Following up from the parliamentary session, the 13th parliament once again convened on 27 January 2016 to continue discussing the President’s address and agenda of future plans. Just when we thought that it would the typical stuff about big frameworks and plans, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made a shocking announcement. He wishes to push for amendments to the constitution. This includes changes to the Elected Presidency and Electoral System.
Amongst the many things he announced, what amused me most was the move to increase the minimum number of opposition members from 9 to 12 for the next General Election. This means that in the event that the PAP win every single electorate, there will still be 12 NCMPs from the opposition party. This is to ensure that opposition voices will always be heard and raising the number just simply means more representation. Or at least, this is the story they want voters to buy. So, what does the ruling party stand to gain?
PM Lee also announced that NCMPs will be given equal voting rights as elected MPs. These rights include the right to vote on bills and amendments to the constitution. Basically, more power will be bestowed to NCMPs. If this amendment passes, citizens will see NCMPs the same as Elected MPs. Perhaps, the government aims to discourage voters from voting or electing an opposition MP because the disincentives become clearer. For the past decades, opposition wards tend to have lower priority in upgrading and other town council services. Hence, this factor will become a greater determinant in the next General Election. From this move, it seems to imply that PAP is really keen on winning back the two opposition wards.
My take on this issue is that the PAP requires a stronger mandate by the next General Election. The next election needs to be held by April 2021. With PAP succession plan being unclear at this moment, it seems highly impossible for PM Lee, and/or other current experienced leaders, to step down by the next General Election. With a stronger mandate or less opposition in the parliament, the party will then be able to invest more energy in restructuring the cabinet or grooming the future batch of leaders without fearing the opposition party gaining traction.
Another highly possible consequence is that this could further encourage opposition parties to contest more aggressively in the next General Election. An increase in the NCMP seats can also be seen as a higher chance of getting a seat in the parliament. (Based on the results of the GE2015, the Workers’ Party (WP) will be able to parachute in 3 more NCMPs from East Coast GRC and Marine Parade GRC) As we have seen in past General Elections, truly capable candidates of a true politician calibre are rare and most belong to WP. Moreover, there were just too MUCH embarrassing moments of candidates from the other opposition parties during rallies.
If the remaining opposition parties try overly hard to such that they expose themselves to more embarrassment, confidence in the opposition will be shaken. It is easier to lose confidence and trust than to gain them back. Voters are precisely not ready to embrace an alternative government simply because of too many incapable opposition politicians making a fool of themselves. This could even result in WP losing Aljunied GRC considering that they won by a slim margin in GE2015.
If this amendment passes, the future of the entire opposition bloc could be bleak and worrying. However, this is also highly dependent on what WP plan to do in the next 5 years leading up to the next election. It is also known that once the opposition loses the constituency to the ruling party, it will be extremely difficult to win it back again when electoral boundary will change “unexpectedly”. The day when PAP takes back 100% of the constituencies will be the day we take a huge step away from being a true democracy. Or maybe that is what majority of the voters subconsciously want?