The NCMP (Non-constituency Member of Parliament) scheme allows the best-performing losing opposition candidates into Parliament. This time, the WP’s best-performing candidate Lee Li Lian rejected her seat, and WP filed a motion in Parliament intending to fill her seat with another candidate Daniel Goh. At the same time, WP Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang said WP was opposed to the NCMP scheme. After heated debate in Parliament, the motion was passed and Daniel Goh has now taken up his seat.
In February, ex-MP Goh Choon Kang’s column about this in Lianhe Zaobao sparked off another war of words with Low Thia Khiang. We summarise the exchange below.
On the same issue, you can also read Minister Shanmugam’s remarks and Dr Lee Bee Wah’s parliamentary speech.
Goh Choon Kang’s column on 3rd Feb: “Recognising the role of NCMP seats”
• WP filed a motion for Daniel Goh to take over Lee Li Lian’s NCMP seat. This shows that they accept the notion of an NCMP seat.
• In fact, WP members have a history of accepting the NCMP seat, from Lee Siew-Choh and Jeyaretnam, to Sylvia Lim, Yee Jenn Jong and Gerald Giam. But Lee Li Lian told media that the people had not elected her to be an NCMP, but to be an MP.
• This sounds like an excuse. The real reason might be that Lee Li Lian feels she has “lost face” after losing her election. But if Jeyaretnam could persist despite all the obstacles he faced in his political life, why can’t she?
• Like the WP NCMPs before him, Daniel Goh knows that the NCMP seat is a chance to get exposure in Parliament.
• Daniel Goh said on Facebook that he agrees with WP Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang that NCMPs are like duckweed, unable to set down roots in the constituency. But he’s taking the seat because “the principle of national service trumps the political principle of opposing the NCMP scheme“.
• How can he say an NCMP can serve the nation, yet in the same breath call it duckweed? It’s a pity this academic did not elaborate. Whatever it is, his decision to take the seat speaks louder than any words. To take the seat yet consistently denigrate it presents a disconnect between his actions and his words.
• A political party should have clear stances and internal discipline, especially on matters of principle. WP shouldn’t say it opposes the NCMP scheme, and at the same time let members reject or accept the seat according to their personal views. As a political veteran, Low Thia Khiang should know this.
• The NCMP scheme is meant to ensure a certain number of opposition voices in Parliament. If WP really opposes the scheme, they should boldly refuse to take up the seats. Instead, now they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too. Where’s their integrity in all this?
Low Thia Khiang’s reply on 12th Feb: “With the big picture in mind”
• WP believes that a good political system needs to be resilient. If the ruling party loses power, people should stay united and the country keep functioning. Thus, we need to build up a trustworthy opposition party with the ability to govern, and this cannot be done overnight.
• The NCMP scheme cannot strengthen our political system in this way. Without the constituency as a base, NCMPs cannot expand their political influence.
• When the government suggested the NCMP scheme in 1984, and expanded it to 9 seats in 2010, they clearly stated the aims of this scheme. These aims serve PAP’s purposes.
o Provide PAP MPs with experience of verbal sparring with opposition MPs
o Let voters decide for themselves what opposition MPs can or can’t do
o NCMPs can accuse government of nepotism or corruption, so government can take the chance to clear the air
• The PAP has only made major changes to its policies after losing Aljunied GRC in 2011, and not because of NCMPs.
• WP does not agree with the NCMP scheme, but we respect Parliament. We think a responsible party should work within the system.
• After independence, there were 13 opposition MPs in Parliament, but Barisan Socialis chose to walk out. This plan backfired. It hurt the political diversity in Singapore and let the PAP control all the resources of nation and society so that opposition parties can’t grow. We should learn from this example.
• When you don’t have the power to change a system, disagreeing with it does not mean you have to boycott it. The reasonable political choice is to use all legal platforms to participate and win voters’ hearts.
• In 1955, Singapore held elections under the Rendel Constitution. Then, Parliament had 32 MPs, 25 chosen by popular vote and 7 appointed. The governor also had veto power over Parliamentary bills. PAP criticised the set-up to be undemocratic. However, then PAP leader Lee Kuan Yew still stood for elections and won. PAP members who criticise the WP for accepting the NCMP seat are either ignorant for their own part’s history, or applying double standards!
• Since 2011, WP has raised much constructive debate, while giving the government time to improve their erroneous policies. We did not fan anger or obstruct the government’s workings. We have fulfilled our promise to keep the big picture in mind.
Goh Choon Kang’s reply on 13th Feb: “WP needs to clarify its stance”
• Mr Low fails to address the fatal flaw in WP’s stance: Why does it continue to accept the NCMP seats? He claims this is because the WP believes that a responsible party should work within the system. He seems to imply that the WP has no choice but to do this. But this isn’t true.
• In 1997, Jeyeretnam could have said this as there were no opposition MPs in Parliament. But now, the WP has 6 elected MPs in Parliament, and are in a completely different position now. There’s no need for them to feign weakness and gain our sympathy.
• Low also brings up the Barisan Socialis walking out of Parliament. But unless we are talking about WP’s MPs quitting Parliament en masse to protest the NCMP scheme, what does this have to do with the issue at hand?