SINGAPORE: Parliament has elected Mr Tan Chuan-Jin as Singapore’s 10th Speaker, as the House convened on Monday (Sep 11).
Mr Tan, who had his last day as Minister of Social and Family Development on Sunday (Sep 10), was nominated to be Speaker of Parliament by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, following the vacation of the post by Mdm Halimah Yacob, who resigned last month to contest the Presidential Election.
The Speaker presides over the sittings of the House and enforces the rules prescribed in the Standing Orders of Parliament for the orderly conduct of parliamentary business.
As the Speaker of Parliament cannot be an office holder, Mr Tan had to resign as Minister of Social and Family Development. In a Facebook post on Tuesday, (Sep 5) Mr Lee had said it was not easy to find a suitable replacement for Mdm Halimah.
"While Chuan-Jin stood out as the best choice, it was a very difficult decision to nominate him, as it meant losing an effective and activist minister at MSF," he wrote.
PM Lee noted that Mr Tan, having held positions at MSF, the Ministry of Manpower and Ministry of National Development, "has built up good links with a diverse range of NGOs, VWOs and interest groups."
HOPES TO FACILITATE “GOOD, FREE-FLOWING DEBATE” IN PARLIAMENT
Speaking in Parliament in response to speeches by MPs, Mr Tan thanked those who expressed support for his nomination when it was announced on Tuesday.
He noted that many seemed surprised, and it sparked off some discussion about the role of the Speaker.
“That is not a bad thing,” he said. “We do need fellow Singaporeans to be involved, and to gain a deeper understanding of not just the Speaker’s role but also that of Parliament, its proceedings and how all of us here contribute to making Singapore a better home for our people.”
He added that he sees the presence of Opposition MPs in the House as a “strength and positive step towards constructive contestation of ideas”, noting that such contestation will be “even more complex in future”.
“We live in an era where information flows almost unbounded and in copious volume. The world continues to change with ever accelerating speed. We feel uncertain. The challenge is to discern, sense-make and find clarity,” he said.
Mr Tan added that new platforms allow people’s views to be channeled directly to leaders, and “very informed discourse” is taking place outside Parliament, as people are more aware and informed.
“This is the environment within which we operate,” he said, adding that MPs need to engage beyond Parliament, and “tap on the collective wisdom that lies without” in order to be effective.
“While we all need to be grounded and engaged, it is also clear that the buck stops here. We need to be the institution that channels and reflects the voices of the people, so that we can query, answer and debate in a manner that provides hope and clarity,” he said.
“We need to be a beacon from where Singaporeans can take reference, with confidence, when addressing and understanding issues that will matter greatly for our collective well-being. To be this beacon and to do this well, we need to gain the trust and respect of the public.”
Mr Tan added that he wants to facilitate “good free-flowing debate” in the House, where “the desired outcome is better policies and laws”.
“I expect you to debate vigorously, but maintain mutual respect, do not abuse our parliamentary privileges and to keep to the Standing Orders,” he said.
“I will be impartial and fair, but I will also be firm”.
WATCH: Mr Tan's inaugural speech as Speaker
MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT CONGRATULATE MR TAN ON HIS ELECTION
A number of MPs rose to congratulate Mr Tan on his election. Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu, who is also Leader of the House, said Parliament can expect a Speaker who will “conduct the proceedings with impartiality, and enable MPs to serve their fellow Singaporeans in building a better society.
“Everyone who has interacted with you can attest to your patience and willingness to listen to both sides of a debate,” she said. “In the years ahead, the many complex and multi-faceted challenges facing Singapore will need fair, frank and honest debate.”
She noted that Mr Tan’s wide exposure to policies - from economic to social, infrastructure to heritage – will prepare him well for the wide array of policies and legislations that will be debated in Parliament.
“In electing you to take the Chair of this Parliament, this House places its full confidence in your ability to preside over its proceedings with fairness, and uphold the standards of this august institution,” she said.
MP for MacPherson SMC Tin Pei Ling, who worked closely with Mr Tan when her ward was part of Mr Tan’s Marine Parade GRC, noted that Mr Tan has a “heart of gold”, and always keeps a lookout for the “smallest and weakest of individuals” who may be far from his sight.
“Many of us were touched by some of what I would describe as ground breaking when you equalised maternity benefits for unwed mothers, so that their babies can bond with and enjoy the care of their mothers more, and have a more equal start in life.”
She added that Mr Tan also has gravitas. “Having been an army general and a member of the Cabinet, you have the experience, confidence and cool to manage any situation, including debates in deadlock.”
MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Christopher de Souza also pointed out Mr Tan’s “openness to different points of view”, noting that this will be an asset to the Speakership of the House.
He recounted his experience when tabling the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill in 2014, when Mr Tan was Minister for Manpower.
“I had hoped that the definition of human trafficking would not only include sex trafficking but labour trafficking as well. You kindly agreed,” he said. “But not only that. You extended the MOM’s support throughout the public consultation process in the lead-up to the debate in Parliament, and as a result, we have a more robust legal and enforcement framework to tackle human trafficking on our shores.”
PARLIAMENT ALSO PAYS TRIBUTE TO MDM HALIMAH
MPs also paid tribute to former Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who was present for the sitting together with her husband.
Ms Fu noted that Mdm Halimah discharged her functions “fairly, impartially, and fully upheld the best traditions of this House”.
“With tenacity and patience, and without fear or favour, Mdm Halimah moved the proceedings of this House smoothly and even-handedly,” she said. “She gave all Members the opportunity to voice their views and share their proposals on how we can progress confidently forward as One Singapore”.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary Faishal Ibrahim described Mdm Halimah as a “trailblazer and “inspiration to many”.
“Despite describing herself as ‘Ponteng Queen’, she has come in first many times – the first female Speaker of Parliament, the first Singaporean to be elected into the International Labour Organisation, and other firsts,” he said. “This is a testament to how hard she works.”
“My personal belief is that wherever she ends up in, we can have utmost confidence in her abilities to do well.”
And in his first speech as Speaker, Mr Tan also thanked his predecessor for “her generosity in advice and support”.
“She has more than enough on her plate at the moment, but as is typical of her, she has made time for me in her tight diary,” he said. “That is the woman she is.”