House votes to fill vacated NCMP seat
SINGAPORE — Parliament yesterday approved a motion tabled by the Workers’ Party (WP) to transfer its Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) seat offered to losing Punggol East candidate Lee Li Lian to Associate Professor Daniel Goh — but not before a heated debate, lasting almost two hours, and with amendments made to the original motion by the Government Whip and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing.
A clause was inserted to the motion to state that Parliament “regrets that Ms Lee Li Lian, having stood as a Workers’ Party candidate and received the highest vote share among all losing opposition candidates, has now decided to give up her NCMP seat to another candidate from her party with a lower vote share, contrary to the expressed will of the voters. And that the WP supports this political manoeuvre to take full advantage of the NCMP seat, even as its secretary-general criticises NCMPs as just duckweed on the water of the pond”.
The amended motion was passed by Parliament, despite the objections to the additional clause by the eight WP MPs — including its two incumbent NCMPs Mr Leon Perera and Mr Dennis Tan. All the WP MPs abstained from the final vote on the amended motion.
During the debate on the motion, the PAP and the WP locked horns on the spirit of the NCMP scheme and had strong words for each other.
The PAP MPs — Mr Chan, Punggol East MP Charles Chong and Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah — charged that the WP was trying to game the system despite openly criticising the NCMP scheme. They also took aim at WP chief Low Thia Khiang’s comments on Wednesday — in response to changes to the NCMP scheme — where he likened an NCMP to “duckweed” as he or she does not have roots in a constituency, unlike an elected MP.
In response, Mr Low — who was joined in the debate by Mr Perera, Hougang MP Png Eng Huat and Aljunied GRC MP Sylvia Lim — called the ruling party a “hypocrite” for downplaying fundamental differences between elected MPs and NCMPs.
In proposing the amendment, Mr Chan said the motion “must reflect the truth”. “My party (PAP) will support the filling of the last NCMP seat according to the rules … We have recognised that the WP has continued to criticise the system, but yet deliberately made use of it to the hilt for their political advantage,” Mr Chan said.
Referring to comments made by Ms Lee in turning down the NCMP seat — Ms Lee had said she wanted to give this chance to her WP colleagues — Mr Chan said: “The honour and privilege to join this House is for service to our nation. It is not for us to showcase ourselves. It is not for us to showcase our party talents. If we do that, we come in with the wrong end in mind.”
Mr Chong, who edged Ms Lee out in last September’s polls, called for a review of the NCMP scheme to ensure that it is not abused. It is not intended for opposition parties to “pick and choose” which best losers to enter Parliament, he said.
Objecting to the amendment tabled by Mr Chan, Mr Low said there is “no basis” to say the motion was a political manoeuvre. “It is provided under the law that since Lee Li Lian has not taken up the seat, Parliament can decide to fill the seat, and I have moved the motion to allow Parliament to decide.”
All four WP MPs who spoke pointed out that Parliament had moved to fill a vacancy left by WP candidate M P D Nair back in 1984. The seat, which was offered to Mr Tan Chee Kien of the Singapore United Front, was ultimately left vacant after Mr Tan also turned it down.
While the party remains opposed to the NCMP scheme in principle, said Mr Low, it recognises that having one more seat in Parliament can contribute to the debate and “possibly better policy outcomes”. “There is no contradiction, make no mistake about it. That is the spirit of the WP in wanting to work the system by respecting the law,” he said.
Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said he was surprised by the PAP’s “tactically shrewd” move to let the WP fill the NCMP seat. “What they have done ... is they facilitated WP having its complement of three NCMP seats, but they also took the opportunity to show up the WP for their inconsistent stance on and instrumental use of the NCMP scheme,” he said, adding that the WP would be shooting themselves in the foot if they voted against the amended motion.
National University of Singapore political scientist Bilveer Singh noted that historically, the WP has in principle objected to the scheme and yet, it has produced the most number of NCMPs. The amendment sought by the PAP was “to signal to the public that the WP is not upfront on the issue”. However, Associate Professor Singh doubted that the matter will be a major dent on the WP. “Eventually what matters is what the three NCMPs of the WP do in Parliament ... as the WP’s pouring of cold water on the scheme is a more-than-30-years-old story,” he said.