“The Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme is designed not to change government policies but to point out weaknesses in them, said People’s Action Party chairman Lim Boon Heng” (NCMPs Free To Oppose Government Policies, Miss Lei Jiahui).
The Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme has been a considerably contentious issue in recent weeks, even though the scheme had been recently expanded to include up to nine Opposition NCMPs in Parliament. Mr. Lim Boon Heng – in the news report “NCMPs Free To Oppose Government Policies” (April 15, 2011) by Miss Lei Jiahui – launched a staunch defence for the scheme, especially since the initiative was conceived to provide for more robust alternative voices in Singapore’s legislative. However, Opposition parties are worried that such an expansion might consequently encourage voters to continue granting the People’s Action Party (PAP) its long-standing hegemony, since Opposition voices are “guaranteed” during policy-making processes.
But do these considerations mean that Opposition parties and candidates should be quick to reject the scheme in its entirety? Not necessarily. Miss Sylvia Lim, since 2006, has demonstrated competency and dedication as a parliamentarian; and has reflected the voices of constituents through her speeches and replies, on issues over ministerial salaries as well as means testing in hospitals. Her experience and exposure will definitely be beneficial in the upcoming General Elections.
Correspondingly, as the NCMPs amass greater parliamentary experience through debates and questions – dependent largely on the enthusiasm and the commitment of the respective NCMP – they would definitely be more recognised on the ground by constituents, and emerge more accessible and engaged. Singaporeans will gain insights into their policy positions, and holistically comprehend their socio-economic plans.
Nonetheless, because NCMPs have no voting rights, they would not be able to substantively amend or alter policy recommendations or proposals; therefore, as Mr. Lim Boon Heng has aptly pointed out, NCMPs can only “point out weaknesses”. Checks and balances – within an administration that has been overwhelming dominated by a single political party – would merely be rhetorical. The incumbent government has constantly referred to the “change from within” maxim, purporting that groupthink is present and individuals have the liberty to air their concerns; but on-the-ground voters are concerned whether such stability and diversity can be constructively maintained in the long run. Assertions that NCMPs are not “real Opposition” are premised upon the opinion that even if the representatives highlight significant points of objection or contention, they would not be able to translate these sentiments into actual votes.
The key is this: Opposition political candidates – especially those newcomers with no prior first-hand parliamentary experience – should not be too quick to dismiss the NCMP scheme; at the same time, if Singaporeans are genuinely desirous of having Opposition politicians represent the electorate’s interests or having more concerted alternative voices in the Government, then they must be prepared to reflect these desires at the ballot box.