Singapore GE2020: Workers' Party using fear of opposition wipeout to sway voters, says Heng Swee Keat

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat during a walkabout in Bedok South on July 5, 2020. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party is using the prospect of an opposition wipeout to sway voters and win more seats in Parliament, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Sunday (July 5).

In a video message, he called on voters to think carefully about WP chief Pritam Singh's statement that the ruling People's Action Party would still have a "strong mandate" even if the opposition won one-third of the seats in Parliament at the general election.

"What would Singaporeans think, if they wake up next Saturday, to find that the PAP has lost four GRCs and two SMCs? What would investors and other countries think?" he asked, referencing the number of constituencies the WP is contesting.

"Do you seriously believe they would say - Good. The PAP has won a strong mandate again? Or would they see a government severely weakened, a people divided, and a nation whose confidence has been shaken?"

Singapore needs the strongest leadership it can muster, Mr Heng said, to face the most severe crisis facing the country since independence and emerge stronger.

Mr Singh had earlier said the PAP would still have an "incredibly strong mandate" even with one-third of the seats in opposition hands. More importantly, the ruling party can still pass Bills, but not make constitutional changes.

It is a point echoed by other opposition parties, including the Progress Singapore Party.

In his message, Mr Heng, the PAP's first assistant secretary-general, urged Singaporeans to consider their vote carefully, as they will be choosing the country's next government in the upcoming polls.

"Not just who is your local MP, who is going to speak up in Parliament, or look after your town council," he said.

"You are choosing the team who will work with you to steer Singapore through the worst economic crisis in decades."

This team, he added, will conduct foreign relations and command the Singapore Armed Forces. It will invest in Singapore's long-term future, and take care of citizens' housing, education, healthcare and infrastructure needs.

"You are choosing the team who will unite our people, draw on our diversity and strength, and work with you to create a better future for our children and their children," he said.

Mr Heng also took aim at the WP's opposition to the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme, which allocates seats in Parliament to losing opposition candidates with the highest vote share.

He asked voters to consider the WP's motives for doing so, and called on the party to make clear if it would accept the seats if offered to its candidates.

"If it is really a matter of principle that the Workers' Party is opposing the NCMP system, why have they taken up the NCMP positions all these years? Is it really extinction that the Workers' Party fears? Or is the real motive of the Workers' Party to expand, to win more seats in Parliament?"

In 2016, the Constitution was amended to increase the number of NCMP seats from nine to 12. NCMPs have also been given the same voting rights as elected MPs, meaning that they are able to vote on all Bills and motions, including the Budget and constitutional amendments.

The scheme has emerged as a key issue in this general election, with opposition parties criticising it as a ploy to entice voters to vote for the PAP.

WP candidate Dennis Tan, who took up an NCMP seat in 2015, called the scheme a "poisoned chalice", while Mr Singh questioned the PAP's "magnanimity" in highlighting the scheme during the campaign.

When asked if his party would continue to take up NCMP seats, Mr Singh replied: "It's a very speculative question at the moment, but I'm sure you know we will have to address these matters after Polling Day."

In his message, Mr Heng said the WP's decision to keep mum on whether it will take up NCMP seats is "playing games with voters", who are entitled to know the party's stand.

"They should not be made to think that the Workers' Party will refuse NCMP seats, the opposition risks extinction, and so vote for them," Mr Heng said. "Then after the elections, the WP takes up NCMP seats that they are offered. And in this way, they can have their cake and eat it."

Mr Heng pointed out that the WP has taken "full advantage" of the NCMP scheme from the start, with eight of the 10 NCMPs to date coming from the party.

He added that the WP should answer two questions: whether there can be no "opposition wipeout" with the NCMP scheme in place, and whether its candidates will accept if offered seats.

"The WP talks a lot about transparency and accountability. This is what they need to do, to be transparent and accountable to voters."

PSP chief Tan Cheng Bock, who also opposes the scheme, has said he would decline an NCMP seat if offered one, although other party members could take it up if they wished to do so.

"At least Dr Tan Cheng Bock of PSP has been upfront," Mr Heng said. "But he may have forgotten that in 1984, when the scheme was debated in Parliament, he supported having NCMPs."

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Mr Heng rounded up his speech by stressing that opposition and alternative voices in Parliament are guaranteed by the NCMP and Nominated MP schemes.

"By voting the PAP, Singaporeans will give us a strong and clear mandate to form the next government to take Singapore through this crisis and emerge stronger," he said.

"At the same time, you are assured that opposition and alternative voices will continue to be heard in Parliament. Opposition voices will not be wiped out."

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