NCMP scheme is ‘stabiliser’ to steer ‘sampan-sized’ Singapore's political system: Goh Chok Tong

Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong speaks at the Chiam See Tong Sports Fund gala dinner on 22 August 2019. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong speaks at the Chiam See Tong Sports Fund gala dinner on 22 August 2019. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — The Non-Constituency Member of Parliament scheme is one of the “outriggers” to steer “sampan-sized” Singapore and acts as a “stabiliser” for the country’s political system, said former prime minister Goh Chok Tong.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Goh highlighted that he and the late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew were the architects of the scheme.

Lee had observed how the PAP backbenchers ably debated with J B Jeyaretnam after the Workers’ Party Secretary-General entered Parliament in 1981, Goh said. Similarly, Lee felt that having opposition MPs allowed the ruling party to debate issues in Parliament, the recently retired former Marine Parade MP added.

“He concluded that it was good for the development of our democracy to have such robust debates on government policies in Parliament...Mr Lee and I never feared having checks-and-balances or alternative voices in Parliament. In fact, it was our wish to guarantee them that led us to create the NCMP scheme,” Goh said.

As Singapore’s constituencies are “rather homogeneous”, since public houses are all over the island, a party that performs well in a General Election may win all, if not an overwhelming majority, of the seats in Parliament, Goh said.

For almost 17 years after independence, Singapore did not have a single opposition MP until Jeyaretnam entered Parliament. “It was precisely to prevent this total absence of opposition voices in Parliament that Mr Lee and I decided to establish the NCMP scheme,” said Goh.

To plan for the scheme, Goh said that he and Lee studied other countries’ parliamentary systems including that in Mauritius.

The NCMP system guarantees opposition voices in Parliament, Goh said. “At the same time, it reduces the probability of the ruling party having its mandate significantly weakened, or even being voted out of office, when that is not really what the voters want,” he added.

Goh noted that some people felt the aim of the NCMP scheme is to shut out the opposition and entrench the ruling party in power. “But the reality is no NCMP scheme would prevent an incompetent, unpopular or corrupt ruling party from being swept out of power – and deservedly so,” he said.

In addition, Goh said he supported the move by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to increase the number of NCMPs from nine to 12 and to accord them the same voting rights as elected MPs.

He added, “Politics is not a game of poker. The NCMP scheme guarantees that the new Parliament will have at least 12 opposition MPs. It is a winning hand for Singapore’s democracy.”

The NCMP has been a subject of intense discussions among the candidates from the ruling and opposition parties in the 2020 General Election season.

Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, said on Monday that NCMPs have voting rights, and can advocate and influence policies in Parliament.

Several opposition parties, like the Workers’ Party, have long opposed the scheme. The WP’s candidate for Hougang SMC Dennis Tan urged Singaporeans not to “fall into the trap” of thinking NCMPs can replace elected opposition MPs. Tan said the scheme prevents the opposition from sinking roots in a constituency.

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