Parliament debates what makes for 'good politics'

President Tony Tan Keng Yam addressing the 13th Parliament of Singapore at its opening session on Jan 15.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam addressing the 13th Parliament of Singapore at its opening session on Jan 15. PHOTO: ST FILE

Proposed changes to Singapore's political system drew the approval of MPs yesterday, the fourth day of debate on the President's Address.

Four People's Action Party (PAP) MPs cheered plans to expand the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme and review the Elected Presidency, announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday.

They also rebuked Workers' Party leader Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) for comments made outside Parliament the day before.

The only opposition MP to speak yesterday, Mr Low did not comment on the specific changes proposed but gave an alternative view of what makes "good politics", arguing that the outcome should not just be good policy and a lack of gridlock - as Mr Lee had suggested - but a resilient political system.

Earlier, on Wednesday night, Mr Low told reporters that his party had to study the changes carefully.

Mr Lee had proposed to giveNCMPs full voting rights and expand the minimum number of opposition MPs, including NCMPs, from nine to 12.

But Mr Low drew a clear distinction between NCMPs and elected MPs, comparing the former to rootless "duckweed" on the surface of a pond - a comment which PAP MPs seized upon yesterday.

Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC), for instance, took issue with Mr Low's point that NCMPs have no roots in constituencies.

"Nothing stops the NCMPs from going to the ground, doing house visits, organising sessions to gather the ground concerns," she said.

Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) also defended the NCMP scheme, saying: "Let us all embrace the NCMP (scheme) as a unique feature of the Singapore political system."

Mounting the strongest defence of the Prime Minister's proposed changes was Mr Edwin Tong (Marine Parade GRC), who said opposition parties had little reason to criticise the moves.

The NCMP scheme "not only introduces greater diversity and debate in Parliament, it helps opposition members gain exposure and recognition", he argued.

Mr Tong also defended the need for "the very most stringent conditions and criteria" for the Elected Presidency, given the weighty responsibilities of the role.

Tightening the eligibility criteria is one aspect of the upcoming review by a Constitutional Commission, which will also look at strengthening the Council of Presidential Advisers and ensuring that minority presidents are elected periodically.

The proposed political changes were just one thread in yesterday's parliamentary sitting, with speeches ranging over topics such as the elderly and families.

The debate on the President's Address continues for the last day today, with the six elected WP MPs in the House set to move a motion to fill the NCMP seat rejected by Ms Lee Li Lian.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline 'House debates what makes for 'good politics''. Print Edition | Subscribe