Progress Singapore Party (PSP)’s Lee Hsien Yang shared a link to a website on his Facebook page earlier last week (3 July) which shows the parliament’s voting history over the last 10 years. Accompanying the link, Mr Lee wrote in his post, “This excellent resource showing how parliament has voted in recent years. Do take a minute to see what it tells you.”
The website, called ‘Blank cheque anot?’, shows how each parliamentarian voted on 13 different bills and/or motions in Parliament over the past decade from 2010 to 2020, with a bonus of two other motions in 2002 and 2008 respectively. The data is based on parliamentary records available on the Singapore Parliament website.
The votes are presented in a handy graphic format showing the dispersion of votes based on party lines.
The website starts by quoting two People’s Action Party (PAP) members and former Ministers who had rebutted the motion that the party has a “blank cheque” to make any changes they want in parliament.
“The PAP will never have a blank cheque, because no matter what happens, the Constitution guarantees at least 12 opposition seats at the minimum.” – attributed to Indranee Rajah
“I don’t think there is anything such as a blank cheque as if the PAP can do anything without accountability.” – attributed to Chan Chun Sing
It goes on to ask, “Can the majority party be stopped (by [non-constituency member of parliament] + opposition MPs) from passing bills that it wants to pass?”
What the website clearly shows it that there have been nine instances in the last 10 years and once in 2002 when a bill and/or motion was passed despite every opposition member of parliament (MP) voting against it. Those opposition votes didn’t really make a difference given that every PAP ministers voted for it. It’s the PAP’s supermajority in action.
What’s more, on three specific occasions, bills were passed with only PAP MPs voting for while the other opposition MPs as well as Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMPs) and Nominated Member of Parliament (NMPs) either voted against for abstained from voting. Still, the bills passed with overwhelming support from just the PAP camp.
One of these instances as in November 2016, 77 PAP minister voted for an amendment to the constitutions relating to the filtering of presidential candidates by race. The six votes against were all Workers’ Party (WP) MPs.
The amendment in this bill included reserving the Presidential seat for a particular race if there have been no President of that race for five consecutive terms and strengthening the Council of Presidential Advisors (CPA).
The WP objected to bill on several levels including a suggestion that a Senate should be set up to take over the duties of the elected presidency and that the matter should be put up as a referendum to allow Singaporeans to choose which they prefer.
WP also disagreed on the expanding the CPA and making it compulsory for the President to consult the council on all monetary matters and key public service appointments, saying that this would change the nature of the council beyond its advisory function.
Before that in November 2014, the PAP ministers (68 of them) voted through a bill which made five amendments to the constitution including on judicial appoints, pensions, the office of the Deputy Attorney-General. The seven votes against were also all WP MPs.
Mr Pritam Singh of WP has said during the second reading of this bill that his party is “uncomfortable” with the appointment of short-term senior judges who can be reappointed after the age of 55, adding that the party’s view is that it “weakens a concept critical to judicial independence, namely, the security of tenure.”
However, the WP did agree with the proposed amendment relating to the setting up of an International Commercial Court and the creation of the post of an International Judge. Ultimately, the WP MPs voted against the bill over objections on the other amendments.
In 2010, another change to the constitution, this time regarding refinements to the NCMP and NMP system, was voted through with ‘ayes’ from 73 PAP ministers and two ‘noes’, one from a WP minister and another from a Singapore People’s Party (SPP) MP.
WP’s Mr Low Thia Khiang said during the debate of the bill that the WP thinks increasing the number of NCMP seats fundamentally “does not make it better because a political system should be robust enough through the electoral system to have proper representation of different views, different sectors of society in Parliament rather than the NCMP scheme.”
He later added, “we will vote against it in-principle because that is not a system we should entrench as a political system.”
Going back 18 years, the motion in 2002 was a motion on the issue of having Nominated Members of Parliament. This was the occasion when current Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Secretary-General Dr Tan Cheng Bock, was then a PAP minister, voted against his party. For this, 58 PAP MPs voted for the motion while two PAP MPs, one WP MP and one SPP MP voted no, alongside one NCMP.
So even when a couple of PAP MPs vote against a bill alongside opposition MPs, it still goes through without a hitch. Again, this shows the power of PAP’s overwhelming majority in Parliament.
At the time, Dr Tan said had urged MPs not to vote for this Bill, arguing that “Parliament is an elected institution and we must keep it that way.”
He later added, “We cannot artificially create another voice in this House to represent sectoral and functional interests.”
What this website clearly shows is the PAP’s stronghold of Singapore’s parliament over the years as they are returned to power after each General Election with super majority seats.
As candidates from the alternative parties have noted recently in the lead up to GE2020 and during their campaign, the PAP is able to pass through any law and make amendments to the Singapore Constitution without a fight as there aren’t enough opposition MPs to provide checks and balances.
Therefore, it would be pointless for the 12 NCMP seats to be offered to the losers as PAP has been trying to sell to the voters in the past few days.