CNA Explains: What is the role of a Speaker of Parliament in Singapore?
What does a Speaker of Parliament do and how are they elected?
SINGAPORE: Marine Parade MP Seah Kian Peng was on Wednesday (Aug 2) elected Singapore’s 11th Speaker of Parliament.
He takes over from Tan Chuan-Jin, who resigned from parliament and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) last month over his extramarital affair with fellow PAP MP Cheng Li Hui.
We often hear MPs acknowledge the Speaker before their turn at the podium, but what exactly does a Singapore Speaker of Parliament do?
What is the role of a Speaker in Singapore?
A Speaker presides over House sittings and enforces and regulates rules of debate to ensure the orderly conduct of parliamentary business.
The Speaker is overall in charge of the administration of parliament and its secretariat.
During parliament, the Speaker decides who has the right to speak. He also puts the questions for MPs to debate and vote on.
The Speaker has to remain impartial and fair to all the MPs while carrying out the duties.
“As the guardian of parliamentary privileges, MPs look to the Speaker for guidance on procedures and he gives his rulings on any point of order, if necessary,” according to the Singapore parliament website.
The Speaker also acts as the House representative in its relations with other parliaments and outside bodies. The Speaker represents parliament at national events and official visits overseas. He or she also welcomes visiting dignitaries.
While the Speaker does not take part in parliamentary debates, he or she is allowed to abstain, or vote for or against a motion if he or she has an original vote as an elected MP. But the Speaker has no casting vote.
According to the standing orders of parliament, the Speaker may adjourn a parliament sitting without putting any question or suspend it for a time, in the event of “grave disorder” in parliament.
The Speaker is assisted by two Deputy Speakers, who are currently MP Christopher de Souza (PAP-Holland-Bukit Timah) and MP Jessica Tan (PAP-East Coast).
How is a Speaker elected?
The Speaker is usually elected when a new parliament meets for the first time after a general election.
The standing orders of parliament state that any MP may nominate another to be Speaker.
If only one candidate is proposed, he or she will be declared by the Clerk of Parliament to have been elected. In the event that there is more than one candidate, the parliament will elect a Speaker by ballot.
Another ballot will be held if the votes between two candidates are equal.
The Speaker may or may not be an MP, but must “possess the qualifications to stand for election as an MP as provided for in the Constitution”, according to the Singapore parliament website.
According to the Parliament of Singapore’s website, the Speaker may or may not be an MP, but must “possess the qualifications to stand for election as an MP as provided for in the Constitution”.
How much does a Speaker earn?
The Public Service Division (PSD) said that an elected full-time Speaker’s salary is pegged to the MR4 benchmark, which is based on the median income of the top 1,000 Singaporean income earners, with a 40 per cent discount applied "to reflect the ethos of the public service”.
The Speaker’s salary is also structured as a 14-month package - that includes a 13th-month bonus and the annual variable component, but excludes the performance and national bonuses.
PSD said that parliament currently applies a 50 per cent discount to the position as it is not a full-time position.
This means the Speaker will receive an annual salary of S$550,000 (US$414,360), which is a 53 per cent cut from the 2010 salary.
The pension scheme was removed for the Speaker on May 21, 2011,
The Speaker is also under the Medisave-cum-Subsidised Outpatient (MSO) scheme and doesn't receive any perks. An official car is provided for the Speaker, subject to tax.
What sparked the election of a new Speaker this time?
The Speaker's post became vacant after Mr Tan resigned from parliament and the PAP on Jul 17 over the extramarital affair with Ms Cheng.
He was also embroiled in another controversy the week before his resignation, when a video clip of him muttering an expletive in parliament in April made its rounds on social media.
According to a Reddit thread, Mr Tan said "f****** populist" after he called for MP Vikram Nair (PAP-Sembawang) to speak, following a speech by Workers' Party MP Jamus Lim. He has since apologised for both incidents.
On Jul 21, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Mr Seah would be nominated for the position at the August parliament sitting.
How many Speakers has Singapore had and who are they?
Mr Seah became Singapore’s 11th Speaker after he was elected on Wednesday.
Dr Yeoh Ghim Seng is Singapore’s longest-serving Speaker at 19 years. He started his political career as an MP for Joo Chiat, serving the constituency for 22 years.
As Singapore’s fifth Speaker, he is also said to be one of the longest serving Speakers of any parliament worldwide, according to the Parliament of Singapore’s website.
Madam Halimah is Singapore’s first female Speaker of Parliament. She resigned in 2017 to contest the presidential election.
Former Speakers of Parliament
- Sir George Oehlers (1955 to 1963)
- Mr E W Barker (1963 to 1964)
- Mr A P Rajah (1964 to 1966)
- Mr P Coomaraswamy (1966 to 1970)
- Dr Yeoh Ghim Seng (1970 to 1989)
- Mr Tan Soo Khoon (1989 to 2002)
- Mr Abdullah Tarmugi (2002 to 2011)
- Mr Michael Palmer (2011 to 2012)
- Madam Halimah Yacob (2013 to 2017)
- Mr Tan Chuan-Jin (2017 to 2023)