Singapore — The People’s Action Party and the opposition are accusing each other of fear-mongering as Polling Day draws close. The heated 2020 General Election is nearly halfway over, with Singaporeans set to cast their ballots on Friday (July 10).
Who can forget Workers’ Party (WP) member Pritam Singh’s declaration during the last elections in 2015 that the PAP takes an “ownself check ownself” approach?
While jobs and economic plans remain the focus on the policy front during these elections, the issue of whether the PAP behemoth needs checks and balances in Parliament continues to be the hot-button topic during the latest election cycle.
Even before Nomination Day on June 30, the PAP’s Indranee Rajah urged voters to “make their vote count” by voting for the PAP since the opposition can still be represented in Parliament through the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme.
The NCMP scheme allows up to 12 of the best election losers from the opposition camp to join Parliament. With recent amendments to the scheme to give NCMPs voting rights, Ms Indranee said the opposition has the ability to influence Parliament even if it was not elected to any seat because it has 12 NCMP spots to take up.
Responding to questions on whether the opposition could be wiped out in the latest elections as the WP’s Mr Singh, who was elected party Secretary-General in 2018, had suggested in a recent video, Ms Indranee said: “Even if the PAP took all the elected seats, which we do not take for granted and cannot be a given, you will still have 12. Then the next question would be, ‘Oh, but, you know, can we be as effective in Parliament as NCMPs’, for example.
“And the answer is that if you have full voting rights in Parliament, that is the platform for which you can advocate and do all and say what you want to say with the policies. So, basically, the voice in Parliament, the ability to influence policy in Parliament, is there.”
Asserting that Singapore needs a “strong capable government that is able to deliver on schemes” to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Indranee urged: “… make your vote count, and to make your vote count, vote PAP.
“Because, a capable government, a government with a strong and clear mandate, is really in the best interest of Singaporeans and Singapore, without taking away from the balance that gives a platform for other voices.”
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong seconded Ms Indranee’s views and said that there is no chance of an opposition wipe-out given the NCMP scheme. He said: “There will be minimally 12 opposition MPs in Parliament whatever happens in the General Election, which is six more than the number of elected MPs.
“NCMPs (will) have full voting rights, exactly the same as the elected MPs. They can vote on Budgets, they can vote on constitutional amendments, they can even vote on motions of confidence… There’s no possibility of the opposition being shut out from Parliament.”
The PAP politicians’ reasoning drew outrage from both members of the public and opposition parties. The 10 opposition parties which are contesting these elections are doing so to ensure that the PAP cannot pass bills in Parliament without checks.
Singaporeans need to elect at least 32 opposition candidates to Parliament to deny the PAP the ability to pass bills without checks with a two-thirds majority.
A band of 12 NCMPs against a sea of 93 MPs in white would simply not be able to act as an effective check and balance, no matter if they have voting rights or not.
The WP came out strongly against the NCMP scheme in the wake of Ms Indranee’s comments. The party chief, Mr Singh, questioned the PAP’s “magnanimity” in highlighting the NCMP scheme, asking: “Why is the PAP so magnanimous in offering additional NCMP seats? I hope this is something every voter reflects on.”
His question came on the heels of former WP NCMP Dennis Tan’s comment that the NCMP scheme is a “poisoned chalice”. Citing former party leader’s vivid description of NCMPs as “duckweed that floats on water”, Mr Tan said that the NCMP scheme is designed by the PAP to prevent the opposition from building roots in the community. He said:
“This is exactly the poisoned chalice of PAP-style democracy — the NCMP system. As a former NCMP, I appeal to all voters not to be deceived by PAP’s intention for NCMPs when you go to the ballot box. Please elect sufficient opposition constituency MPs.”
Another former WP NCMP, Mr Leon Perera, added: “Such NCMPs could be allowed to ventilate their views. But those views could simply be ignored and the Government could just do what it had planned to do anyway. What Singapore needs is responsible opposition MPs whose voices carry the weight of the people’s full mandate.”
WP Chairman Sylvia Lim urged voters to ask whether opposition MPs are in Parliament just to “provide debating practice” for PAP ministers. She said: “If you want Parliament to be an effective check on the Government, then surely there must be some political pressure and element of political competition.”
She added: “What I think is that the PAP does not want any opposition party to have a physical base from which to operate and possibly expand.”
The PAP’s Chan Chun Sing hit back and said that the WP should let other political parties occupy NCMP seats since it is so critical about the scheme. Members of the public responding to his comment called his views arrogant.
Former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who is not contesting in these elections, dubbed the NCMP scheme a “winning hand for Singapore’s democracy” and said that the scheme prevents “unintended” election outcomes.
The former PM, who co-created the NCMP scheme, warned that if voters “vote for the opposition to ensure checks-and-balances in Parliament, even though they still want the ruling party to form the government, then an unintended election outcome is entirely possible”.
Opposition parties have criticised such comments as a ploy to get voters to elect the PAP and asked what the point of the election was if the PAP thinks 12 seats are sufficient for opposition representation.
While the PAP is accusing the opposition of fear-mongering by floating the possibility of an opposition wipe-out in Parliament, the opposition is accusing the PAP of employing scare tactics by suggesting that Singaporeans could unintentionally replace the Government with the opposition if they vote to create checks and balances in Parliament.
As Mr Goh warned against an “unintended election outcome”, Mr Chan asserted that the three biggest opposition parties — the WP, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) — could join forces and form a replacement government.
Calling such a prospect unrealistic, WP’s Mr Singh hit back: “It took 16 years after our independence for the opposition to win even one elected seat, and 23 years after 1988, when the GRC system introduced, for the opposition to win one GRC,” pointed out Mr Singh, referring to the WP’s J.B. Jeyaretnam winning the Anson seat in the 1981 by-election as well as his team’s victory in Aljunied GRC in 2011.
“Let’s put this fear-mongering in perspective, and I hope that the historical look-back is helpful in terms of how realistic this prospect that (Mr Chan) says is possible. I don’t think it is possible at all.”
The PSP chief, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, a former PAP MP himself, echoed that it is “very unlikely” that the opposition would be elected in enough seats to form a replacement government and dubbed Mr Chan’s warning of a freak election result a ploy to scare voters.
Dr Tan said: “Don’t frighten the Singaporeans, you know. You can fool people one time, but I don’t think you can fool them all the time. (The PAP) has tried this strategy before, telling people: What happens when you wake up after Polling Day and find no PAP governing Singapore? But (there is) no need to worry.”
The veteran politician, who had earlier said that he would not take up an NCMP seat if he lost the election and qualified for one, added: “And even if (the alternative government) really happened, you look at us, what kind of people are we? We don’t want to destroy Singapore. Every change we do… is an evolution, not a revolution.”
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