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PAP, opposition in war of words over NCMP scheme
A PARLIAMENTARY scheme introduced back in 1984 has turned out to be one of the hot-button topics of the ongoing election campaign.
The Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme - which allows the best-performing losing opposition candidates at a General Election get a seat in Parliament - has come up for debate once again.
The People's Action Party (PAP) says that even if it manages to clinch all 93 available seats at the July 10 polls, the Constitution still guarantees that there will be a maximum of 12 NCMPs when the next Parliament is formed.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the PAP's secretary-general, noted in a speech earlier this week that NCMPs now have full voting rights, putting them on par with their elected counterparts.
They are able to vote on everything including Budgets, Constitutional amendments and on motions of confidence, he said, adding that there is "no possibility" of the opposition being shut out from Parliament altogether.
The NCMP scheme is a unique feature of Singapore's political landscape. To date, it has opened the door for no fewer than 10 opposition candidates to gain a seat in the Parliament chamber.
They do not represent any particular constituency in Singapore, as their title suggests, but many have gone on to gain experience and exposure, make speeches on national issues, and help their party's cause to serve as a check on the elected government.
The NCMP scheme, which has been enhanced over the years, first began with a maximum of three people taking up the post. This number was later increased to nine, and when the next Parliament is formed after next Friday's election, the House will have a maximum of 12.
The merits and workings of the scheme have been a major talking point over the past week as the various political parties kickstarted their campaigning.
Another PAP minister, Chan Chun Sing, weighed in on the issue on Thursday, stressing that the PAP is fully accountable to the electorate and responsible for the people's welfare and well-being.
He said there is no such thing as the ruling party having a blank cheque and being able to do as it pleases.
While the opposition Workers' Party have taken up NCMP seats over the years, among them current chairman Sylvia Lim (2006 to 2011), the party also continues to have its reservations about the scheme.
WP chief Pritam Singh on Thursday questioned the PAP's magnanimity in highlighting the scheme during the campaign.
"Why is the PAP so magnanimous in offering additional NCMP seats? I hope this is something every voter reflects on," said Mr Singh.
One of the WP's NCMPs in the last Parliament term, Dennis Tan, described the scheme as a "poisoned chalice" as it helps ensure that "no other party" besides the PAP can lay roots in a constituency.
Progress Singapore Party chief Tan Cheng Bock, a former PAP backbencher who was in Parliament when the NCMP scheme came into effect, declared on Thursday that he won't take up a seat even if the opportunity was there.
He said the NCMP scheme was a "ploy" to attract voters from opposition parties, and the one key feature of being an NCMP is that he or she is not attached to a particular ward and cannot speak up for residents and air their concerns and views in Parliament.
Former WP NCMP Leon Perera, a candidate in the party's Aljunied GRC team this year, said: "What Singapore needs are responsible opposition MPs whose voices carry the weight of the people's full mandate."
Many opposition candidates have stated that they are taking part in this election to win, and they are not gunning for the consolation prize of an NCMP seat.
As PM Lee said on Tuesday, shortly after Nomination Day was over, he can "fully understand" that the opposition parties will try very hard to win seats, and not just to have "good losing results" in the constituencies.
"But as far as the Constitution is concerned, as far as the Parliament operations are concerned, there is no difference between NCMPs and elected MPs," he said.