Translated by Donaldson Tan
This is a non-verbatim translation of Zaobao report 《继续在国会采负责与理智态度 工人党议员要就事论事》 dated 03 October 2011.
(03-10-2011) ● 游润恬 报道
First-time Opposition MPs gear up for Parliament
In a week’s time, the 12th Parliament will convene for the first time. Of the 6 elected Opposition MPs and 3 NCMPs, 7 are actually new faces. Zaobao speaks to the 7 new faces to learn how they perceive their roles as the Opposition in Parliament.
The Workers’ Party
The Workers’ Party forms the core of the 9-member Opposition camp in Parliament. With exception to Secretary-General Low Thia Khiang and Chairman Sylvia Lim, the other 6 WP parliamentarians are new faces.
It is understood that the Workers’ Party (WP) will assign each parliamentarian a different scope of topics for parliamentary debate. This division of labour is an internal arrangement and it is not a ploy to drum up the image of each parliamentarian, according to Chen Show Mao, a WP MP for Aljunied GRC.
Some Singaporeans urged the WP to be more pro-active in Parliament. “Don’t hesistate to ‘hoot’ the PAP,” a middle-aged resident told Yaw Shin Leong, WP MP for Hougang SMC, during a walkabout yesterday.
However, Mr Yaw replied that remarks directed at the PAP in Parliament should be a calculated move. “Bei sai luan luan hoot, ah bo dan or bak kar,” he replied. He further added that if he were to speak in Parliament, he would speak on the heart and the plight of the people.
WP NCMP Gerald Giam, who also heads the WP Media Team, told Zaobao that the new faces’ approach to Parliament would adhere to the established practices of senior WP parliamentarians: responsible, rational, and sticking to the topic at hand.
“We don’t wish for Singapore to emulate the political gridlocks seen in other countries. The reason why we are in politics is to voice up perspectives that the government has neglected. Even if these perspectives conflict with the government’s, we will not hesistate to bring it up,” he said.
Mr Giam further added that while the ‘war of words’ may have entertaining value to the masses, it certainly has no benefit for the country. The WP would benefit if the government becomes a better government by adopting policy proposals by the WP.
“The most important criteria for our perfomance is the betterment of lives of Singaporeans. If Singaporeans’ lives improved during our term as parliamentarians, then we not only must have done a good job, we also achieved our objectives of joining poilitics. After all, an effective Opposition is one that can nudge the government to do things that can benefit the entire country. I believe the electorate can see the benefit of our approach.”
Engaging the Ruling Party
However, would the non-confrontational style of the Workers’ Party reasonate with the angry faction of the electorate who is most disatisfied with the ruling party? Pritam Singh, WP MP for Aljunied GRC said that the electorate is not homogenous. Some desired for parliamentary showmanship while others want the Opposition to corner the government in Parliament.
“Shocking statements are usually untenable or fringe. While we seek to achieve balance, we don’t want to be perceived as a submissive Opposition party too. When it is appropriate to oppose the government, we will do so. When there is grounds to support the government in its decision, we will do so too,” Mr Singh told Zaobao.
WP NCMP Yee Jenn Jong, who lost Joo Chiat SMC by slim margin of 300 votes to PAP MP Charles Chong, said developments will unfold when the 12th Parliament convenes.
“There are more Opposition representatives in Parliament now. This means the Opposition has a longer airing time in Parliament to bring up more issues, topics and other concerns,” he said.
It is understood that the WP would be assigning each parliamentarian a different scope of public policy coverage. The division of labour is an internal arrangement and it is not a ploy to drum up the image of each parliamentarian.
“The Workers’ Party is not creating a Shadow Cabinet. There is also no strict enforcement that each parliamentarian must adhere rigidly to the scope of public policy he is assigned,” Chen Show Mao, a WP MP for Aljunied GRC, told Zaobao.
Introduction of the Party Whip
Until last month, the WP doesn’t have a Party Whip. Low Thia Khiang has assumed the role of Party Whip while Sylvia Lim has assumed the role of Deputy Party Whip.
The role of the Party Whip is to ensure every party parliamentarian would adhere to the official party position during parliamentary voting and debates. Is the Party Whip a cause of concern for the WP’s new faces? The reaction is mixed.
Chen Show Mao pointed out that it is unsurprising that the WP now has a party whip given that this is a common practice among established political parties.
Gerald Giam said, “The electorate voted us because they recognise the Hammer (WP’s logo )and what the Hammer stands for, and not due to our individual personality. Moving together as a team is our most effective mean to reflect Singaporeans’ concerns in Parliament.”
Yaw Shin Leong said that his 10-year experience as a party member affirmed his perception that WP is highly democratic. The party leadership only determines their position after a vigourous debate with Executive Council.
However, Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, a WP MP for Aljunied GRC, cited concerns. Being the first elected Malay Opposition MP, the Malay community expects him to speak up for them. His motivation for doing so stems from the belief that the betterment of the Malay community ultimately benefits society at large.
Lina Chiam: I will bring startling views into Parliament
Lina Chiam is the 2nd Vice-Chairman of the Singapore People’s Party (SPP). She is also the only non-WP NCMP. She told Zaobao she will bring startling views into Parliament.
She added that she will bring up concerns which Chiam See Tong previously brought up in the last Parliament that were never satisfactorily addressed by the government. Chiam See Tong was the previous MP for Potong Pasir. Her other concerns include the single mother issue and the repeal of the Internal Security Act.
Madam Chiam will also be bringing up views of other SPP members. The SPP Policy Working Group, headed by former government scholar Mr Benjamin Pwee, would be advising Madam Chiam on parliamentary debate.