Singapore's new Parliament opens on Jan 15: 5 things to watch

The first session of Singapore's 13th Parliament opens on Jan 15, 2016.
The first session of Singapore's 13th Parliament opens on Jan 15, 2016.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

SINGAPORE - The first session of Singapore’s 13th Parliament opens on Jan 15, with the swearing-in of 89 elected Members of Parliament and two Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs).

President Tony Tan Keng Yam will address the House after that, in a speech that sets the policy directions of the Government and outlines its goals for the new five-year term.

MPs will then debate the speech over five days at the end of the month. About a quarter of the 89 elected MPs are new and this will be a first opportunity to make an impression in the House.

Here are five things to look out for in the new Parliament:

1. First female Leader of the House


Ms Grace Fu has been appointed Leader of the House by PM Lee Hsien Loong. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

For the first time, a woman is Leader of the House, with Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu having been appointed to the post by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Ms Fu, who assumed the role on Oct 1, 2015, will be assisted by Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Desmond Lee, who is the Deputy Leader of the House.

As Leader, she will arrange Government business in Parliament and decide on the legislative programme. She will also have to advise the House on what action to take on procedural matters, such as whether to extend the times of sittings, and when a difficulty arises, such as when an MP breaks a House rule.

2. Two parties in Parliament


Supporters of the PAP (in white) and the WP (in blue) on Nomination Day on Sept 1, 2015. ST PHOTO: MOHD KHALID BABA

After more than 30 years of having at least three parties in the House, this will be the first Parliament for some time now to have only two parties represented: the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), and the opposition Workers’ Party (WP) with its  six elected MPs and two NCMPs.

None of the other opposition parties did well enough at the Sept 11, 2015, general election to have representatives eligible for Parliament. This includes the Singapore People’s Party’s Lina Chiam, who was an NCMP in the previous Parliament. 

Not since the 5th Parliament, which was dissolved on Dec 3, 1984, has there been only one opposition party in Parliament.

3. Third Non-Constituency MP seat: Parliament to decide


From left: Mr Leon Perera, Ms Lee Li Lian, and Mr Dennis Tan. PHOTOS: ST FILE, THE WORKERS' PARTY

Although the three best performers among opposition candidates who lost at the Sept 11 polls were declared as NCMPs by the Elections Department, only two have said that they are taking up the offer – Mr Dennis Tan and Mr Leon Perera, both of the WP. 

Ms Lee Li Lian, also of the WP, was the third declared as an NCMP. But she announced after losing the contest in Punggol East that she would not  take up the NCMP offer.

NCMP seats are offered to the best losers at the polls and the law says that at any general election, the number of NCMPs “shall be nine less the number of opposition MPs elected”.

If Ms Lee does not take the Oath of Allegiance at the first or second sitting of Parliament, her seat does not automatically go to the next best losing candidate which, going by the election results, would also be from the WP. 

This is because Parliament is not obliged to declare that the seat be filled by the next succeeding candidate.
An MP will have to file a motion to declare the seat vacant and have it filled by the next candidate.

4. Fourth-generation leaders


PM Lee Hsien Loong and his Ang Mo Kio GRC teammates 
thanking their supporters on Sept 12, 2015. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

This was a much touted phrase during the Sept 11 general election, with both the PAP and the WP urging voters to send their next-generation leaders into Parliament. Both parties succeeded, in a sense, and it is now up to the representatives to prove themselves in the House.

The PAP had the bulk of its fourth-generation team in place after the 2011 general election, and got to complete the team with those elected at the 2015 polls. Political watchers and analysts identify the next core group as comprising Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong and Acting Ministers for Education Ng Chee Meng and Ong Ye Kung.

The WP, too, managed to get some of its younger leaders into Parliament, via the NCMP scheme. Lawyer Dennis Tan, the party’s candidate in Fengshan, and consultancy firm chief executive Leon Perera, who was part of the party’s East Coast GRC team, were both identified as being part of the core of the opposition party’s next-generation leadership.

5. New batch of Nominated MPs

One of Parliament’s early tasks will be to also prepare for a new group of Nominated MPs (NMPs).

 

The previous batch of nine NMPs had their 2 1/2-year term cut short, when Parliament was dissolved in August last year ahead of the election. By then, they had served only about a year of their term.

Still, that was much longer than the shortest NMP term on record – a fortnight – when Parliament was dissolved for the polls in 2001.

Some from the last batch have already expressed interest in serving another term. Typically, NMPs are nominated by members of the public and seven functional groups representing organisations from different sectors of society. A Special Select Committee made up of MPs then goes through the list of applicants and submits their picks to the President, who makes the appointment.

Note: The section on "Third Non-Constituency MP Seat" has been edited for clarity.