In opposition to the Nominated MP scheme

I oppose the Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) scheme.

It’s name — Nominated MP — already condemns it as undemocratic in nature. An MP is supposed to be a representative of his or her constituency — the candidate who has been given the most votes by his constituents.

In Singapore, NMPs are nominated by just 6 people — these could be their personal friends, colleagues, industry representatives — pretty much any adult Singaporean. They are then selected by a Special Parliamentary Select Committee consisting of the Speaker as Chairman and 7 MPs to be nominated by the Committee of Selection of Parliament.

So while other elected MPs need to be elected by as many as 80,000 people, NMPs only need to be “elected” by 13 people, 6 of whom are their own buddies. The 7 MPs on the Special Select Committee are nominated by the Committee of Selection. With a virtually all-PAP Parliament, who do you think are the MPs who end up in the Special Select Committee? Currently, 6 out of 7 of them are from the PAP. There is one opposition MP — The Workers’ Party’s Low Thia Khiang, but he is greatly outnumbered. Furthermore, I’m not sure if this actually lends credibility to an already undemocratic scheme.

The PAP introduced the NMP scheme 19 year ago, ostensibly to improve the quality of debate in Parliament. I have no doubt that the quality of debate back then was poor. What’s there to debate when everyone in the House agrees on the same thing? It’s more an exercise in cheerleading than Parliamentary debate.

There is a more sinister motive that many have levelled against the NMP scheme — that the PAP wanted to present a veneer of robustness in debate so that Singaporeans will see no need to elect more opposition MPs at the polls.

Although no PAP leader has openly admitted to this (unlike the GRC scheme, which Goh Chok Tong admitted was to usher in younger, less electable MPs to Parliament), the constraints on NMPs points to this motive.

NMPs can take part in Parliamentary debates, but they:

  • Cannot vote to change the Constitution;
  • Cannot vote on the Government’s Budget;
  • Cannot vote in a motion of no-confidence in the Government;
  • Cannot vote to remove the President from office.

The third point is critical. A vote of no-confidence in the Government would mean that the Prime Minister and his Cabinet would have to resign and the President will have to dissolve Parliament and call fresh elections.

Basically the Constitution handicaps NMPs to be pretty much no-action, talk-only, through no fault of their own.

Some supporters of NMP scheme have said that some NMPs perform much better in Parliamentary debates than many PAP or Opposition MPs. I don’t deny that some of them like Eunice Olsen, Siew Kum Hong and Thio Li-ann were more eloquent than many elected MPs. But I would say it is also easier for them to just pen down what’s on their heart and shoot from the hip, since there is no need for them to deliver a speech in line with any party line or answer to their constituents.

The good news is that there is no Constitutional requirement to even have NMPs in the first place. I hope that the Select Committee will stand up for real democracy and reject all NMP applications. Let our MPs in Parliament be only those with a democratic mandate from the people.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

5 thoughts on “In opposition to the Nominated MP scheme”

  1. I do not support the NMP scheme either. He should get into parlaiment the right way; by being elected by the people. Of course some may say, “let’s support good men in whatever capacity they are in” and that “we have too few of them to be picky”. But I think the few good men should make a moral stand to not use the back door to exercise legislative influence.

  2. I may give some (not all) NMPs marks for their performance in Parliament. However, seeking an appointment through the NMP scheme and hence endorsing it is another matter.

    If one feels it is alright with not being accountable to a people’s mandate by seeking an appointed post in a people-elected Parliament, then his or her case becomes weak when complaining of the PAP government’s autocracy, high-handedness and lack of accountability – as in the case of Siew when he was stopped by police from a road petition without an explanation and did not get one when asked. Ironically, he had brought up this issue in Parliament when in the first place, he accepts the lack of accountability, albeit in another way.

    In short, I would be fine with “Siew Kum Hong in Parliament” or “Eunice Olsen in Parliament”, but not “Siew Kum as NMP”. He can get into Parliament standing as an opposition candidate and honestly, I am even alright if he becomes a PAP MP. Although many PAP MPs receive a walkover, a true fact is that an opponent who is undefeated is below the league to an opponent whom no one even dares to challenge.

    The bottomline is, it’s the principle, not anything else.


  3. Art 39(1)(c) of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore did mandate such a requirement i.e. the inclusion of NMP within the legislature. Of course, it is an unfortunate creature (or so I assume) of amendments to the constitution in the 80s.

    However, the constitution is but a mere instrument. Stakeholders i.e. citizens need to step up and take certain level of political responsibilities towards molding the represented legislature as desired by them. One of which, is voting towards their inclinations. So far, they seemed to, at least statistically, favour no change.

    In my opinion, whilst the singular party formula to national stability is a long antiquated doctrine, far few would vote in recognition of that field of thought.

  4. Yah lor, so more people should vote for a capable opposition, so the PAP doesn’t think it has a blank cheque to do anything it pleases, including willy nilly changing the Constitution to tilt the field in its favour.

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