Discounting the NCMPs who have no constituencies to look after, there are supposed to be 88 elected full-blown MPs in the Singapore Parliament. In fact, five have left. One other is non-functioning because he is under investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Board. If we agree that every MP in our Parliament is necessary for the efficiency of the system, voters are clearly being under-served. So is Singapore. Should there be by-elections for the six constituencies affected? Obviously yes.
Let’s recount the MPs who have left their wards. Raeesah Khan from Sengkang GRC, Leon Perera from Aljunied GRC, Tan Chuan-Jin from Marine Parade GRC, Cheng Li Hui from Tampines GRC and newly-elected and appointed President Tharman Shanmugaratnam from Jurong GRC. S Iswaran (West Coast GRC) is under probe. Two ministers and one Speaker of Parliament among the six, not a normal run-of-the-mill situation, surely.
We can accept that one vacancy or even two will not disrupt the flow of constituency life. Groundwork can be covered by others. For example, Ch’ng Jit Koon, a Senior Parliamentary Secretary in the PM’s Office, doubled up to make up for the absences of Lee Kuan Yew in Tanjong Pagar GRC. It was a duty that others like Chan Chun Sing and Indranee Rajah would later take up, with some measure of pride, for the founding PM.
But we are talking about something far beyond the nitty-gritty of listening to and solving the problems of constituents. This vital groundwork is, of course, part and parcel of political life. You are there to help people, to listen to their concerns – and to make a difference. And in so doing, you carry their views at the back of your head as you perform your other important national duty – to speak up on their behalf as you debate issues in Parliament.
Every MP brings something to Parliament. You may be lamenting the lack of senior-friendly steps at the entrances of MRT stations. You may have personal experiences which are useful in a debate on the problems of job hunting. You may also have been impressed by something which you wish to let others know before they vote for any piece of proposed legislation. Each MP offers a different and unique perspective unless he or she is nothing more than just a group-thinker. The lack of complete representation in a reduced legislative body would have some unforeseen consequences. Whoever the MP is doing the extra job of the absent MP is NOT that latter MP.
There are parliaments and parliaments. Some are more dynamic and productive than others.
The ecosystem of constructive and quality debate will be affected. The dynamics will change. There would be blank spaces and a loss of unique voices. How do we know what any of the six MPs could have said which would alter the history of Singapore?
The number of vacancies is too big. The period between now and the next General Elections in 2025 is, unfortunately, problematic.
It is not so near that we can just get by until it arrives.
The current position is unwieldy because, among other things, the ruling People’s Action Party is going through a leadership transition during a challenging time (US-China rivalry, Russian invasion of Ukraine, global disruption).
Better to bite the bullet. Hold by-elections now or bring forward the General Elections.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company