Wednesday, April 28, 2010

We're not Nobody's MPs, say Nominated MPs

Apr 27, 2010

By Rachel Lin

NOMINATED MPs: undemocratic, unaccountable and ultimately unwanted? Not according to the current bench of NMPs.

During yesterday's debate over an amendment which would entrench the NMP scheme in the Constitution, they rose to defend their role.

It was, in short, to provide alternative, non-partisan views on issues that may not occupy a central space in the political battlefield.

Elections are not fought, for example, over green issues, homosexual rights, sports and the arts, NMP Calvin Cheng said. However, they must be represented in Parliament, and NMPs can 'fill the void', he argued. NMPs both past and present - including Ms Joscelin Yeo and Mr Siew Kum Hong - brought this role to life, he said.

Ms Yeo is a former national swimmer; Mr Siew is a lawyer who, in 2007, helped activists submit a petition to Parliament to repeal Section 377A of the Penal Code, which makes it illegal for men to have sex with other men.

Similarly, Mr Cheng added, since no one party represents purely workers' or business interests, it would be useful to have NMPs from chambers of commerce or the unions.

Their non-partisan nature also meant that NMPs should be appointed, not elected, he said.

Furthermore, NMPs' views are enhanced by their areas of expertise. Said NMP Paulin Straughan: 'When I look at a social issue, I am not constrained by partisan concerns. As a sociologist and an academic, I am informed by the research I do, including a thorough review of various perspectives, the data I have collected and the outcomes of the analysis.'

This raises the level of political discourse and brings diversity to the House, she said. NMPs may not belong to any political party, but that did not mean they did not have legitimate views.

The NMPs gave short shrift to the idea that they were an 'alternative opposition'. 'It has to be made very clear that NMPs are in Parliament to give alternative views, not opposing views,' Mr Cheng said.

Associate Professor Straughan put it more strongly: 'I find little merit in this allegation (that NMPs are needed as surrogate opposition), for it undermines the intellect of the electorate. Singaporeans will vote for the political party that best represents their interests and ideals.'

However, she felt that the NMP scheme marked a transitional phase in Singapore's political maturity: 'The day we move to a two-party system where opposing voices are more visible, we will not need NMPs or Non-Constituency MPs. But until we get there, the NMPs have a role to play.'

Still, the three NMPs who spoke - Mr Cheng, Professor Straughan and Ms Audrey Wong - were candid about their trials, including long hours spent poring over new legislation being tabled, especially as, unlike elected MPs, they have no research support.

They called for more transparency in the nomination process and a clearer definition of their roles. Without these, said Mr Cheng, 'not only will NMPs be 'Nobody's MPs', but worse, unwanted MPs: neither birds nor beasts, but bats, ostracised and ignored by all sides'.

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