NCMP scheme a “poisoned chalice” in the party’s debut online session “The Hammer Show” yesterday.
Citing former WP chief Low Thia Khiang’s quote on how the NCMPs’ position in Parliament is akin to “duckweed that floats on water”, Mr Tan argued that the NCMP scheme is a way for PAP to prevent politicians from alternative parties from having “roots in the community”, in contrast to PAP politicians who still have the opportunity to conduct Meet-the-People sessions and become grassroots advisers.
“This is exactly the poisoned chalice of PAP-style democracy — the NCMP system. As a former NCMP, I appeal to all voters not to be deceived by PAP’s intention for NCMPs when you go to the ballot box. Please elect sufficient opposition constituency MPs,” he said.
NCMP seats “a ploy this round” to “entice” S’poreans to vote for PAP; difficult for NCMPs to function as MPs due to lack of “base”: Progress Singapore Party chief Tan Cheng Bock
Separately, Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chief Tan Cheng Bock, who has previously served as Ayer Rajah MP for 26 years, stressed that he joined Parliament as a “proper, elected MP”, and that he will not take up an NCMP seat should his team in West Coast GRC this year lose to the PAP team helmed by S Iswaran.
Speaking to reporters during a walkabout on Thursday (2 July) with PSP candidate Kayla Low at a market in Yio Chu Kang SMC, Dr Tan said that the NCMP scheme — despite improvements such as equal voting rights as elected MPs — is “a ploy this round to entice you all to vote the PAP because they guarantee you that they (will) have 12 NCMPs”.
A better way to have “a proper representative in the House”, he said, is to “vote for the person to go into the House so he has the base”.
“That is very important. If you have no base, it is very difficult to function as an MP. You cannot just be a virtual MP, you must be a proper MP,” stressed Dr Tan.
He added, however, that his team members can decide if they want to enter Parliament via the NCMP ticket should they be offered to do so.
GE 2020 not the first time the NCMP scheme is criticised
The NCMP scheme, introduced in 1984, aims to fill the gaps where needed with representatives from alternative parties in Parliament should the number of elected opposition candidates be fewer than the minimum number intended.
Under the scheme, the best-performing candidates from alternative parties who did not win a constituency during a general election will be offered seats in Parliament — meaning those with the highest percentage of votes, subject to a minimum of 15 per cent of votes cast.
Then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew proposed constitutional amendments and changes to the Parliamentary Elections Act to have a minimum of three opposition MPs and up to six of such MPs.
Parliament Library senior librarian Lim Puay Ling wrote in an Infopedia article in 2016: “Lee argued that having NCMPs would enable younger Singaporeans, who had not witnessed first-hand the divisive politics of the 1950s and 1960s, to learn about constitutional opposition and what an opposition in parliament can do.”
“In addition, the NCMP scheme would provide valuable training for the younger ministers and MPs by helping to hone their debating skills as they engaged with opposition MPs in parliament,” she added.
The late Mr Lee’s proposal in 1984 was not met without criticism, Ms Lim observed, as alternative parties — similar to the view held by Dr Tan today — branded the NCMP scheme a “ploy” by PAP to discourage people from voting for the opposition.
Then WP-leader and Anson MP J.B. Jeyaretnam viewed the NCMP scheme as “ridiculous” and said that MPs who entered Parliament in such a way were “second-class MPs”.