SINGAPORE — As the dust settles after what has been described as a watershed General Election (GE), Members of Singapore’s 14th Parliament have been busy at work over the past two-and-a-half weeks ahead of the first sitting of the House.
Last Saturday (25 July), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled his new Cabinet line-up and announced that the new Parliament session will convene on 24 August with the President’s Address, just one-and-a-half months after the polls. The Cabinet was sworn in on Monday (27 July).
Returning Officer Tan Meng Dui had declared the 93 MPs as elected for their respective constituencies on polling night on 10 July and into the next morning; the list of MPs were also published in the government gazette on 13 July.
But the newly elected MPs were already walking the ground early in the morning of 11 July – not just to thank residents for their support, but to also take note of feedback. For instance, the Workers’ Party (WP) Sengkang GRC MP Jamus Lim was seen making notes on his tablet while talking to a resident at Rivervale Plaza.
Due to the pandemic, physical meet-the-people sessions (MPS) did not resume immediately. Instead, MPs have been conducting these sessions virtually. For instance, the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Sembawang GRC MP Mariam Jaafar said in Facebook post on 13 July that the MPS for her Woodlands ward would be done virtually, except for a skeletal team available at the regular Monday slots to attend to residents who don’t use email.
Meanwhile, PAP’s Marymount MP Gan Siow Huang held her first face-to-face MPS on 21 July. “Measures will be put in place to ensure that the session is conducted safely,” she said on Facebook, referring to precautions in light of the pandemic.
As of 24 July, the profiles of the new MPs, details of their MPS and contact details had already been uploaded onto the Parliament website.
So what happens after an election and before Parliament sits?
Parliament and town councils
Cabinet members continue to hold their positions after the dissolution of Parliament until the next session of Parliament for continuity of governance.
For each new session of the House, the Clerk of Parliament will notify MPs to a Proclamation by the President in the government gazette summoning the House to convene. After GE2015, the 13th Parliament first met in January 2016, some four months after the polls. (The maximum term of Parliament is five years from its first sitting.)
MPs will first elect the Speaker, and the Clerk will then administer the Oath of Allegiance to the Speaker before doing so to the other MPs.
The opening of the Parliament session will then formally commence with the President’s Address, which will set out the government's broad plans for its five-year term. After the speech, Parliament will adjourn for at least two full days before its next sitting, on a date to be determined by the Leader of the House.
On Saturday, PM Lee announced that following President Halimah Yacob’s Address to open Parliament, MPs will reconvene for debates on 31 August.
Meanwhile, towns will be declared by the Minister for National Development after the GE. The handover of town councils after a GE must take place within 90 days of the declaration of towns.
PAP reflects on performance
Apart from its MPs walking the ground, the ruling PAP has also been analysing the results of GE2020. The party won just over 61 per cent of the vote, a sharp drop from the 69.9 per cent it garnered in GE2015. It was the party’s worst electoral performance since independence in terms of the number of seats lost to the opposition, with the WP winning Sengkang GRC and retaining Aljunied GRC and Hougang SMC.
The morning after the election, PAP treasurer K. Shanmugam told reporters of the results, “I think it requires a lot of soul searching and reflection.”
And on 18 July, a week after the polls, PAP central executive committee member Lawrence Wong addressed party activists to “set the results in context”. He reiterated PAP chief Lee Hsien Loong’s message that it had “a clear mandate”. Wong said, “61.2 per cent is a solid majority of those who support and want a PAP government, although it is lower than we had hoped for”.
In his speech, Wong acknowledged that there was a nationwide swing away from the PAP, not just for young voters but also for older Singaporeans. Noting that the PAP’s vote share has never fallen below 60 per cent, he said, “And that is because the base kept faith with PAP, knowing that the PAP kept faith with its base.
“What is this base? They are the working class, the middle-class, the heartlands of Singapore. The PAP must continue to keep faith with our base. Our policies must always tilt in favour of the less fortunate and vulnerable. This is in the PAP’s roots and DNA. We must never waver in our commitment to social justice – to preserve social mobility for all Singaporeans, and to build a more fair and just society,” Wong added.
Urging activists to continue to strive to win the trust of the people, Wong also said, “We have five years to overcome the problems, consolidate on the ground, and show voters what we can do. Comrades, the work to win GE2025 starts now.”
Indeed, Wong himself was on the ground the previous day. In a Facebook photo caption on 17 July, he said, “I’ve resumed my weekly house visits in Limbang and it was wonderful to chat with many of our residents, and to receive your kind words of encouragement and support...Look forward to catching up with all of you in the weeks ahead.”
Leader of the Opposition
One key development following the end of the GE was the formal appointment of WP chief Pritam Singh as the Leader of the Opposition (LO).
On Tuesday (28 July), the offices of the Speaker of Parliament and Leader of the House outlined the privileges and duties attached to the LO in a joint statement.
