SINGAPORE: The Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme, which was designed to ensure a minimum number of opposition parliamentarians even if they are not elected, is a "poisoned chalice", said Workers' Party (WP) candidate Dennis Tan on Wednesday (Jul 1).
Speaking during the party's first online session to engage voters during the campaign period, Mr Tan, a former NCMP, said while it was a privilege to be in Parliament, the ultimate aim of the scheme was to make sure that "no other party can lay roots into each constituency".
The NCMP scheme allows the "best-performing losers" from the opposition to enter Parliament after a General Election.
Members of the WP have in the past spoken up against the scheme, which has been in place for 36 years.
"The opposition, including NCMPs, have little access to premises in PAP (People's Action Party) constituencies, which are usually used by PAP MPs to run their events," said Mr Tan, who is running in WP stronghold Hougang SMC this election.
He added that even when PAP politicians lose an election, they continue to be grassroots advisers, have access to premises like residents' committees and can conduct Meet-the-People sessions.
Quoting former WP chief Low Thia Khiang, who had referred to NCMPs as "duckweed that floats on water", Mr Tan said that the PAP wants to ensure that opposition politicians have "no roots in the community".
"This is exactly the poisoned chalice of PAP-style democracy - the NCMP system. As a former NCMP, I appeal to all voters not to be deceived by PAP's intention for NCMPs when you go to the ballot box. Please elect sufficient opposition constituency MPs," he said.
"DEBATING PRACTICE FOR MINISTERS"
WP chair Sylvia Lim, one of the hosts of the live show, said that voters need to ask if opposition MPs are in Parliament just to "provide debating practice" for ministers.
"If you want Parliament to be an effective check on the Government, then surely there must be some political pressure and element of political competition," she said.
"What I think is that the PAP does not want any opposition party to have a physical base from which to operate and possibly expand."
The NCMP scheme was started in 1984 after several General Elections passed with no opposition representation in Parliament.
It guarantees a minimum number of opposition MPs in Parliament, and this number has gone up gradually over the years from three to 12. The voting rights of NCMPs have also been 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.
The Workers' Party, which had six elected MPs and three NCMPs in the 13th Parliament, had warned voters of a possible "opposition wipeout" in this election.
"FULL VOTING RIGHTS"
PAP leaders have countered this with arguments that the NCMP scheme will ensure that there are opposition voices and debate in Parliament.
"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," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said on Tuesday.
He added: "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."
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah had also made similar points on Monday, calling on voters to give the PAP a "strong mandate" in this election.
Other WP members have spoken out on the issue since, including former NCMP Leon Perera.
"Such NCMPs could be allowed to ventilate their views. But those views could simply be ignored and the Government could just do what it had planned to do anyway," he said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
"What Singapore needs is responsible opposition MPs whose voices carry the weight of the people’s full mandate."
The WP's first episode of the Hammer Show, which was streamed live from 7pm, also featured speeches by WP candidates Gerald Giam, Faisal Manap, Nicole Seah and Dr Jamus Lim.