The 14th Parliament of Singapore was opened by President Halimah Yacob on 24 August 2020.
In many ways, this Parliament represents a new age of politics in Singapore. This is the first time that there are 10 elected non Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) Members of Parliament (MP). While this amounts to only 10 out of 93 elected seats in Parliament with the PAP holding an overwhelming 83 seats, this is still seen as a monumental victory for the Workers’ Party.
It is clear that the PAP has reservations about this Parliament with Speaker of Parliament, Tan Chuan Jin (Tan) warning MPs against being fractious. He further added that robust and passionate debate on issues can take place without MPs being needlessly quarrelsome. While Tan’s words are, at face value, true, one wonders if he is saying this because this newly sworn in Parliament contains more alternative politicians than before?
Yet, despite Tan’s warnings, it transpired that it was the PAP MPs that were fractious in the debates.
The first volley of attacks were launched against MP for Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC), Dennis Tan (Dennis) of the WP by the PAP’s Murali Pillai (Pillai), MP for Bukit Batok SMC. In what appeared to be “using a sledgehammer to kill a fly,” approach, Pillai responded to Dennis’s questions to the PAP for its “petty” and “bad politics” during July’s General Election with a rapid escalation of aggression, accusing Dennis of suggesting that the incumbent PAP was using its “power of incumbency” against the opposition in an unfair manner instead of answering the questions.
Next up was none other than our Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong who was given the privilege of addressing Parliament which was also broadcast live by Channel News Asia and Facebook. While the address was ostensibly to deal with COVID-19 issues, it came across to some as an opportunity for self praise and a chance for the Prime Minister to have uninterrupted air time to slate non Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) politicians.
The catchphrase that has come out of this series of debates has to be the term “free riders” which the Prime Minister used to describe non PAP voters.This rightly incited the ire of Pritam Singh, who as Leader of the Opposition refuted Lee’s assertions.
A day after the general election of July 2020, Lee had said :“My team and I will serve all Singaporeans, whichever party you vote for……Whether or not you voted for the PAP, we will listen to you, do our best to address your concerns and try to win your support.”
In just two months, it seems that Lee has changed his tone where non PAP voters are concerned.
Lee also seemed to have confused statehood with partyhood given that all of the PAP’s policies are funded by state monies. State monies belong to all voters who have jointly contributed to the state coffers. This means that even though non PAP voters did not vote for him, they are still contributing to his salary and that of the rest of his party in power. Was Lee mistakenly suggesting that non PAP voters did not contribute to the state coffers?
Job creation and employment were also issues that MPs raised in parliament following Josephine Teo’s announcement on 26 August that the there will be a hike in the minimum salary criteria for Employment Passes (EPs) and S Passes amid the weak labour market conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response to calls for the names on the FCF watch list to be made public, Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo has said that the naming of such companies would be “counterproductive” and could actually frustrate the particular company’s attempts to hire local individuals.
One particular suggestion by a PAP MP, Chong Kee Hiong raised eyebrows when he suggested that Singaporean workers can be allowed to take up two vocations or allowed to take a second job in this economic climate.
These series of debates also saw Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo seemingly emotional mid speech. She appeared teary in Parliament when questioned, leading some to wonder if she had cracked under pressure.
Arguably, the WP politician that faced the biggest roasting by the PAP was Jamus Lim. Could he perhaps be viewed as the biggest opposition threat? He was after all the darling of the pre election live debate between the PAP’s Vivian Balakrishnan, the Progress Singapore Party’s Francis Yuen and the Singapore Democratic Party’s Chee Soon Juan. His quick wit and his string of strong academic credentials might have made him the biggest target of all to the PAP who employed a vicious seven to one attack on him in Parliament.
Even the usually affable and popular Senior Minister and MP for Jurong GRC, Tharman Shanmugaratnam launched an attack on Lim by accusing Lim of assuming that he had the “monopoly over compassion“ – an accusation that seemed over the top and reactionary. Has Lim’s maiden speech In Parliament hit a raw nerve with the PAP thus causing them to behave like school yard bullies?
Overall, it would seem that the PAP politicians are spoiling for a fight and hoping to break the WP politicians down. Is this a sign of things to come?
We will have to wait for the next series of debates to find out. Till then, we await with bated breath.
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