SINGAPORE: The Workers' Party (WP) should make clear whether it will take up seats under the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme if offered, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Sunday (Jul 5), calling on the opposition party to be "transparent and accountable to voters".
"Voters are entitled to know what Workers’ Party’s stand is. They should not be made to think that the Workers’ Party will refuse NCMP seats, the opposition risks extinction, and so vote for them," said Mr Heng, who is the People's Action Party's (PAP) first assistant secretary-general.
"Then after the elections, the WP takes up NCMP seats that they are offered. And in this way, they can have their cake and eat it."
The NCMP scheme guarantees the opposition a minimum number of seats in Parliament, by allowing the "best-performing losers" to enter Parliament after a General Election.
Members of the WP have in the past and during this election campaign spoken up against the scheme, which has been in place for 36 years.
WP candidate Dennis Tan last week called it a "poisoned chalice", saying that the ultimate aim of the scheme was to make sure that "no other party can lay roots into each constituency".
On Sunday, Mr Heng pointed out that the WP "has been taking full advantage of the NCMP scheme from the start", having had eight NCMPs in Parliament over the years.
They are Dr Lee Siew Choh, Mr J B Jeyaretnam, Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Yee Jenn Jong, Mr Gerald Giam, Mr Dennis Tan, Mr Leon Perera and Assocociate Professor Daniel Goh.
"In fact, the Workers’ Party chairman Ms Sylvia Lim was first an NCMP from 2006, before becoming an MP in 2011," said Mr Heng.
"I urge voters to ask yourselves – if it is really a matter of principle that the Workers’ Party is opposing the NCMP system, why have they taken up the NCMP positions all these years?" he added.
"Is it really extinction that the Workers’ Party fears? Or is the real motive of the Workers’ Party to expand, to win more seats in Parliament?"
He noted that the WP has refused to confirm if it will accept NCMP seats in the next Parliament, saying "they are playing games with voters".
"At least Dr Tan Cheng Bock of PSP has been upfront. He has declared that he will not accept an NCMP seat if offered one," added Mr Heng. "But he may have forgotten that in 1984, when the scheme was debated in Parliament, he supported having NCMPs."
Mr Heng called on the WP to answer two questions - whether it will accept NCMP seats if offered, and whether it agrees that there can be no opposition "wipe out" with the NCMP scheme.
"The WP talks a lot about transparency and accountability. This is what they need to do, to be transparent and accountable to voters," he said.
GE2020: Tan Cheng Bock will not take up NCMP seat, calls scheme a 'ploy' to entice voters from opposition
MORE NCMPs, WITH FULL VOTING RIGHTS
Mr Heng said that with the number of NCMPs increased to from nine to 12 for the next Parliament, "the minimum number of opposition voices in Parliament is not only guaranteed, but increased".
NCMPs also have full voting rights, the same as elected MPs.
Addressing a comment made by WP chief Pritam Singh that the PAP will still have a strong mandate even if the opposition has one-third of the seats in Parliament, Mr Heng said: "Mr Singh is effectively saying – don’t worry, the PAP will still have a strong mandate, even if the Workers’ Party wins four GRCs and two SMCs.
"What would Singaporeans think, if they wake up next Saturday, to find that the PAP has lost four GRCs and two SMCs? What would investors and other countries think?
"Do you seriously believe they would say – good. The PAP has won a strong mandate again? Or would they see a government severely weakened, a people divided, and a nation whose confidence has been shaken?"
Urging Singaporeans to consider their choice carefully, Mr Heng said: "When you vote, you are choosing the next government for the country. Not just who is your local MP, who is going to speak up in Parliament, or look after your town council."
He added that voters will be choosing the team who will work to steer Singapore through its worst economic crisis in decades, invest in the country's long-term future and take care of housing, education, healthcare and infrastructural needs.
"By voting the PAP, Singaporeans will give us a strong and clear mandate to form the next Government to take Singapore through this crisis and emerge stronger," said Mr Heng.
"At the same time, you are assured that opposition and alternative voices will continue to be heard in Parliament. Opposition voices will not be wiped out."