Only 1 NCMP has ever become MP: Leon Perera

Workers' Party (WP) MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) is an opposition party candidate who became a Non-Constituency MP (NCMP). PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Almost every opposition party candidate who became a Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) has gone on to lose at the next general election they contested in.

Workers' Party (WP) MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) is the only one who has ever bucked this trend.

NCMP Leon Perera cited this yesterday as he argued against the move to raise the minimum number of opposition MPs, including NCMPs, in the House. He said it would benefit only the People's Action Party (PAP).

But Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the NCMP scheme ensures there will always be opposition voices in Parliament, which ultimately benefits Singaporeans.

The Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2016, passed yesterday, will raise the minimum number of opposition MPs, including NCMPs, from nine to 12, and will also give NCMPs full voting rights. All six WP MPs voted against the Bill.

NCMP seats are offered to the best performing losing opposition candidates when the number of elected opposition MPs falls short of the minimum.

Mr Perera questioned the motives behind the scheme, reiterating the WP's long-held stance that it dissuades people from voting for the opposition, and goes against the principle that only elected lawmakers have a mandate to represent the people.

He warned that if the scheme was "fully exploited by the ruling party and fully embraced by voters in the way that the PAP hopes", Parliament may end up with 12 "unelectable opposition MPs".

This would allow the ruling party to do whatever it wished, he said. "It can force Singapore into a never-ending dependence on only one party for generations to come, like a computer with no backup. "

Mr Teo countered that the fact that the WP had taken up the full quota of NCMP seats it was offered shows the scheme has merits.

"This shows that being an NCMP offers advantages, not least of which are public exposure and parliamentary experience. Ms Sylvia Lim herself has been a beneficiary of this," he said, rounding up the debate on the Bill.

To this, Mr Perera had said earlier that he had taken up the NCMP seat, despite his objections to the scheme, because "being in Parliament and arguing for what I believe is right outweigh the risk of damage to our politics from accepting the NCMP position".

In his speech, Mr Teo also acknowledged that the scheme had benefited the PAP, but not in the way Mr Perera suggested.

Instead, it gives PAP MPs the experience of sparring with opposition members in the House, and not just during election season, he said.

It also allows the Government to engage the opposition and scrutinise their proposals, he said, adding that opposition politicians would otherwise behave like "'phantoms in the night' that turn up only at general elections, make claims, not engage, and then disappear again".

"Ultimately, Singapore and Singaporeans will benefit from such debate and the diversity of views."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2016, with the headline Only 1 NCMP has ever become MP: Leon Perera. Subscribe