SINGAPORE - 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 on Sunday.
He accused the opposition party of not revealing its real reason for rejecting the scheme: the WP does not like voters being given more choices.
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 PAP and the Workers Party, or other opposition parties, he said at the sidelines of a community event.
Mr Shanmugam was commenting on Friday's parliamentary debate on a proposal to fill the third NCMP seat.
The WP moved a motion for the seat to be declared vacant so another of the party's candidate can 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 in 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.
Over an intense two hours on Friday, the People's Action Party (PAP) and WP crossed swords in the House over the principles of the NCMP scheme, and whether NCMP seats can be willy-nilly transferred 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". But the 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 on Sunday, 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 law-making process would outweight 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 lost at the polls.
He added: " I think Singaporeans expect more from their politicians than to devote so much time and energy to petty, partisan point-scoring... they expect us to focus on solutions to national issues, proposals to make Singapore better."
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 comments made during a court case, in which the WP town council was ordered to hire accountants to address lapses the Auditor-General uncovered during a special audit.
High Court judge Quentin Loh, in May last year, had 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 her town council's financial lapses.
Separately, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon had said in January that "there remain concerns as to whether the court has been apprised of all the facts in a candid and forthright manner" by the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council.
Mr Shanmugam said yesterday that the WP should "just be direct, open and clear".