Singapore—Last Thursday (Jan 21), President Halimah Yacob presented the instruments of appointments to the nine new Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP), after a careful selection process overseen by Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin.
However, 30 years after the NMP scheme was launched, and with today’s political situation being very different, some people, including former NMPs themselves, are questioning whether it’s time to do away with it.
CNA took a recent look into the NMP scheme, along with former NMPs offering suggestions as to how it can improve.
The scheme was introduced in order for Singaporeans to have more opportunities for political participation, as well as “to evolve a more consensual style of government where alternative views are heard and constructive dissent accommodated,” said Goh Chok Tong, then Deputy Prime Minister, in 1989.
At that time, when the NMP scheme was being debated, the only people in Parliament from the opposition were Chiam See Tong from the Singapore Democratic Party and two Workers’ Party (WP) Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs).
But the makeup of Parliament has changed significantly since then, with last year’s General Election bringing about the biggest changes.
At present, there are 10 Members of Parliament from the WP, and two NCMPs from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), which gives rise to the question as to whether or not there are already enough alternative voices in Parliament without the NMPs.
One NMP quoted in CNA said it’s time to say goodbye to the scheme.
Siew Kum Hong, who served as an NMP from 2007 to 2009, said, “I no longer think that the NMP scheme is justifiable; the problem it seeks to address is now gone, we now see robust debate and diverse views in Parliament, and so there is no longer any need for unelected voices in an elected legislature, especially given the issues with the NMP scheme.”
He added, “While NMPs do not have the same rights and privileges as elected MPs, their mere presence in Parliament undercuts the foundational premise of an elected legislature.”
Assoc Prof Walter Theseira, who was an NMP from 2018 to 2020, said, “As the opposition takes up seats, I think the current form makes less and less sense … The alternative viewpoints, the critical views, and the questioning the government, that’s all probably better done by opposition.”
Orthopedic surgeon Dr Kanwaljit Soi, an MP from 1992 to 1996, pointed to the changes within the PAP as well.
During her time in Parliament, there were only two women MPs, as opposed to today, where 29 per cent of MPs are women. In 2015, only 23.6 per cent were women.
Dr Soin said, “Maybe the NMP system was suitable at that time. But now it needs to be modified.”
However, Parliament voted to make the scheme permanent in 2010.
Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin is quoted by CNA as saying, “The NMP scheme – including its rationale, merits, the eligibility criteria, and mechanics of selecting candidates for nomination – has been thoroughly debated before in Parliament and is a matter of public record.”
The article also quotes PSP’s secretary-general and longtime parliamentarian Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who had voted against the scheme from the beginning.
Dr Tan is opposed to the NMP scheme due to his perception that this may lead to further polarization, give opportunistic people a “backdoor entry” to Parliament, and lessen the responsibilities of elected MPs.
Furthermore, he questioned the idea that any Singaporean could be truly non-partisan, among other objections.
One main point that those who have questioned the NMP scheme is the ‘opaqueness’ of the selection process.
Since the majority of the Special Select Committee that decides among the nominations for NMPs are from the ruling party, there is the thought that they might bring in more people to support their agenda.
Dr Soin suggested that respected individuals make up the committee instead.
But the Speaker said in his email to CNA that the nominees undergo careful scrutiny from the committee, adding that NMPs have not always been supportive of the Government.
He said, “It is precisely because NMPs are not subject to any party lines that they are free to speak their minds, self-determine their votes on applicable parliamentary business items, or push the envelope on any issue they are passionate about.”
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