WP chief Low Thia Khiang: NCMP scheme does not make debates more robust

While WP opposes scheme, it does not oppose individual members willing to take part, he says

Mr Low Thia Khiang said WP members have taken up the seats over the years as they "understand that the struggle for a functional democracy... must be fought from within the existing system". PHOTO: MEDIACORP

The Workers' Party (WP) has long disagreed with the principle of the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme because, contrary to its objective, it does not make parliamentary debates more robust, said its chief Low Thia Khiang.

It also goes against the fundamental meaning of Parliament, which is only for politicians who have obtained the people's mandate.

Still, WP members have taken up the seats offered to them over the years as they "understand that the struggle for a functional democracy... must be fought from within the existing system", he said.

So, while the WP may oppose the scheme, it "does not oppose individual members who are willing to sacrifice their time and energy to contribute to the national debate in Parliament'', said Mr Low (Aljunied GRC).

"Hence if one member who is declared as NCMP is unable to take up the seat, it is my duty as the leader of the WP to nominate the next best volunteer."

He gave the WP's reasoning for moving a motion yesterday to get East Coast GRC candidate Daniel Goh to fill the NCMP seat its Punggol East candidate Lee Li Lian had turned down.

The NCMP scheme offers a seat in the House to the losing opposition candidate with the best showing in the election.

Mr Low also said the scheme "is a distraction of the fundamental meaning of Parliament".

"Any politician who aspires to enter Parliament must seek and obtain the mandate from the people to represent them, so as to seek and effect positive change for the people," he said.

But the NCMP scheme may end up attracting opposition candidates who contest elections and seek to enter Parliament for personal fame and glory, he added.

Still, the WP will "work within the system", he said, in the same way it contested several GRCs despite not supporting such electoral division.

He also said his party recognises that having one more NCMP in the House would add to the debate, which may result in better policy outcomes.

In rebutting Mr Charles Chong (Punggol East), he said it was illogical to argue that Ms Lee's rejection of the NCMP seat meant she did not respect the group of Punggol East voters who had voted for her in the general election.

An NCMP is by definition without a constituency, said Mr Low, and even if Ms Lee had accepted the post, she"cannot represent the minority who (had) voted for her in this House".

It is out of respect for the voters' decision that Ms Lee declined to accept the NCMP offer, he said. "She decided, having been their elected MP for over two years, their rejection meant she has no legitimacy to be in Parliament."

WP chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), who was an NCMP from 2006 to 2011, added that had she been in Ms Lee's position, she would have rejected the offer too.

"If an incumbent MP who had served the constituency was just defeated and yet returned to Parliament as an NCMP, it might be deemed undemocratic," she said.

The WP's proposal to let Dr Goh fill the third NCMP seat is allowed under the Constitution, and Ms Lim noted that Parliament had previously permitted a similar motion.

In 1985, after WP candidate M. P. D. Nair, who had contested Jalan Kayu in the 1984 election, declined the NCMP seat, then Leader of the House S. Dhanabalan moved a motion to offer it to Singapore United Front candidate Tan Chee Kien. He declined.The seat was left empty.

In rebutting Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC), Ms Lim said her remark that the scheme was "overall supportable'' was taken out of context. "What I had said was the scheme was overall supportable in the context of GRCs, and the gerrymandering that has been taking place in our political system."

Similarly, Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang) said there is no need for an NCMP scheme "if we adhere to our original Constitution and revert to a democracy comprising only single-member constituencies".

Mr Leon Perera, one of two NCMPs in the House, said the intent of the PAP MPs' speeches was simply to paint WP in a bad light.

"It's a narrative that has been frequently heard: the WP is shifty; somehow untrustworthy; our motives are to be questioned; our integrity is to be questioned... we are contradicting ourselves," he said.

Explaining why he took up the NCMP seat, he said: "It was a very difficult decision to make. But I decided that on balance... I could make a constructive contribution that would help in the longer-term cause of political balance in this country."

Last night, the WP said on Facebook it had abstained from voting on the motion as it did not want to endorse the ruling party's amendment.

Mr Perera added on his Facebook page that the WP needs to work within "a flawed system" as it wants to do what it can to build a democratic society.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2016, with the headline WP chief Low Thia Khiang: NCMP scheme does not make debates more robust. Subscribe