PM Lee said on Monday that the GE2020 results had shown a “strong desire among Singaporeans for a greater diversity of views in politics” and that the “trend is here to stay”. The designation of an LO is thus a recognition of this desire and will enable Singapore’s “political system to evolve in a way that maintains our sense of national purpose”, the statement said.
Singh will “generally be given the right of first response among Members of Parliament (MPs)” and receive confidential briefings by the government on “select matters of national security and external relations, and in the event of a national crisis or emergency”.
He will be allowed to ask the lead question to ministers on policies, Bills and motions – subject to existing speaking conventions – and will also be given more time for speeches, as much as that given to political officeholders.
Among his new duties as the country’s first-ever LO, Singh will have to:
Lead the opposition in presenting alternative views during parliamentary debates
Lead and scrutinise the government’s positions and actions in Parliament
Be consulted on the appointment of opposition members to Select Committees
In addition to his parliamentary obligations, he may also be called upon to attend official state functions, as well as take part in visits and meetings alongside members of the government and public service. The joint statement said in defining the role of the LO in Singapore, other Westminster-style parliamentary systems, such as in the UK, were considered.
In a Facebook post, Singh said on Tuesday he will give half of his additional parliamentary allowance to charitable and community causes, as well as the WP.
WP to set up new town council
On 18 July, WP’s Sengkang GRC MP He Ting Ru informed residents via a Facebook post that the opposition party’s MPs intend to run Sengkang Town Council on its own, without merging it with any other constituency, and that she will chair the new town council.
The takeover process involves working with two existing town councils which currently service the constituency – Ang Mo Kio Town Council and Pasir-Ris Punggol Town Council.
Sengkang GRC consists of the now-defunct Sengkang West and Punggol East single member constituencies, as well as the Sengkang Central ward from Pasir Ris–Punggol GRC.
“The preference is for Sengkang to be run as a standalone town council,” said Singh at a press conference on 12 July. “Sengkang, we believe, has the economies of scale that will allow it to stand as (one),” he added.
Meanwhile, Dr Lim spent last week scouting for two locations for his MPS, among other things. “I will rotate between these two spots weekly, and on weeks I’m further north, I’ll do my weekly house visit at a more southerly block, and vice versa,” the Sengkang GRC MP said on Facebook on 20 July.
Over at Aljunied GRC, Singh was visiting residents’ homes. “Great to be back meeting residents in the Eunos ward of Aljunied GRC over house visits this evening after GE2020,” he wrote on Facebook on 15 July.
“House visits are an important touch point for opposition MPs and MPs-elect. It is also where we achieve a better understanding of what is topmost on the minds of our residents and friends,” he added.
MP Gerald Giam was also busy. He posted a photo of himself on Facebook on 19 July carrying a mattress with the caption, “Thankful to a resident in Bedok Reservoir area for generously donating some really good quality (and heavy!) mattresses to another family in Hougang-Punggol who needed it for their children. We need more of this "gotong royong“ spirit in our communities!”
In another photo caption on 17 July, Giam wrote, “Lunch meeting with fellow MPs, had a long meeting with a resident to discuss an appeal, attended a gathering at our favourite Resident's Corner, followed by our first house visits since #GE2020, then ended the day with a round of greetings to residents at the nearby kopitiam.”
NCMPs relinquish party positions
On 16 July, the Returning Officer also declared Progress Singapore Party (PSP) leaders Leong Mun Wai and Hazel Poa as Non-Constituency MPs (NCMP), after their five-member West Coast group representation team garnered the best showing among the losing opposition candidates.
Under the Parliamentary Elections Act, the number of NCMP seats in the House is 12 minus the number of opposition MPs elected. The PSP team had decided among themselves as to who would take up the NCMP seats.
Party members had reportedly been told on 19 July that Leong and Poa would relinquish their leadership roles within PSP as assistant secretary-general and vice-chairman respectively. This is so that they can focus on their parliamentary duties, even as the party restructures itself for the future. Nonetheless, the duo remain in the PSP’s central executive committee.
The party’s new assistant secretary-general Francis Yuen told The Straits Times, “We want to get it right for our first two NCMPs, so they need to spend all their time there (in Parliament), and step down from internal assignments. We don't want them distracted with things like interviewing new members and setting up ground operations."
Meanwhile, Leong told Today, “Both on the party side and Parliament side, we have many things to do in order to meet the expectations that the voters have of us.”
Indeed, Singapore’s newest political party signalled that it wouldn’t fade away after the elections and would stay the course.
In a Facebook post on 17 July, Leong said the party has started a virtual MPS at West Coast GRC and will continue doing so every Monday.
“We will also be starting our physical MPS soon in all the wards that we have contested in...After all the hustle and bustle of the GE, it’s time to get down to doing the ultimate thing – serving the people. Looking forward to seeing some of you on the ground too,” he added.
Altogether, there were 2,540,359 votes cast at GE2020 – including 45,822 rejected ones – making up 95.81 per cent of the 2,651,435 registered electors. Locally, 2,535,565 votes were cast – including 45,772 rejected ones – while 4,794 ballots were cast overseas.
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