PAP's openness to sharing information will determine extent of realistic policy alternatives, says WP's Pritam Singh

Workers’ Party secretary-general Pritam Singh gives a press confefence at the party headquarters on July 12, 2020.
Workers’ Party secretary-general Pritam Singh gives a press confefence at the party headquarters on July 12, 2020.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party (WP) will continue to give "forward-looking suggestions for the welfare of Singaporeans" despite facing resource constraints, said party chief Pritam Singh on Saturday (July 18).

He noted that unlike the Government, which can tap a 120,000-strong civil service as a resource for parliamentary debates, the WP continues to rely mainly on its volunteer base for political work.

"The extent to which realistic policy alternatives can be advanced both in public and in Parliament is also a function of the PAP's approach to democratic politics," said Mr Singh, who has been designated Leader of the Opposition.

What remains to be seen, he added, is if the People's Action Party (PAP) government will become more open in sharing information.

The Aljunied GRC MP was responding to National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who said in a speech to PAP activists that the WP "cannot just continue asking the Government questions".

It is also the opposition party's duty to put forward serious policy alternatives to be scrutinised and debated, now that it has 10 MPs in Parliament, Mr Wong added.

To this, Mr Singh stressed that questioning the Government remains a "fundamental role of a responsible opposition - not just in Singapore, but in any parliamentary democracy anywhere in the world".

"This duty is critical in holding the government to account and it will remain fundamental to the WP's work in Parliament," he said.

The WP will also continue to put forth proposals in the House, he said, citing plans for a redundancy insurance scheme and suggestions for an alternative approach to the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, both of which have been raised in Parliament.

It will also encourage public conversations on topics such as the lease decay of Housing Board flats, and release public working papers to highlight issues that significantly affect Singaporeans, he added.

"This term, our efforts in Parliament are centred on key bread-and-butter concerns; jobs for Singaporeans, healthcare for our seniors and more generally, cost of living concerns, amongst others," Mr Singh said.

"A key aspect of our focus will cover political issues that have a direct impact on transparency, accountability, balance and fairness."

 
 

In his speech to activists, Mr Wong also said that while the WP has told voters that its aim is to provide a stronger check on the PAP government - rather than to take over as the Government - this is because it "is a message they know voters want to hear".

"I have no doubt that they want to displace the PAP and form the government one day, except that they find it inconvenient to acknowledge this now. And there is nothing wrong with that ambition... It is part of a democracy at work. So we must be clear-eyed about this."

In response, Mr Singh said the WP remains far from its medium-term goal of securing one-third of the elected seats in Parliament.

This would require the party to have 32 elected MPs in Parliament, and mean that the PAP would no longer be able to muster the two-thirds majority needed to change the Constitution.

 
 

"Even so, such an outcome would still give the ruling party a very strong mandate with 61 elected seats, allowing it to advance its agenda and policies," Mr Singh said.

The WP's 10 MPs currently represent about 11 per cent of the elected seats in Parliament. In comparison, its six elected MPs held just under 7 per cent of seats after the 2015 general election.

Said Mr Singh: "Whatever the expectations the PAP have of the WP, the WP's purpose and approach in Parliament is to advance and achieve better outcomes for Singapore, and to champion the welfare of Singaporeans. We will remain steadfast and fully committed to that cause."