How the WP's NCMP motion was turned around by PAP

Ms Lee Li Lian

It was a proposal put up by the Workers' Party (WP), a parliamentary motion to declare Ms Lee Li Lian's Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) seat vacant and to have it filled in accordance with the law.

But in the end, the opposition party refused to vote for it, and it was the People's Action Party MPs who unanimously voted for the motion.

When WP chief Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) was called upon by Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob shortly after 5pm, he read the motion and explained why his party moved it: It objects to the NCMP scheme in principle, but believes in being a "rational and responsible" party working within the system.

Madam Halimah then read the motion, and debate began.

Mr Charles Chong (Punggol East), who defeated Ms Lee on Sept 11, warned against using the law to "pick and choose which best losers from different constituencies" should enter Parliament.

In Mandarin, Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) accused the WP of being contradictory, criticising the NCMP scheme yet taking up seats.

Rising to defend their party were Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) and Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang).

Ms Lim explained Ms Lee's rationale and noted there was precedent for filling a rejected seat. Mr Png said WP was merely aiming "to implement to the letter of the law what is provided in Section 53 of the Parliamentary Elections Act".

Government Whip Chan Chun Sing then took the floor, and charged the WP with criticising the NCMP scheme even as it deliberately used it to its advantage.

The PAP would support the move to fill the seat, he said. "But the motion must reflect the truth."

In a move that blindsided the WP, he proposed an amendment.

Parliament would declare the seat vacant and resolve to fill it - "but 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 that 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'."

With the debate now applying to both the original motion and the proposed amendment, WP NCMP Leon Perera rose to speak.

The PAP was using the motion to build a specific narrative, he said, "that the WP are bad people".

But his decision to take up an NCMP seat was not taken lightly, though he "was not so sure" if the scheme would benefit Singapore.

The debate was at an end.

Mr Low was called on to speak.

He rejected the amendment, saying: "There is no basis to say that this is a political manoeuvre."

Mr Chan rose one more time.

Mr Low reiterated WP's stance.

Close to two hours after the debate began, it was time to vote - but first, on the amendment itself.

There was a chorus of "aye" from PAP MPs, but loud calls of "no" from the WP. Ms Lim asked for their dissent to be recorded.

The amendment was passed.

The House was now voting for the changed motion, with the additional paragraph included.

"Aye" from the PAP, "no" from the WP. Mr Low called for his party members' dissent to be recorded again - specifically, their objection to the added paragraph.

But the Speaker clarified that there could be no partial objection.

The vote was all-or-nothing: either for, against, or to abstain.

Mr Low stepped away from the podium, to confer with WP MPs.

Madam Halimah then called for the vote again. The PAP said "aye", but when she asked for objections, there was only silence. She asked for those who abstained. The WP MPs raised their hands.

The motion was passed - without those who had originally moved it.

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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 How the WP's NCMP motion was turned around by PAP. Subscribe