Written by Ng E-Jay
01 June 2009
The Worker’s Party has capitulated to the PAP’s NCMP gambit. It is a regrettable move as it suggests that WP has opted for political expediency at the expense of democracy. My stand is that WP has missed the forest for the trees. As a voter, I feel let down.
Last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in Parliament changes to our Parliamentary system, including reducing the size of GRCs, expanding the number of SMCs from the current minimum of 8 to 12, and expanding the NCMP scheme to allow a minimum of 9 opposition members to be in Parliament, with NCMPs making up the number should there be less than 9 oppositions MPs obtaining electoral victories.
My stand on this issue is that this is nothing more than a political “mind trap” set by the PAP, to allow more alternative voices into Parliament without making the playing field more level for the opposition, and at the same time psychologically steering people to avoid voting opposition using the guarantee that now there will be at least 9 opposition members in Parliament. Crucially, the PAP has refused to acknowledge that the electoral system is not transparent, and elections in Singapore are neither free nor fair, despite repeated criticisms from parties like the SDP.
Like the Public Order Act and the changes to the Films Act tabled in Parliament earlier year, the changes to our Parliamentary system do not change the status quo, as they are merely more refined ways for the PAP to maintain its grip on power, through unconstitutional means if necessary, whilst giving the semblance of liberalization. But far from acknowledging these stark truths and rejecting the PAP’s various gambits on the principle that they do nothing to advance democracy in Singapore, the Worker’s Party has opted instead to give token support to the new NCMP scheme, which is really a scheme fit only for a token opposition.
To Ms Sylvia Lim’s credit, she mentioned during her speech in Parliament that the NCMP scheme “can never replace having elected opposition MPs“.
But she was equally quick to add that “it is overall supportable because it will give greater recognition to the desire of voters who cast votes for opposition candidates in significant numbers, which would otherwise be shut out in a pure first-past-the-post system … … it will also facilitate opposition parties serving the people in Parliament based on results obtained at General Elections“.
While Sylvia Lim is factually correct to say that this will benefit opposition candidates who would otherwise be shut out in the previous system, she is presumptious to assume that this outcome will reflect desires of voters. How does Sylvia Lim know that voters only want opposition in Parliament who can debate on the issues, but have limited voting rights, and do not possess any real Parliamentary power to campaign for change?
Sylvia Lim then proceeded to criticize the NMP scheme, asserting that “we believe that MPs must contest the election as an essential precondition, to obtain some sort of mandate from the people“.
Like NCMPs, NMPs also represent the voices of different segments of society. It is hypocritical for Sylvia Lim to criticise the NMP scheme whilst endorsing the NCMP scheme for playing the same role. Her remarks are disingenuous and self-serving.
The Worker’s Party has chosen to embrace the new NCMP scheme on the basis that it would provide more opposition voices in Parliament. But they have fallen straight into the “mind trap” laid out by the PAP because without any real change to our electoral system, those NCMPs will remain as toothless tigers who can debate in Parliament till the cows come home, but have no power to provide an effective challenge to PAP’s political hegemony.
By opting for form rather than substance, the Worker’s Party has only further entrenched the unlevel playing field that is created by the PAP to unconstitutionally make it hard for Opposition to gain real power.
It is the clear that the Worker’s Party has chosen to abandon the ideals of its historical stalwarts like David Marshall and J.B. Jeyaretnam out of its desire to take a short cut into Parliament.
By openly supporting the new NCMP scheme, the Worker’s Party will also make it more difficult for other opposition parties to reject the scheme, as the other parties might fear losing candidates to WP.
The PAP wants opposition parties to jostle over scraps and take their eyes off the long term challenges. Rather than countering PAP’s gambit, the WP has chosen to play into their hands.
Even if WP manages to get in significant number of NCMPs into Parliament during the next General Elections, to me it will be a pyrrhic victory gained at the expense of democratic ideals. They would have insulted Singaporeans who have made monumental sacrifies over the past 5 decades in their struggles against the PAP and for democracy, and they would have insulted themselves.