PAP's 'woes' of its own making: Sylvia Lim
By Cai Haoxiang
IF THE ruling party now has a political problem it is trying to solve, it is of its own doing, argued Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) Sylvia Lim yesterday.
The Workers' Party (WP) chairman said the People's Action Party's (PAP) latest changes to the electoral landscape were made necessary by its own success in stamping out opposition representation in Parliament.
She spoke during the debate on a Constitution Amendment Bill that will entrench the Nominated MP system and raise the allowable number of NCMPs from six to nine. NCMPs are a ticket to Parliament for losing opposition candidates with the most votes.
Ms Lim said that while the changes cater to Singaporeans' desire for more opposition voices, they fail to tackle the 'root causes' of why there are few such voices to begin with. These, she argued, were the PAP's 'double whammy' of GRCs and gerrymandering.
GRCs, introduced in 1988, have grown in size over the years. The maximum number of MPs in each GRC has gone up from three in 1988, to four in 1991, to six in 1997. Meanwhile, the number of single-member wards has shrunk - from 42 in 1988, to 21 in 1991, to nine in 1997.
Said Ms Lim, sardonically: 'Such was the PAP's need to dominate. This tiny number of nine has been with us till today such that when the Prime Minister announced there's an increase of single-member wards from nine to 12, we hailed this as progress.'
She also referred to a speech by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong in 2006 to show how the PAP itself admitted GRCs served party purposes. He had said GRCs helped recruit candidates for the PAP, as 'without some assurance of a good chance of winning at least their first election, many able and successful young Singaporeans may not risk their careers to join politics'.
Ms Lim also said gerrymandering, or the manipulation of constituency boundaries to gain an unfair advantage, had prevented opposition parties from gaining ground. 'Constituencies which showed strong opposition support are broken up or merged with others. Today, we no longer have Eunos GRC or Cheng San GRC,' she said, referring to the GRCs where the WP came close to wresting power from the PAP in the 1988, 1991 and 1997 polls.
Citing limitations on NCMPs' powers, she said only elected opposition members can provide a sustainable check on the ruling party, represent the people properly, and create a more robust political system.
She said: 'The root causes of our current problems are the abuse of the GRC system and gerrymandering. These have curtailed the expression of the people's desires at the elections and instead promoted the ruling party's own agenda.
'The PAP has created the problem which it is now trying to solve. But we should instead tackle the root causes for a more lasting and sustainable political future for Singapore.' She suggested that a system with all single seats would better reflect MPs' support from the people.
In response, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng said that as the WP nearly won the Eunos and Cheng San GRC elections, the GRC system was not at fault. He said the PAP fields its best candidates at every election such that it has a clear mandate to lead. And regardless of how big a GRC is, if there is a groundswell of opinion against the PAP, people will vote against it.
If the opposition is unable to field good candidates, 'please do not use the excuses of GRC or boundary delineation to complain that they have no chance'.
Apr 27, 2010
Concerns over plan to increase opposition presence
IN A rare show of disagreement with new legislation tabled by the Government, several ruling party MPs yesterday took aim at constitutional changes that will increase the presence of opposition politicians in Parliament.
Five People's Action Party (PAP) MPs, during the debate over changes that will increase the minimum opposition presence from the current three to nine, raised concerns ranging from their lack of accountability to their effect on debate in the House.
Their bottom line? It is not the job of the ruling party to get opposition politicians into Parliament.
Mr Alvin Yeo (Hong Kah GRC) suggested that the aim of the changes to the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme - to generate more robust debate in Parliament - may not be realised.
'The opposition regularly criticises PAP MPs for speaking with one voice...but have you ever heard (NCMP) Ms Sylvia Lim take a different position from that of (Hougang MP) Mr Low Thia Khiang?' he asked.
Ms Lim and Mr Low both belong to the Workers' Party.
Only the sound and fury of debate - and not its quality - will be raised, he suggested.
Mr Zaqy Mohamad (Hong Kah GRC) and Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC) fretted over the NCMPs' lack of constituents to be accountable to.
Nothing will hold back an unelected NCMP from making 'provocative comments and populist calls', said Ms Ng.
While it is easy to criticise the Government, 'an elected MP with constituents to answer to thinks differently...and has to stand by what he or she says and represents', said Mr Zaqy.
NCMPs do not have the full rights of an elected MP. They cannot vote on amendments to the Constitution, on a Supply Bill, and no-confidence motions against the Government.
But they can vote on changes to legislation and raise motions to introduce new legislation.
Still, some MPs argued that increasing the number of NCMPs would pervert the electoral principle of one man, one vote.
Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Sembawang GRC) said voters had reasons not to elect the losing candidate: They do not want him or her to speak on their behalf.
He suggested a 'one man, two votes' system that would allow residents to also give their seal of approval to the NCMP.
Their first vote would decide the elected MP; the second would decide if the losing candidate deserved to be an NCMP.
He also said the 'best losers' from the ruling party should also be eligible as
NCMPs, thus making the scheme 'non-partisan'.
Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng, however, shot down the suggestions.
'For the ruling party, they already have the majority and I don't think we need more of them in this House,' he said.
He also defended the scheme's ability to bring about constructive debate in Parliament.
'I think it does give the opposition, whether as NCMP or elected MP, a chance to articulate what they stand for, what policies or programmes they have that can make a better life for Singaporeans.
'Otherwise we'll just be debating among ourselves, among PAP members. And we know the sentiment of Singaporeans...they want to see some real opposition MPs in Parliament.'
Ms Lim, the only NCMP in the current Parliament, opposed the changes. While she was in favour of seeing those voters who had cast a ballot for the opposition represented, she said the changes did not address other problems with the electoral system, such as gerrymandering by the ruling party.
Being an NCMP has 'frustrating' limitations, she said. She cannot get permission from the Aljunied Town Council to use public spaces in the constituency she was defeated in. Neither can she write on residents' behalf to government agencies; she can only help them draft letters.
In contrast, losing PAP MPs are appointed grassroots advisers, which gives them the status to liaise with governmental bodies.
Apr 27, 2010
No NCMP post for me: Low
But party will decide for its 'best losers' in next GE
By Rachel Chang
WORKERS' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang made it clear yesterday he would reject the offer of a Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) post should he fail to be re-elected at the next general election.
Pressed by Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng to state his and his party's position during a spirited exchange that closed a three-hour debate, the Hougang MP since 1991 declared: 'I can tell him categorically that I will not take up the NCMP if I am not elected at the next election.'
Whether other eligible WP candidates would accept the offer to enter Parliament as 'best losers' would be decided by the party after the next election, he added.
The exchange between Mr Wong and Mr Low took place as MPs debated changes to the Constitution, including a proposal to have up to nine NCMPs.
The scheme allows the best losing opposition candidates who win more than 15 per cent of the valid vote into Parliament.
Ms Sylvia Lim, the WP chairman and the only NCMP in Parliament, had earlier spoken against the scheme and its expansion. She said it was merely making the 'bad situation' of an undemocratic landscape better.
The proposal to increase the number of NCMPs was passed by the House yesterday, but the WP opposed the move because 'fundamentally we don't believe that this is the way the system should move forward', Ms Lim said.
She argued that increasing opposition numbers through the NCMP scheme did not address what she saw as the skewed nature of the electoral system.
This was manipulated by the system of Group Representation Constituencies as well as practices like gerrymandering by the ruling People's Action Party, she said.
Mr Wong, who rounded up the debate, countered her by asking that 'if the Workers' Party is so fundamentally against the NCMP scheme, would Ms Sylvia Lim now say that she will no longer come back to Parliament?'
Ms Lim rejected the argument.
The decision for her to take up the NCMP offer after the 2006 election was made because a sizeable number of voters in Aljunied GRC wanted to see her team elected, she argued.
The WP team she led secured 44 per cent of the valid vote there.
However, Mr Wong, who is Home Affairs Minister, pressed her and Mr Low to explain the contradiction between the party's opposition to the NCMP scheme and its willingness to take up a seat.
Mr Low said there was no contradiction in being opposed to the NCMP scheme on principle, and yet participating in it since that was the political reality here.
'It is the same as when we oppose the GRC system. But it doesn't mean that we don't field candidates in GRCs,' he said to a packed House of more than 70 MPs.
'By introducing the NCMP scheme, the PAP is trying to have its cake and eat it. You're telling Singaporeans look, let's vote for PAP as the Government and we (will) provide you (with) NCMPs. But that is not how a healthy political system should work.'
Mr Wong said the Government was actually trying to make the cake bigger and offering the opposition a slice of it.
But Mr Low said the size of the cake remained the same 'because the number of elected members remains the same'.
'What you are trying to do is probably add some (icing) but the WP does not look at icing,' he declared.
Mr Wong replied that he had put a simple question to the WP: whether it would take up NCMP seats if not enough opposition MPs were elected directly.
Mr Low reiterated the party would vote against the change. Pressed about taking up a seat, he said that as an individual, he would not do so.
'And of course if (my) party insists that I will have to take it up, I probably will have to resign. That's all.'