Singapore GE2020: Opposition leader post a very significant move, says ESM Goh

Workers’ Party chief Pritam Singh will be given the staff support and resources to carry out the role as Leader of the Opposition. PHOTO: ST FILE

Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh will be formally designated the Leader of the Opposition, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

And Mr Singh, whose party now has 10 MPs in Parliament, will be given the appropriate staff support and resources to carry out this role.

Speaking at a virtual press conference in the early morning, PM Lee said the election results reflect a clear desire for a diversity of voices in Parliament.

He said he called Mr Singh to congratulate him and the WP for their strong performance in the election.

He added that he looks forward to the 10 new opposition MPs and two Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) participating in and contributing to parliamentary debates, as well as to the national debate, as Singapore deals with the coronavirus crisis and economic fallout.

The Leader of the Opposition is a formal title bestowed on the leader of the largest minority party which is able and prepared to assume office in the event that the Government resigns.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong called it a "very significant move" by PM Lee - one that acknowledges voters' desire for more opposition MPs in Parliament.

He added: "Our opposition MPs and NCMPs will now have to go beyond merely serving as a check-and-balance. They can put forward their alternative policies and solutions so that Singaporeans would know the choices available, besides the Government's."

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Singapore's parliamentary system is modelled after the Westminster system in Britain. There, the Leader of the Opposition draws a salary on top of the MP allowance, and picks a shadow Cabinet to follow the work of government departments.

The term "unofficial leader of the opposition" was first coined in Singapore in 1992 to refer to Mr Chiam See Tong, who was then with the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

At the time, three out of four opposition members in the House were from the SDP. Then Leader of the House Wong Kan Seng therefore used the title to give Mr Chiam "due courtesy and precedence among opposition MPs".

Mr Chiam was seated directly opposite the Prime Minister in the House - a seat that former WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang later occupied, followed by Mr Singh when he succeeded Mr Low as party chief in April 2018.

In 2011, Mr Low had ruled out accepting the title previously given to Mr Chiam, saying: "Either you have a leader of the opposition, or you do not have it. There's no need to have an unofficial leader of the opposition."

The WP secured 10 seats in three constituencies in Friday's polls.

It won with 61.19 per cent of the votes to retain its hold on its stronghold in Hougang, and 59.93 per cent in the five-member Aljunied GRC, which it has held since 2011.

It also added another GRC to its stable by winning 52.13 per cent of the votes in the four-member Sengkang GRC.

The Progress Singapore Party will be offered two NCMP seats for its candidates in West Coast GRC, where the People's Action Party won with 51.69 per cent of the votes, the smallest winning vote share by percentage. But PSP chief Tan Cheng Bock has said he will not take up the offer of an NCMP seat, and he will leave the choice to the party's central executive committee.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 12, 2020, with the headline Opposition leader post a very significant move, says ESM Goh. Subscribe