Motion on NCMP Seat – Speech by Sylvia Lim

I rise in support of the motion.

I was a Non-Constituency Member from 2006 to 2011, and wish to share my perspective on this motion which will determine if the House will have another NCMP or not.

I refer to MP Charles Chong’s speech on Ms Lee Li Lian’s decision not to take up the NCMP seat and how Punggol East voters might be disappointed. I fully understand why Ms Lee Li Lian did not want to take up the NCMP seat offered to her after the General Elections 2015. She has explained her decision publicly. The first and most important reason she cited was that she had been the incumbent MP in Punggol East SMC for two and a half years, and had to respect the voters’ collective decision not to re-elect her. In other words, she had the mandate of the voters of the constituency but it was lost. Madam, if an incumbent MP who had served the constituency was just defeated and yet returned to Parliament as an NCMP, it might be deemed undemocratic.

Contrary to Mr Charles Chong’s assertions, the Workers’ Party did not support her decision because we “want to swap candidates”. We respect her decision as she was the incumbent MP and had lost her mandate.  She felt that she needed to respect the voters’ decision not to re-elect her. Madam, that’s the critical difference. Personally, if I were in her shoes, I would have done the same.

The Workers’ Party is proposing that the vacancy be filled by the next succeeding candidate in accordance with the Parliamentary Elections Act. The next succeeding candidate would be one of the team-mates of NCMP Leon Perera from the East Coast GRC team. The Party had earlier announced that should Parliament declare the vacancy and resolve that it be filled, Associate Professor Daniel Goh would fill the seat.

Mr Charles Chong also earlier said that there was a legal framework and that we should work within the framework to decide NCMPs. There is precedent for Parliament to fill an NCMP vacancy.  The only time this arose previously was after the 1984 General Election, when it was the government itself that moved the motion to fill the vacancy. At that election, the Workers’ Party’s candidate Mr M P D Nair was offered an NCMP seat, having narrowly lost the contest in Jalan Kayu by 571 votes out of about 23,400 votes. When Mr M P D Nair did not subscribe to the Oath of Allegiance in the first two sittings of Parliament, then Leader of the House Mr S Dhanalaban moved a motion to declare the seat vacant and to have it filled by the next succeeding candidate. The government itself condoned filling a vacancy, or as Mr Charles Chong and Er Lee Bee Wah would call it, a “transfer of NCMP seat” to the next candidate. There was no by-election held to determine who should take up the vacant seat!

Madam, the NCMP scheme was put in place by the governing party and the Workers’ Party cannot change it. We are moving this motion today because the Constitution provides for it. We also recognize that the Workers’ Party can make a contribution to the nation this way. Earlier Er Lee Bee Wah referred to my earlier comments on the NCMP scheme. If she would read the totality of those comments, she would know that I said that NCMPs were overall supportable in the context of GRCs and gerrymandering, which I do not think I need to elaborate on here. I said that the Prime Minister was trying to make a bad situation better, but NCMP was not the way forward to make our system more robust. That was why we voted against the Constitutional amendment in 2010.

Madam, it would be a dangerous day indeed if Singapore was to function on the basis that all that was needed for Good Politics was the NCMP scheme. Entrenching the NCMP system as Good Politics sends the wrong signal. To Singaporeans, the signal being sent is having opposition voices is enough. It is not.

The most effective check and balance on the government is the prospect and in fact, actual loss of constituency seats.

Singaporeans will remember what happened after the 2011 Elections, five years ago. At that election, the PAP faced a national swing that reduced its vote share to 60%, and the first loss of a GRC. At the post-election press conference, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was in a sombre mood. He reflected that Singaporeans were concerned with various issues such as the cost of living and housing, education and healthcare, and also with the PAP’s “approach to government”. PM Lee pledged that the PAP would “analyse the results, learn from what has emerged, put right what is wrong, improve what can be made better, and also improve ourselves to serve Singaporeans better”. Last year at the State Funeral of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, we even learned that the Prime Minister went into meditation after the 2011 Elections.

Lately, the PAP has sought to downplay the effect of the 2011 GE, and insisted that it had started reviewing its policies since 2006. However, Singaporeans could not have helped noticing the slew of palpable changes in many unpopular policies after the 2011 GE, including the slaughtering of some sacred cows. These included reviewing bench-marking Ministerial salaries to top private sector earners, de-linking prices of BTO flats from market transactions, and putting government monies into acquiring buses for the use of public transport operators. Singaporeans should pat themselves on the back, for sending the government a strong signal in 2011 that they were not satisfied with some aspects of the PAP’s governance. In 2013, the PAP lost Punggol East SMC to the Workers’ Party, the second blow in two years that made them quicken the pace of change. Singaporeans forced the PAP to review their policies, at the risk of losing more ground. In our system where the PAP is so strongly entrenched, Singaporeans must always remember that their vote is the loudest check of all.

Do we want a system where opposition MPs only come to Parliament to debate? If opposition parties do not manage constituencies, they would not be able to demonstrate that they, too, were up to the task of representing their constituents, building vibrant communities and yes, running the Town Councils. Should the ruling party decay or become corrupt, it would be too late to look around for any other party with ground experience, as there may well be none.

Madam, even as we move this motion, we are under no illusion that NCMPs can replace the check and bargaining power the people have with elected opposition MPs in Parliament.

Madam, I urge the House to support the motion.