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OPINION: The PAP’s super majority, how the WP’s hands are tied, what do Singaporeans want, and other stories in review

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PAP has complete power over which issues raised by the Workers' Party it wishes to take seriously. It has the numbers on its side

The Leader of the Opposition, Mr Pritam Singh, said last week that we needed more members of parliament (MP) from the Workers’ Party (WP). He does have a point. At the end of the day, all new policies are debated and voted upon in Parliament, and where voting is concerned, numbers count!

In Singapore, the People’s Action Party (PAP) holds an overwhelming majority and so, when things are put to a vote, the PAP’s position on the matter would reign supreme. It is a numbers game.

Many Singaporeans have said they would like a greater diversity of opinions on matters of state. Indeed, it is likely that this desire is what helped the Workers’ Party win some seats in Parliament, including two Group Representation Constituencies (GRC). When Workers’ Party MP Associate Professor Jamus Lim was campaigning in 2020, he capitalised on this sentiment by saying that all that his party was asking for was not to topple the PAP’s majority but just to ensure that it did not have a “blank cheque“.

Fast forward to the present: Does the PAP still have a “blank cheque”?

Even though there is a greater diversity of ideas being presented now, it is still the PAP that holds all the cards and all the power. A policy, however sound, presented by the Workers’ Party, will still need the buy-in of the PAP to come to fruition. Similarly, a policy, however unpopular, can never be voted out by the Workers’ Party alone. It simply does not have the numbers.

So, going forward, what do Singaporeans want?

I would hazard a guess to say that most Singaporeans want a situation where unpopular policies can be scrapped, and credible policies put in place. For that to happen, Parliament has to be in a position where the Workers’ Party has the strength in numbers to vote things out without there being a deadlock.

The PAP has said that a two-party system could lead to inefficiency and things never getting done. It has pointed to the situations that certain European countries such as the UK find themselves in. But it is imperative to point out that Singapore is very far from that position. The Workers’ Party could win a few more GRCs and still not have the numbers.

Mr Singh has suggested that the ideal situation would be for the PAP to lose its super majority and retain a two-thirds majority. In this way, the PAP would still be in charge of government while the Workers’ Party will have greater leverage to contribute to change, such as amending the Constitution.

Ultimately, Singaporeans have to think long and hard about this issue. Do they actually want change, or do they just want a token representation of opposition MPs to raise issues and awareness but not necessarily with the power to implement any change?

For now, the Workers’ Party has helped bring attention to matters that concern Singaporeans that might not otherwise have gained traction. One example would be matters of conservation. The Workers’ Party highlighted preservation issues in Dover Forest. As a result of the publicity, large numbers of Singaporeans took a great interest in the matter. That, in turn, may have contributed to the PAP taking the issue more seriously. But remember, as a result of the current make-up of Parliament, the PAP has complete power over which issues raised by the Workers’ Party it wishes to take seriously.

Foreign Minister of Singapore Vivian Balakrishnan gestures after addressing the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters on September 25, 2021 in New York. (Photo by KENA BETANCUR / POOL / AFP)

Now a new issue has come to the fore. The Workers’ Party has urged the Government to be more transparent about how two Cabinet ministers were able to rent two colonial bungalows along Ridout Road. The properties, at 26 and 31 Ridout Road, are being rented by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam and Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan respectively.

The Singapore Land Authority said on May 12 that the properties were rented in full compliance with regulations.

Mr Singh and three PAP MPs have filed parliamentary questions on the matter.

The Workers’ Party has said its other MPs may also file related questions as more information emerges.

What is next?

What do Singaporeans want?

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