The Workers' Party (WP) should be honest in rejecting the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme instead of "trying to speak with both ends of the mouth", Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.
He accused the opposition party of not revealing its real reason for rejecting the scheme: the WP does not like voters being given more choice.
Mr Shanmugam told reporters that the NCMP scheme ensures "you vote for the PAP and you still get opposition candidates".
By opposing it, the WP effectively wants to limit voters to a "direct choice" between the People's Action Party (PAP) and the WP, or other opposition parties, he said on the sidelines of a community event.
Mr Shanmugam was commenting on Friday's parliamentary debate on a proposal to fill the third NCMP seat.
I think it is important for democracy that people know what the points are and what is the truth.
HOME AFFAIRS AND LAW MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM, on the necessity of honesty in Parliament and financial integrity for Singapore's democracy to succeed
Parliament voted to fill vacated seat
Parliament debated and supported a motion last Friday to fill the Non-Constituency MP seat turned down by Workers' Party candidate Lee Li Lian.
Several People's Action Party MPs accused the WP of exploiting the NCMP scheme to get another of its members into Parliament by the back door.
Ms Lee had said last year that someone else from her party should be given the chance to enter the House.
WP MPs countered that they were merely moving to fill the seat as provided under the law, and said the NCMP scheme was a ploy to deter voters from voting for the opposition.
Eventually, the motion was amended to say that Parliament "regrets that Ms Lee Li Lian, having stood as a WP candidate and received the highest vote share among all losing opposition candidates, has now decided to give up her NCMP seat to another candidate from her party with a lower vote share, contrary to the expressed will of voters. And the WP supports this political manoeuvre to take full advantage of the NCMP seat, even as its secretary-general criticises NCMPs as just 'duckweed on the water of a pond' ".
PAP MPs voted unanimously to support the motion, while WP MPs abstained. With the motion passed, WP's Dr Daniel Goh is set to be an NCMP.
The WP had moved a motion for the seat to be declared vacant so that another of its candidates could take it up, after the seat was turned down by the party's Punggol East candidate Lee Li Lian.
Mr Shanmugam said there would have been no way to argue against the WP if it had spoken the "truth" and said: "We don't want people to have an additional choice, nevertheless, we benefit from it and therefore we want to fill the third (NCMP) seat."
But the party did not do so because it knew voters may want the "additional choice" the NCMP scheme provides, he said.
During an intense two hours on Friday, the PAP and the WP crossed swords in the House over the principles of the NCMP scheme, and whether NCMP seats can be transferred willy-nilly from one candidate to another.
The WP ended up abstaining from voting on its own motion after Government Whip Chan Chun Sing introduced an amendment to "reflect the truth".
The amended motion was passed with PAP MPs voting unanimously to support it.
During the debate, WP NCMP Leon Perera had also said he was against the scheme in principle as it was detrimental to Singapore's development, noted Mr Shanmugam yesterday. "If it's not good for Singapore, why are you doing it? Their points are filled with contradictions."
Responding in a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Perera said that Mr Shanmugam had presented a "false choice between either rejecting an NCMP seat or accepting it with gratitude and praise".
He said he had become an NCMP "to show Singapore the value of a more balanced politics" and hoped that his contribution to the lawmaking process would outweigh the NCMP scheme's "risks" to the country's political evolution.
He also said he would have rejected the NCMP seat if he was an elected MP who had lost at the polls.
He added: "We can agree to disagree without calling each other names, running each other down and scoring partisan points endlessly."
Yesterday, Mr Shanmugam also said: "I think it is important for democracy that people know what the points are and what is the truth."
He added that honesty in Parliament and financial integrity are key for Singapore's democracy to succeed.
But the WP has not had a good track record on both counts, he suggested, saying: "Go read what the High Court had to say about the WP chairman (Sylvia Lim) suppressing the truth in Parliament and misleading Parliament.
"Go see what the Court of Appeal, just a couple of weeks ago, had to say about their town council chairman, Mr Pritam Singh, putting in half-truths on affidavits and trying to mislead the court."
He was referring to comments made during a court case in which the WP-run Aljunied-Hougang Town Council was ordered to hire accountants to address lapses that the Auditor-General uncovered during a special audit.
High Court judge Quentin Loh, in May last year, said that "the suppression of the truth is equivalent to the suggestion of what is false", when referring to Ms Lim's conduct during the parliamentary debate on the town council's financial lapses.
Last month, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said that "there remain concerns as to whether the court has been apprised of all the facts in a candid and forthright manner" by the town council.
Mr Shanmugam said yesterday that the WP should "just be direct, open and clear".