Straits Times: Win or lose, more voice for opposition

PROPOSED CHANGES TO NCMP SCHEME

Whatever the election outcome, there will be at least nine opposition voices in House – one-tenth of 84 elected MPs

BY AARON LOW


SENDING VOTERS WRONG SIGNAL
“Voters may just think, why vote for them since we are sure to get at least nine in? This is wrong as NCMPs do not have full powers and cannot be said to truly represent the people without constituencies.”

Mr Eric Tan from the Workers’ Party, criticising the new idea

IF A change to the political system that was proposed yesterday, had taken place before the previous General Election, Parliament today might look very different from what it is now.

For one thing, former Non-Constituency MP Steve Chia might still be around.

Several other Workers’ Party (WP) candidates might also be in Parliament, such as Dr Tan Bin Seng and Mr Lian Chin Way, debating alongside WP chief Low Thia Khiang and current NCMP Sylvia Lim.

This is because changes mooted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday to the NCMP scheme will see no fewer than nine opposition members in Parliament from the next General Election onwards, instead of the current three.

To do this, two key pieces of legislation will be amended.

The Constitution will be changed to allow up to nine NCMPs, up from six currently.

The NCMP scheme allows the best-scoring opposition candidates to get non-constituency seats in Parliament.

Likewise, the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) will be amended to provide for at least nine opposition voices – whether elected or NCMPs – in Parliament.

These moves will bring the number of opposition voices – at nine – equal to that of Nominated MPs.

“Therefore, whatever the election outcome, opposition members, directly elected or non-constituency members, will form at least one-tenth of the 84 directly elected Members of Parliament who have constituencies,” said Mr Lee.

To distinguish between the winners and losers in a GRC fight, no more than two NCMPs will be allowed from each group representation constituency (GRC), said Mr Lee.

“This will spread out the NCMPs more evenly and make them more representative of those voters who have voted for the opposition nationwide in a General Election,” he added.

In effect, if the changes had been made prior to the 2006 elections, the Workers’ Party team contesting in Aljunied GRC might have had two NCMPs, instead of just one, Ms Sylvia Lim.

WP’s Dr Tan Bin Seng, who contested in Joo Chiat, and Mr Lian Chin Way, who lost in Nee Soon South, would also be debating in Parliament, noted PM Lee.

In fact, the opposition might have a total of seven NCMPs and two elected MPs now, with the WP taking seven of the nine opposition seats.

In announcing the changes, Mr Lee said NCMPs have made their contribution to national debate by expressing opposition views in Parliament.

“They have let Singaporeans compare the policies and programmes of the Government and the opposition,” he said.

“And they’ve enabled Singaporeans to evaluate the performance of parties and MPs through the continuing debate in Parliament day in, day out, during the whole term of the Government, not just during the short period of the campaign during the General Election.”

As such, the scheme has achieved its purpose and has been accepted by the public, he said.

Started in 1984, the NCMP scheme aimed to give the opposition more voice in a Parliament dominated by the People’s Action Party (PAP) since the 1968 elections.

Since then, there have been no more than four elected opposition members in Parliament – a high reached in 1991.

Today, there are just two elected opposition MPs in Parliament: Hougang MP Low Thia Khiang and Potong Pasir MP Chiam See Tong.

Over the years, Mr Lee noted, the NCMP scheme has allowed opposition members such as the late Dr Lee Siow Choh and the late Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam, both from WP, and Singapore Democratic Alliance’s Mr Steve Chia to enter Parliament.

NCMPs do not have the full rights of an elected MP.

Among other things, they cannot vote on amendments to the Constitution, on a Supply Bill, nor in a vote of no-confidence against the Government.

But they can vote on changes to legislation and raise motions to pass new Bills.

The WP’s treasurer, Mr Eric Tan, said he was glad the Government was recognising the people’s desire for more opposition.

At the same time, however, he warned that the new move could be counter-productive for the opposition.

Mr Tan, who contested in East Coast GRC in 2006 and would have been an NCMP had the changes been effected then, said the move might seduce voters to not vote for the opposition.

“Voters may just think, why vote for them since we are sure to get at least nine in? This is wrong as NCMPs do not have full powers and cannot be said to truly represent the people without constituencies,” he said.

PAP MP Charles Chong dismissed such “conspiracy theories”.

The Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP said that the move to allow more opposition in Parliament was a generous one.

“The bottom line is that the Government is allowing more opposition members who have contested in an election, who know the ground, into Parliament, regardless of whether they won or lost,” said Mr Chong.

“I think that is a win-win situation for the opposition.”

aaronl@sph.com.sg

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Posted in 2009 05. Comments Off on Straits Times: Win or lose, more voice for opposition
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