Pritam Singh to get 'right of first response', more speech time as Leader of the Opposition

Pritam Singh, chief of the Workers’ Party and one of its candidates for Aljunied GRC, seen during her team’s ‘thank you’ speech at Deyi Secondary School on Nomination Day (30 June). (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Pritam Singh, chief of the Workers’ Party and one of its candidates for Aljunied GRC, seen during her team’s ‘thank you’ speech at Deyi Secondary School on Nomination Day (30 June). (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — As Leader of the Opposition (LO), Workers’ Party chief Pritam 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”.

These were among the privileges and duties attached to the LO role as unveiled by the offices of the Speaker of Parliament and Leader of the House in a joint statement on Tuesday (28 July).

During Parliament sessions, Singh 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.

The role will also see Singh receive double the allowance of an elected MP, with a total annual package of $385,000, inclusive of his MP allowance.

He will also be provided with an office and allowed the use of a meeting room in the Parliament House, receive allowances to hire up to three legislative assistants and be provided with a secretary for administrative assistance on Parliamentary business. The hiring allowance comes on top of the amounts granted to every MP to hire one legislative assistant and one secretarial assistant.

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.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singh would be formally designated the LO role on 11 July, shortly after the results of Singapore’s 2020 General Election were announced.

The polls saw the Workers’ Party winning two group representation constituencies and one single-member constituency, earning them 10 seats in Parliament. Another two non-constituency MP roles have been taken up by Progress Singapore Party members.

The joint statement said that while LOs are formally designated in other Westminster-style parliamentary systems, such as Australia and the UK, such a position has not been provided for in Singapore’s Constitution or Standing Orders of Parliament.

“Singapore’s legislatures have never had formal Leaders of the Opposition, not even in the 1950s and early 1960s, when there were substantial numbers of opposition legislative assemblymen,” said the statement.

It noted that late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had led the People’s Action Party as the largest opposition party in Singapore’s Legislative Assembly between 1955 and 1959, while Dr Lee Siew Choh did the same for Barisan Sosialis between 1961 and 1963.

Despite the lack of precedence, 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 our “political system to evolve in a way that maintains our sense of national purpose”, the statement said.

Following the joint statement, Singh said in a post on Facebook that he will reveal more details on the approach that the WP will take in Parliament over the next term during the debate on the President’s address to Parliament next month.

Singh also said he will confer with the two Non-Constituency Members of Parliament from the Progress Singapore Party and extend his support to them as well.

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