ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Singapore amends charter, adding 3 more opposition MPs
Amendments to Singapore's constitution were passed on Monday over the relevance of the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme, reported semi-government news provider Channel News Asia on its website.
The NCMP position is a unique feature of Singapore politics.
It is offered to losing opposition candidates with the highest percentage of votes to make up the required number of nine opposition MPs. With the changes, Parliament can have up to nine NCMPs, up from six.
The Nominated MP system will now be made permanent, allowing for nine non-elected MPs to be appointed at each Parliament.
The government has said that the changes reflect the aspirations of Singaporeans to have more diverse views in the House.
"This Bill marks another milestone in the constant and progressive evolution of our political system of parliamentary democracy," said Wong Kan Seng, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister.
"Henceforth, opposition and non-government voices will be expanded and entrenched in this House. We will have the opportunity to hear from a greater diversity of views in this House, including the views and opinions of a larger number of opposition members."
However, some MPs questioned if such a move will indeed improve parliamentary debate.
Said Alvin Yeo, MP for Hong Kah GRC: "We will see more opposition representatives in parliament but not speaking with a different voice."
Said Ho Geok Choo, MP for West Coast GRC: "Opposition candidates who gain this backdoor entry could band together to put forth their causes or demands in an unparliamentary manner."
Despite the concerns, MPs supported the Bill except for the opposition Workers' Party.
"By this bill, the Prime Minister is trying to make a bad situation better but increasing NCMPs is not the solution to a more robust political system," said Sylvia Lim, an NCMP. "The root causes of our current problem are the abuse of the GRC system and gerrymandering."
This prompted a vigorous exchange between Mr Wong and Workers' Party leader Low Thia Khiang.
"By introducing the NCMP scheme, the PAP is trying to have a cake and eat it - to tell Singaporeans, let's vote for PAP as government and we provide you with NCMP. But that is not how a healthy political system should work," said Mr Low.
"What the government or the PAP tries to do in this situation is not to have its cake and eat it," said Mr Wong. "We are trying to make the cake bigger and give you a piece of it!"
Referring to Workers' Party's Sylvia Lim taking up the NCMP post despite its stand against the scheme, Mr Wong asked Mr Low to clarify his position.
He also wanted to know if Mr Low would take up the NCMP post, if he did not win a seat at the next General Election.
"No I will not take up NCMP seat. Let's make it very clear," said Mr Low. "No, that is the difference between the party and myself as a person and I make it very clear to my party and of course if my party insist that I have to take it up I will probably have to resign that's all!"
It was a full house on Monday in Parliament, reflecting the interest shown in the issue. The House voted 74 to 1 in support of the new constitution which paves the way for changes to the political system ahead of the next General Election, due by February 2012.
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