Voters should not be persuaded by the People’s Action Party (PAP)’s views on the Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme, said Aljunied group representation constituency (GRC) candidate and former NCMP Gerald Giam.
Responding to questions from moderator Nicole Seah — one of WP’s candidates for East Coast GRC — in the third installment of the party’s e-rally series “The Hammer Show”, Mr Giam stressed that Parliament is “not a place where MPs just give speeches and sit down”.
Parliament is where MPs “vote on laws” that affect the lives of Singaporeans, and to vote on laws, “you need the numbers”, he said.
Having a supermajority in Parliament will make it “much harder” for the PAP to “be a responsive government”, said Mr Giam.
A two-thirds majority where there are more elected MPs from alternative parties, however, will push the PAP to “listen to your concerns a lot more”.
Despite having a place in Parliament, NCMPs do not have the same reach as elected MPs do as they do not have a secure base.
It is “very hard for them to get real feedback from residents” as they are not able to conduct Meet-the-People sessions unlike MPs who have their own constituencies, Mr Giam added.
NCMP scheme “poisoned chalice”, makes it difficult for opposition MPs to grow “roots in the community”: Hougang SMC candidate Dennis Tan
WP’s Hougang SMC candidate Dennis Tan — also a former NCMP — called the scheme a “poisoned chalice” in the party’s first episode of “The Hammer Show” on Wednesday.
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.
Chair Sylvia Lim separately opined: “If you want Parliament to be an effective check on the government, then surely, you know, there must be some political pressure and element of political competition. And what I think is that the PAP does not want any opposition party to have a physical base from which to operate and possibly expand.”
NCMPs ideas’ can be “ignored” in Parliament, S’poreans need MPs with “full mandate” of the people: Aljunied GRC candidate Leon Perera
Former NCMP and current Aljunied GRC candidate Leon Perera argued 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 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 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.
His points were made in response to Former Second Minister for Finance, Law and Education Indranee Rajah, who 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.
PAP supermajority will enable them to change Constitution unilaterally: Leon Perera
Mr Perera reiterated his point on Thursday that even if no alternative party candidates were to be elected this coming election, “there will be 93 PAP seats and, at most, 12 Opposition NCMP seats”.
“That means the PAP would have 88.6% of voting, elected Parliamentary seats,…a lucky number! Let’s round it down to 88%, as that’s such a lucky number.
So with 88% of seats (excluding the 9 NMPs), the PAP would not have a blank cheque? Really?” He questioned.
Even if all of the Nominated Members of Parliament — non-politically affiliated MPs chosen by the President based on their expertise in various fields — vote against the government on Bills where they are allowed to vote, Mr Perera added, “the PAP would still have 81.6% of the votes on Bills”.
Holding over 80 per cent of seats in Parliament will essentially enable the PAP to “unilaterally change the Constitution”.
“They can make a change to the Constitution with over 80% of seats. They don’t need to call a referendum. They can just do it. Just like that.
“That’s what they did in 2016 with the Constitution Amendment Bill, which the Workers’ Party voted against. They can do it again after this GE. And again. And again. And again. For as long as voters give the PAP an overwhelming, crushing, hyper-dominant majority of fully elected seats in Parliament,” said Mr Perera.
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.
Chiam See Tong, then-chief of Singapore Democratic Party, said that he was against the NCMP scheme as it “diminishes the democratic process in Singapore”
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”.