'Either deputy could take over as Speaker'

Punggol East MP Charles Chong, who has been named Acting Speaker, has been Deputy Speaker since 2011.
Punggol East MP Charles Chong, who has been named Acting Speaker, has been Deputy Speaker since 2011.

One of the two Deputy Speakers of Parliament could take over the post of Speaker vacated yesterday by Madam Halimah Yacob, political observers and MPs said.

Several said a likely option is Deputy Speaker Charles Chong, who was named Acting Speaker by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a statement yesterday.

Mr Chong, who entered politics in 1988 and is the Punggol East MP, has been Deputy Speaker since 2011. The other deputy is Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan, who has held the post since January last year. Before Mr Lim, Mr Seah Kian Peng of Marine Parade GRC was the deputy from October 2011 to January last year.

When contacted by The Straits Times, Mr Chong, Mr Lim and Mr Seah declined to say who they thought might be the next Speaker.

PM Lee will nominate a new Speaker when Parliament next meets, a Prime Minister's Office statement said.

Observers noted that Mr Chong and Mr Seah have around five years in the role under their belt, are familiar with parliamentary rules and can hit the ground running.

Speakers preside over sittings and enforce rules for the orderly conduct of parliamentary business.

"Parliament may opt for someone with a pair of steady and experienced hands to steward the legislature," said former nominated MP Eugene Tan. The reason, added the Singapore Management University law don, is that Parliament has a busy legislative agenda before it. "The rest of this Parliament's term and the initial part of the next Parliament will bring us into the most critical phase of the leadership transition."

PM Lee has said he wants to step down some time after the next general election, to be held by April 2021.

Retired People's Action Party MP Inderjit Singh also cited continuity and experience as reasons why one of the deputies may be picked.

Another possibility is to appoint a veteran minister, who would retire from the Cabinet to be the Speaker.

Mr Singh cited Mr Abdullah Tarmugi stepping down as community development, youth and sports minister to be Speaker in 2002.

A senior former minister would also have the gravitas and seniority that a Speaker should have. Should both the president and chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers be away, the Speaker assumes the duties of the president. Such ministers could include Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say and Trade and Industry (Trade) Minister Lim Hng Kiang, both 63, said Mr Singh.

Junior ministers are also possible candidates. Madam Halimah was minister of state when she was nominated as Speaker in 2013.

Mr Chong said the current situation of a deputy stepping in was not without precedent. When former Speaker Michael Palmer resigned in 2012, Mr Chong was a deputy and became Acting Speaker until Madam Halimah's election. "I expect the same would happen at the next sitting in September," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2017, with the headline ''Either deputy could take over as Speaker''. Print Edition | Subscribe