SINGAPORE: However Singaporeans vote at the General Election, there will be at least 12 opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) due to the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a virtual press conference for the People's Action Party on Tuesday (Jun 30).
The NCMP scheme, started in 1984, guarantees a minimum number of opposition MPs in Parliament. After the last General Election, this number was raised from nine to 12, and the voting rights of NCMPs were enhanced.
Under the scheme, if the number of elected opposition MPs is fewer than 12, the "best losers" from the opposition will be given a seat in Parliament to make up the number.
"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," Mr Lee said.
The Workers' Party (WP) held six elected opposition seats in the last Parliament, and had three NCMPs in Parliament.
"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," said Mr Lee.
Mr Lee, who was addressing reporters on Nomination Day, said that WP NCMPs have been as active, and sometimes even "more active" than elected MPs in Parliament.
"I can fully understand that the opposition parties will want to try very hard to win seats, and not just to have good losing results in all the constituencies," the Prime Minister said.
"But as far as the Constitution is concerned, as far as the parliament operations are concerned, there is no difference between NCMPs and elected MPs," said Mr Lee, who is the PAP's secretary-general.
His comments came after WP chief Pritam Singh warned on Sunday that there was a possibility of an opposition "wipeout" in the election, with "100 per cent of the elected seats in PAP hands at this General Election".
A "STRONG MANDATE"
PAP leaders have been calling for voters to give them a "strong mandate" to lead Singapore through the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Reiterating that the stakes for this election are "very high", Mr Lee said on Tuesday that this was a "crisis election".
"These are elections that focus everyone's minds and they can also change the course of history ... This is such a crisis and as our manifesto puts it, what is at stake is our lives, our jobs, our future. Everything depends on which government you choose," he said.
GE2020: PAP launches manifesto focusing on jobs, economy and keeping lives safe amid COVID-19 pandemic
When asked what a "strong mandate" would look like, he said that this should be measured qualitatively, and not just by numbers.
If there is unhappiness with the election outcome, and the country is divided, then it would be a bad outcome - and that has happened in many Western countries, Mr Lee said.
"If we have an outcome where at the end of the election everybody feels, 'this is good, it's decided, let's move ahead ... I may or may not have voted for him, but I will support him because that is the outcome', I think that is a good outcome."
The PAP garnered a popular vote of 69.9 per cent in the 2015 General Election, a significant swing from the 60.1 per cent in 2011.
CAN'T SAY IF IT IS LAST ELECTION: PM LEE
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the General Election had been billed as a transition to a fourth generation of leaders for the ruling party, which has been in Government for six decades.
Mr Lee, Singapore's third Prime Minister, was expected to hand over the reins to his successor at this election. But he said on Tuesday that this election, his ninth, may not be his last.
"I can't say that it's the last (election), although I have said I'm hoping to hand over in this term to my successor," he said.
When asked how COVID-19 had affected his succession plans, he added: "I very much hope that COVID-19 will not disturb my plans but COVID-19 is a very wily and dangerous virus and we will have to see how things develop on that front."
READ: 'We cannot afford a gap in East Coast in these uncertain times': Heng Swee Keat on moving to the GRC
GE2020: DPM Heng contesting in East Coast GRC an ‘important signal’ that PAP takes WP’s challenge seriously, says Pritam
Mr Heng, who was also at the press conference, addressed numerous questions about his move from Tampines GRC to helm the team at East Coast GRC this election. East Coast GRC has traditionally been a hotly contested ward between the PAP and WP.
When asked if this was a "risky move" for him, Mr Heng said: "I would do my best to convince our residents in East Coast, as well as all our people in Singapore that the PAP has a national plan to take Singaporeans out of this crisis and to emerge stronger from this ... all outcomes are possible, so never take anything for granted."
Addressing the issue of leadership succession, Mr Lee added: "I think Singaporeans know that succession renewal is something which is a continuing thing for the PAP.
"What is important - to achieve that - is to make sure that you get a good result, which is an endorsement of the team, of the strategy, of our intention to renew and gives the next team a good start to establish themselves and take Singapore the next step forward."