6 Aug 2006

Non-Constituency Parliament Members and Senators

Cross Posted

The NCMP Non-Constituency Members of Parliament Scheme and NMP Nominated Members of Parliament are unique features of the Singapore political system, with the objective of ensuring the presence of opposition party members in Parliament.

From 1968 to 1981, the People's Action Party was so predominent that it won all the seats, e.g., in the 1968 general election it only had to face 7 opposition candidates. It was only in 1981 that Worker Party's Jeyaratnam entered Parliament after winning the Anson by-election. Even then, the number of returned opposition members in the 1984, 1988, 1991, 1997, 2001 and 2006 elections were 2, 2, 4, 2 and 2. Thus, elections were not really about who will form the next government, but more a referendum giving the PAP government a "mark" indicating voter satisfaction with its performance.

The issue of whether it is necessary to have alternative voices in Parliament to keep complacency and yesmenship in check, has been frequently raised. The NCMP and NMP schemes were meant to address this issue. After each election the Electoral Office can invite up to three unsuccessful opposition party members to become NCMPs, using their vote percentages as selection criteria, in order to ensure there are at least 3 opposition members of parliament. In a separate exercise, up to 9 non-partisan members may be appointed by the government, usually based on achievement in some significant social causes.

These schemes are actually double edged: it has been hinted that, since the system guarantees the presence of alternative voices in Parliament, there is no need to ensure their presence by voting for opposition parties. In other words, people are encouraged to give the government a high "mark" and hopefully a clean sweep, and they are still going to have 3 opposition MPs.

In my view, a better way to meet the same objectives is to have an Upper House (usually called a Senate) elected by a proportionate representation system, with the right to review and discuss legislations but no executive power, since cabinet ministers are only appointed from the Lower House. Based on the vote percentages of the 2006 election, the PAP would appoint 2/3 of senators, Workers' Party and Singapore Democratic Alliance about 1/7, and Singapore Democratic Party 2-3% (meaning that, unless the Senate is quite large, SDP would not have any members).

The significant points are:

1. All voters will take part in a General Election: even if their electorate has no opposition standing against the government (so called "walkover"), they still need to take part in the senate vote, and the current situation of many voters not having the chance to vote will cease.

2. PAP can send retired ministers to the Senate where they can continue to advise the cabinet using their accumulated knowledge and experience.

3. The opposition parties and prominent individuals who can gain enough votes nationally to qualify for a senate seat, have a forum to discuss government policies and national issues even if they are unable to win enough votes in an individual constituency to qualify for the Lower House.

4. The Senate can take over the task of assessing and approving the qualifications of candidates who wish to stand in the Presidential election; currently this is done by a 3-member committee appointed by the government for each election. Having this done by an elected body would make the process more authoritative.

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2 comments:

soci said...

sorry yeun I had to remove the table as it was messing with the html of the page etc...

yuen said...

no problem