SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he intends to raise the number of Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) seats so that there will be at least 12 opposition faces in Parliament - up from the current nine - from the next General Election.
Mr Lee also said he intends to amend the Constitution during this term to give NCMPs the same voting rights as other MPs, so that they will be "equal in powers, though not in responsibility and scope, to constituency MPs", he said in Parliament on Wednesday (Jan 27).
This means NCMPs will also be entitled to vote on supply bills, money bills, constitutional amendments, motions of no confidence in the Government and motions to remove the President from office - powers that they currently do not have.
The Nominated MP scheme will continue, he added, ensuring at least 21 MPs that are not in the ruling part in the Chambers.
As of 2010, the Constitution provides for nine NCMPs in Parliament, less the number of opposition MPs elected. For example, three NCMP seats were offered to opposition members in the current Parliament, as there are six elected opposition members.
MORE VOTING RIGHTS COULD BE UNHEALTHY TO DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES: ANALYST
In response to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's speech, political observer Associate Professor Eugene Tan said giving NCMPs more voting rights might be unhealthy to democratic principles.
He also made reference to Workers' Party Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang's comments. Mr Low had pointed out that as NCMPs may not have a feel for the ground, as they do not have a venue to meet residents.
"Mr Low is pointing to questions of who NCMPs are actually accountable to. So we can certainly think about the party, but is there any way the constituents that gave these NCMPs a very good vote share, how are NCMPs accountable to them?" he said.
"Ultimately the question is really: 'Will voters approach elections any differently?' My sense is, probably not. They would still want their representative to be properly elected, but in the larger scheme of things, one could say that it gives the opposition more opportunities for them to be in Parliament but whether it's going to work to the better development of Singapore's political system, I think that remains to be seen."
The NCMP scheme was introduced in 1984, with the intention of ensuring a minimum number of opposition members in Parliament. At the time, between three and six NCMPs, less the number of elected opposition MPs, were allowed.
To qualify as an NCMP, opposition candidates need to belong to a political party and obtain at least 15 per cent of the votes cast. The NCMP seats will be allocated to the "best losers", or the opposition candidate with the highest percentage of votes.
The move comes after President Tony Tan Keng Yam, in his opening address to Parliament on Jan 15, called for the Government to study whether and how to improve Singapore's political system.
"Our political system has delivered stability and progress for Singapore. But this system must be refreshed from time to time, as our circumstances change," Dr Tan said. "The Government will study this matter carefully, to see whether and how we should improve our political system so that we can be assured of clean, effective, and accountable government over the long term."