My fellow Singaporeans and residents of Hougang, good evening!
On Sunday night during the PAP election rally, Ms Denise Phua, the MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC, tried very hard to persuade the people of Hougang that it is possible to have a check on the government without voting any more opposition MPs into Parliament.
First, she said the PAP MPs can be an effective check on the Government. She said that some PAP MPs are ‘more opposition than the opposition’ and they express their views ‘independently’.
Then she went on to say that we don’t even need opposition MPs. She said that we can go check out the Internet to see the views of ex-Nominated MPs and bloggers like mr brown. She said that they do not have allegiance to any specific political party and have minds of their own. She said that they are the real check on the PAP.
Wow! Really? Bloggers are the real check on the PAP? I was an active political blogger several years ago. If I had heard this her speech back then, I wouldn’t have bothered going through all this trouble to join the Workers’ Party and contest in elections. I would have just stayed at home and blogged away to bring about real change to Singapore!
By her logic, we can just all go into Facebook to debate and make laws there. Why bother with Parliament?
In fact, even blogger mr brown, whom Ms Phua mentioned, was tickled. Here is what he wrote on his blog in response:
“I am honoured. Does that mean I get to vote on bills and speak in Parliament from now on?”
I think Ms Phua has a fundamental misunderstanding of the Parliamentary process.
Since there has been so much talk about “independent voices” and “checks and balances”, I would like to share with you a few things about the Parliamentary process, which they probably didn’t teach in school.
Most people know that MPs look after town councils. They conduct meet-the-people sessions every week to hear their constituents’ concerns and petition the government to help them.
An MP is also expected to play an equally important role as a legislator. What does a legislator do in Parliament?
Firstly, he or she talks. Yes, both WP and PAP MPs talk. Is anyone doing anything but talking in Parliament? That’s our job. It is the quality of the talk that matters.
I hope Ms Denise Phua and Mr Teo Chee Hean are not expecting us to do more than that. Do they expect us to throw shoes at each other and fight in front of the cameras, like they do in some other countries?
We talk. We ask Ministers questions. The Ministers reply. We debate. We make speeches to state our opinions on draft laws presented to Parliament. These are called Bills.
But after the debates are over, the real action is when we vote on the Bill. This is a central part of the Parliamentary system we are in. By voting on a Bill, we are collectively deciding on whether the Bill will become a new law.
This is where many so-called “independent voices” have to shut down. All major political parties have a party whip, who is usually one of the senior party leaders.
What does the party whip do? Firstly he makes sure that the MPs from his party are present in the Parliament chamber when the vote is taken. Then he ensures that all his MPs vote according to what the party leadership wants them to vote—this is called the “party line”.
So the PAP MPs can say they opposed the casino, and make grand speeches against it, but when it comes to a vote, they have no choice but to vote according to the party line, even if they disagree.
This is where opposition MPs differ. Workers’ Party MPs also have to vote according to our own party whip. But they do not have to vote according to the PAP party whip.
You may say, chey, then Workers’ Party MPs are also not independent. We are not independent MPs, but we are independent from the PAP. Can you imagine if we go into Parliament, just seven of us, and each of us votes a different way for a Bill? We’ll never be able to effect change like that.
So we work as a disciplined team. We discuss the issue beforehand, debate it and agree internally on what is in the best interest of Singaporeans, and then come to Parliament with a common position.
All Bills need more than 50% of the votes in Parliament to become law. For amendments to the Constitution, a two-thirds majority is needed.
With just seven MPs in Parliament, obviously we cannot affect the voting outcome. But a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We have to start somewhere. We started in 1981 when Mr JB Jeyaretnam won the by-election in Anson. Then in 1991 when Mr Low Thia Khiang won Hougang. And most recently in 2011 when we had a breakthrough in Aljunied GRC.
We will need 29 opposition MPs in order to block Constitutional amendments that we believe are harmful to Singapore’s development. One example of this was the introduction of the GRC system in 1988, which stifled Singapore’s political development.
We are still a long way from that number, 29. However, the PAP will do everything in its power to prevent the Workers’ Party from reaching that number, or even getting close. This is because they fear the day that the cannot ram through policies unhindered in Parliament.
PAP MPs, no matter how vocal, present no threat, because they are controlled by the party whip. Nominated MPs, or Non-constituency MPs also are no threat to them, because they have limited voting rights, and they cannot vote on Constitutional amendments, the Budget and other measures.
This is why it is necessary to vote in elected opposition MPs, if you want a real check on the Government. This is why this by-election is so important to move Singapore towards a First World Parliament where you have a credible but responsible opposition to keep the Government on their toes, working for the people.
Voters of Hougang, you have been through six consecutive General Elections, and voted for the Workers’ Party for the last five. You have been the vanguard of multiparty democracy for the past 21 years.
You have earned the respect and admiration of Singaporeans all over the island.
You have put up with so many disadvantages thrown at you by the PAP. Yet your faith remained strong, because you believed in the need for an opposition voice in Parliament.
But you did not just vote for any opposition. You voted for a credible and responsible opposition party to represent you in Parliament.
It is for this reason that I think it is a huge insult for anyone to imply that Hougang voters vote blindly.
Residents of Hougang, have you been voting blindly?
No, definitely not!
Don’t just vote for anyone who has been here for a year or so and claims that he is always here for you.
Png Eng Huat has a track record of work here in Hougang. He did not just parachute into Hougang before the election last year. He has been here, helping needy residents since 2006.
He did this out of his own care and concern for needy residents, long before he was picked as a candidate for Hougang.
Yes, you should choose the best candidate who can represent you well and work best for you.
Png Eng Huat will be able to represent Hougang residents very well in Parliament. He is from the Workers’ Party and not the PAP, so he will not have any fear in speaking out and voting against PAP government policies that hurt Singaporeans and hurt Hougang residents.
For all these reasons, I say to you that Png Eng Huat is the best man for Hougang and I ask you to vote for him.
Every vote is important. Please contact your friends and family members who live in Hougang, and ask them to vote for the Workers’ Party, and vote for Png Eng Huat!