SINGAPORE - The Constitution will be amended to give Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) the same voting rights as MPs, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Parliament on Wednesday (Jan 27).
Mr Lee also revealed that the minimum number of oppositions MPs - including NCMPs - will be increased from nine to 12 from the next general election.
Here are seven things to know about the NCMP scheme, which was introduced in 1984.
1. What is the NCMP scheme about?
The scheme offers seats in Parliament to the best-performing losing opposition candidates - the so-called "best losers" of each general election.
2. Why was it introduced?
The People's Action Party (PAP) had won all seats at the four general elections (1968, 1972, 1976 and 1980) since Singapore's independence in 1965. That changed only in 1981 when the Workers' Party's (WP) J.B. Jeyaretnam was voted into Parliament in the Anson by-election.
Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew mooted the NCMP scheme as a way for young voters to learn more about opposition politics. He said then that the presence of opposition members in Parliament would also offer a chance for younger PAP MPs to sharpen their debating skills, while acting as a check and balance against any governmental impropriety.
3. What was the response to its introduction?
Opposition parties were immediately critical of the scheme, labelling it a ploy by the PAP to dissuade Singaporeans from voting for the opposition. It was called a "backdoor" into Parliament and many declared that no self-respecting opposition candidate should take it up.
The scheme also had its critics among the PAP, with some MPs saying it diminished the democratic process.
Others, however, felt it represented the best of both worlds, as NCMPs could contribute in Parliament without being burdened by the demands of looking after a constituency.
4. What is an NCMP's role in Parliament?
For the moment, NCMPs can debate in Parliament and are allowed to vote on all issues except the following:
- Amendments to the Constitution
- Supply and money Bills
- A motion of no confidence in the Government
- Removal of the President from office
An NCMP receives 15 per cent of an MP's annual allowance.
5. How has the scheme changed over the years?
When the NCMP scheme was first introduced in 1984, it allowed the highest-scoring losers to enter Parliament if there were fewer than three elected opposition MPs. The total number was capped at six.
Changes to the Constitution and Parliamentary Elections Act passed in 2010 guarantee a minimum of nine opposition MPs in Parliament after the polls.
If the opposition wins fewer than nine seats, NCMPs will be appointed from among the highest-scoring losers to make up the shortfall.
However, there is a cap of two NCMPs coming from any one group representation constituency (GRC). NCMPs must also get at least 15 per cent of valid votes.
6. Who were the opposition politicians who took up NCMP seats?
- 1984: After the 1984 polls, the Workers' Party (WP) rejected the offer of an NCMP seat to its candidate M.P.D. Nair, who scored 48.8 per cent of votes in Jalan Kayu. An offer was then made to the next-best loser, Singapore United Front candidate Tan Chee Kien, who also rejected it.
- 1988: The first two NCMPs were the WP's Mr Francis Seow and Mr Lee Siew Choh after the 1988 elections. Mr Seow lost his seat that same year when he was fined for tax evasion.
- 1991: No NCMP seats were offered as there were already four opposition MPs in Parliament.
- 1997: Mr Jeyaratnam accepted the sole seat offered.
- 2001: Singapore Democratic Alliance's Mr Steve Chia was the only NCMP.
- 2006: WP's Ms Sylvia Lim took up the NCMP offer.
- 2011: Three NCMPs -WP's Mr Yee Jenn Jong and Mr Gerald Giam, along with the Singapore People's Party's Mrs Lina Chiam.
- 2015: Three seats were offered. WP's Mr Leon Perera and Mr Dennis Tan have taken up the seats, but the last was rejected by Ms Lee Li Lian of the WP.
7. Is there a point of contention over the scheme?
There appears to be a need for clearer public understanding about what happens when an NCMP seat is declined.
With the WP's Ms Lee turning down the seat offered to her, the party has declared it wants NUS sociology don Daniel Goh to take up Ms Lee's seat.
However, it is not an automatic process that the next-in-line candidate is offered or entitled to the seat. There is also no precedent of passing an NCMP seat within a single party.
The WP has filed a motion in Parliament to declare the seat vacant and propose an alternative candidate for the seat rejected by Ms Lee.