Charles Chong tipped by MPs, analysts to be next Speaker

Charles Chong tipped by MPs, analysts to be next Speaker
Mr Charles Chong has served as Deputy Speaker since 2011 and is now frontrunner to take on the main job. TODAY file photo
Published: 4:00 AM, August 8, 2017
Updated: 10:36 AM, August 11, 2017

SINGAPORE — Several names have been suggested by political analysts and Members of Parliament (MPs) as possible replacements for Madam Halimah Yacob as Speaker of the House, following yesterday’s announcement that a new Speaker will be elected at the next Parliament sitting.

Apart from former and incumbent Deputy Speakers, Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza — a litigation partner at Lee & Lee focusing on intellectual property — was mentioned as a possibility, given his legal training. Nevertheless, Deputy Speaker Charles Chong was touted as the front runner, given his seniority and experience.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he will nominate a new Speaker, while Mr Chong will be the Acting Speaker in the meantime, following Mdm Halimah’s resignation as a Member of Parliament to contest in next month’s Presidential Election.

Mr Chong, who is into his seventh term as an MP, has served as Deputy Speaker since 2011. Speaking to TODAY, Mr Chong said he could think of several “excellent candidates” to be the next Speaker, but he declined to name them, as he did not want to “pre-empt” Mr Lee.

When former Speaker Michael Palmer resigned in late 2012 following an extra-marital affair, Mr Chong was Acting Speaker before Mdm Halimah was elected by MPs as Speaker in January the following year.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan reiterated that Parliament will likely elect “a pair of steady and experienced hands to steward the legislature”, given that the remaining term of the 13th Parliament will see the Republic undergo a “critical phase” of its leadership transition.

Dr Felix Tan, an associate lecturer at SIM Global Education, noted that Mr Chong had “earned credibility” among his People’s Action Party (PAP) colleagues after wresting the Punggol East Single Member Constituency from the Workers’ Party in the 2015 General Election. “The next best move is to promote the Deputy Speaker unless there is another more prominent candidate,” he added.

Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Chia Shi-Lu agreed that Mr Chong would “do a very good job”.

“He’s the more senior Deputy Speaker and has been Acting Speaker before,” he said. The other incumbent Deputy Speaker is Mr Lim Biow Chuan.

Mr Lim, who is the MP for Mountbatten, said the new Speaker should be “an impartial umpire of some sorts within Parliament”.

“That person must be seen to be fair, seen to be not taking one side even though he or she may come from the governing party,” he added. He reiterated that PAP MPs will honour the obligation if any of them are called upon to serve as Speaker.

“That’s what we all stepped forward to do ... To me, it’s really the call of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to determine who they think is the best (person),” he said.

Other names that have been mooted as Mdm Halimah’s replacement as Speaker were Senior Minister of State (Law and Finance) Indranee Rajah and Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng. Both Ms Indranee and Mr Seah were former Deputy Speakers.

Dr Mustafa Izzuddin from the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute noted that there could be a preference for the Speaker to be from a minority ethnic group — the last three Speakers were Mdm Halimah, Mr Palmer and former Cabinet Minister Abdullah Tarmugi.

“But being there on merit is also important and so is seniority in parliamentary experience,” he said.