Parliament on Monday passed laws ensuring at least 18 people not from the ruling party will enter Parliament after the next election. The House voted 74 to one in favour of the amendments to the Constitution that would increase the maximum number of Non-Constituency MPs from six to nine and entrench the Nominated MP system.
The three-hour-long debate included a prolonged exchange between Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng, who presented the Bill, and the two Workers’ Party parliamentarians Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim.
For the uninitiated, in Singapore, we have a system in Parliament called Nominated MPs, whereby those who are nominated are given a chance to speak but are not allowed to make decisions.
I fail to see how increasing the number of NMPs will help to improve the political system. Worker’s Party’s chairman Sylvia Lim, who is also an NMP, highlighted the many limitations of NMPs:
Sir, in addition, there are serious limitations to NCMP seats and it is important to highlight to Singaporeans these limitations.Besides not being able to vote on critical matters, we are considered as lacking in official capacity to represent the people. This was brought home in 1997 when Mr JB Jeyaretnam, who was then NCMP, filed a Parliamentary question asking whether any directive had been given to government departments not to reply to letters sent by him as NCMP. In the exchange which followed, the Home Affairs minister reiterated the fact that NCMPs do not represent any particular constituency and therefore the government departments would only respond to letters by elected MPs or grassroots advisers on behalf of residents in those areas.I have my own experiences of this reality.I have been doing house visits in Aljunied GRC for several years. The residents have raised certain concerns to me which I have highlighted in Parliament as issues, where appropriate. However, I have no official capacity to write letters on their behalf regarding their specific cases though I very much want to.In addition, an NCMP has no physical base. Under the Town Councils Act, the incumbent MP will be in charge of the town council which controls the use of common space. As for the community clubs, these are in the hands of the People’s Association.It is next to impossible for an opposing candidate to be allowed to use a space to organize activities or dialogues.We have applied for permission to use spaces in PAP wards and received expected rejections.On the other hand, ruling party hopefuls in opposition wards are appointed advisers to grassroots organizations, thereby apparently having status to liaise with HDB and other government departments on behalf of residents.Sir, it may well be that the PAP wants complete dominance with non-PAP voices provided through the NMP and NCMP schemes.But what would happen if the PAP starts to falter or be corrupt? A good political system is one which can provide sustainable checks on the ruling party through the people having real bargaining power through the presence of elected opposition members.This will serve as a strong incentive for the ruling party to perform and pay heed to the people’s desires.Elected opposition members are a manifestation of a challenge to the ruling party not just in Parliament but on the ground.It is not in the national interest to promote a system where the survival of the country become so intertwined with the fate of one political party that the people are left hostage.Instead of worrying about the MPs’ debating skills, the Prime Minister should worry more about whether each of his MPs has the support of the people which an SMC system will automatically cure.