SINGAPORE: The duties and privileges of Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh as Leader of the Opposition were formally recognised in Parliament on Monday (Aug 31).
One of the first orders of business as the House began proceedings at noon was a ministerial statement on the matter by Leader of the House Indranee Rajah.
"With more opposition MPs, reflecting a 'strong desire among Singaporeans for a greater diversity of views in politics' as noted by the Prime Minister in his swearing-in speech ... it is timely and appropriate that the position of the Leader of the Opposition be more formally recognised," said Ms Indranee in her speech.
The House later passed a motion to double Mr Singh's speaking time from 20 minutes - which is allotted to backbenchers - to 40 minutes, usually given to office holders.
Mr Singh took the seat directly opposite Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the chamber. This is similar to the practice in other countries that formally recognise the role of the Leader of the Opposition, Ms Indranee noted.
Following the General Election, Mr Lee had said that Mr Singh will be designated the Leader of the Opposition in the 14th Parliament, and that he would be given staff support and resources to perform his duties.
While there have been de facto leaders of the opposition in the past, such as former Singapore People's Party chief Chiam See Tong, having it as an official position is a first for Singapore.
Mr Singh leads nine other opposition MPs from WP, including four newcomers from Sengkang GRC. There are also two Non-Constituency MPs from the Progress Singapore Party.
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In her speech on Monday, Ms Indranee reiterated that Mr Singh will be given an office in Parliament, staff support and resources, as well as additional allowance.
The Leader of the Opposition will generally be given the right of first response among MPs to ask the lead question of ministers on policies, Bills and motions in Parliament. This will be at the discretion of the Speaker and subject to existing speaking conventions, she said.
As Leader of the Opposition, Mr Singh's duties include leading and organising the opposition’s parliamentary business. He may also take on other duties such as attending official state functions and taking part in visits and meetings with members of the Government and the public service.
He will also, from time to time, receive briefings by the Government on confidential issues, and the matters to be briefed will be determined by the Government, said Ms Indranee.
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These duties and privileges are based on the the conventions and practices of other Westminster-style parliamentary systems, but reflects adaptations to Singapore's political and parliamentary context, she added.
"With greater diversity of views, we can expect more robust debate and, in some cases, sharper exchanges. But we should work to ensure that diversity does not lead to polarity, of country or of people," said Ms Indranee.
"Experience elsewhere shows that unity in diversity is not an assured outcome. Our goal should be to harness this diversity of views in a constructive manner, so that we can as a Parliament better serve the interests of Singaporeans and Singapore."
Ms Indranee added that the role of the Leader of the Opposition in Singapore will evolve with the country's politics.
"It must always be the ambition of this House to live up to the expectations of our people and create a political system that is focused on serving Singapore and Singaporeans to the best of our abilities," she said as she congratulated Mr Singh on being designated the Leader of the Opposition.