Written by Aretha and Jillian
After the General Elections there are more opposition members in Parliament than ever before. With 10 opposition Member of Parliament (MPs) from the Workers’ Party (WP), two Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMPs) from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and a new Leader of Opposition role given to the Secretary-General of WP, Pritam Singh, many still question if they are treated fairly given that opposition MPs still have to hold constituency meetings at void decks, while PAP gets community centres and proper facilities.
People have also pointed out how at award ceremonies, unelected PAP grassroots advisors are able to present awards even in Opposition strongholds such as Aljunied GRC. As commented by public policy researcher Dhevarajan Devadas, “Chan Hui Yuh was … rejected by Aljunied voters in #GE2020 but she’s free to continue as grassroots advisor & use the beautiful Serangoon CC while the actual elected MP Sylvia Lim has to use void decks to hold events. Singaporeans should question such blatant unfairness.”
Sengkang GRC is full of young families. Parents will notice soon that their new elected MPs are not the ones giving Edusave Awards out, but the unelected PAP grassroots advisor is.
⬇️ PAP advisor Chan Hui Yuh presenting awards to students in WP MP Sylvia Lim's ward of Serangoon pic.twitter.com/SEy5zFlu3w
— Dhevarajan Devadas (@historyogi) July 13, 2020
This thus begs the question of why opposition MPs never get invited to any of these events, and whether it would make a difference if they do.
After the release of the results of the 2020 General Elections, many were quick to point out that this GE may mark the start of a “new dawn” for the opposition. This includes Lee Hsien Loong acknowledging that the results of the GE sent a message for more “opposition presence”, adding that the results also showed a “clear desire” for a diversity of voices in Parliament.
However, what does it exactly entail to have more “diversity” in Parliament?
For starters, what the Government can do to include more opposition voices into public discourse is through inviting them for public events such as award ceremonies for companies, statutory boards and schools. One of the roles of the MPs in charge of a constituency is to serve their residents. Besides hosting Meet-The-People sessions for more groundwork, opposition MPs should also be able to opt for other ways to gain legitimacy through public events. While PAP speaks about being more accepting to alternative voices in Parliament and entering into a new political backdrop, they should practise what they preach by ensuring that all MPs are given equal opportunities and chances to represent their own constituencies.
They can do this by, for example, having an opposition MP give out an award for a ceremony. This would not only show how the Government has faith in an opposition MP to represent the overall Parliament but to also give the individual more prestige and validity. Case in point can be seen by WP Jamus Lim being elected into the Economic Society of Singapore’s council, which holds honorary members such as PAP Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, former prime minister Goh Chok Tong and Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.
However, there are potential drawbacks to such invitations. For the ruling party, inviting outsiders instead of their own members might tarnish the image of the former. For instance, choosing to invite Jamus over DPM Heng might raise questions from the public about the capabilities and credibility of DPM Heng. This could be a slap in the face for DPM. Another example would be inviting Professor Tambyah for an event in the healthcare sector over Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong. Inviting Professor Tambyah might prove true the existing sentiments of many members of the public, that he should be the Health Minister for Singapore. This could be potentially damaging to Mr Gan.
It could also be damaging for the Opposition members as well, if their goal in being in the opposition is to be distinct from the ruling party. This is more specific to events for government organisations or statutory boards. Opposition members run the risk of being seen as having been “bought over” by the ruling party by accepting such invitations, in the eyes of opposition-supporters.
At the end of it, the best way to manoeuvre this situation would be to ensure that at the very least, awards within the constituency should be given by the elected party. It would make sense for governmental organisations and statutory boards to continue to invite the ruling party, given that they still hold the supermajority.