Singapore—The 14th Parliament opened on Monday (Aug 24) with the swearing-in of the 93 Members of Parliament (MP) and two Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs), as well as the election of the Speaker. President Halimah Yacob and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin also made speeches, as did Workers’ Party (WP) Pritam Singh, in his first speech in Parliament as the Leader of the Opposition.
But the country’s eyes are now on the opposition, what with unprecedented gains from last month’s General Election, including the official appointment of Mr Pritam as the Leader of the Opposition. There are now more opposition MPs than ever before, including the two NCMPs from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP).
“What remains to be seen is whether the PAP treats the WP MPs and PSP NCMPs as the elected representatives of Singaporeans and reflections of minority positions they rightly are, or if the focus is instead on ‘fixing’ them,” associate professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Chong Ja Jan is quoted in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) as saying.
And since this is the first time the country has ever had an official Leader of the Opposition, Singaporeans are sure to keep a keen eye on this as well.
Immediately after the election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called the WP head. PM Lee said at a media conference, “I told Mr Singh that with 10 MPs, I think it is right that he, the Workers’ Party leader, be formally designated as the Leader of the Opposition, and that he will be provided with appropriate staff support and resources to perform his duties.”
On his part, Mr Pritam wrote in a Facebook post that he looked forward “to serving as the leader of the opposition and will carry out my duties to the best of my abilities,” and added that he would “endeavour to ensure that The Workers’ Party under my leadership will remain loyal to Singapore and all Singaporeans.”
But some caution that the difference the additional seats the opposition now has may not mean so much, given that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) still holds 83 seats.
“I think the noise level will definitely increase, but remember, 10 from WP, two from PSP, even though they’ve the same voting rights, don’t forget the PAP on the other hand has 83,” said Bilveer Singh from the NUS Department of Political Science to SCMP.
In her speech yesterday, President Halimah acknowledged that “the opposition too has its part to play. In parliament, besides raising questions and criticisms, the opposition should also propose policy alternatives to be scrutinised and debated.”
This echoes a remark made by Singapore’s newly-minted Minister for Education, Lawrence Wong, who said last month, “Now that the Workers’ Party has more MPs in Parliament, they cannot just continue asking the Government questions. It is also their duty to put forward serious policy alternatives to be scrutinised and debated.”
In response to this, Mr Pritam wrote that questioning the government “remains a fundamental role of a responsible opposition.”
However, in matters crucial to national interest, President Halimah said in her speech that she expected that the government and opposition would act as one. ““And when the situation demands, both the government and opposition should set aside differences and work together to secure the safety and future of our nation.” —/TISG