The role of the Leader of the Opposition in Singapore versus the UK model

·Assistant News Editor
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Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the swearing in ceremony at the Istana on 27 July 2020. (PHOTO: Lee Hsien Loong/Facebook)
Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the swearing in ceremony at the Istana on 27 July 2020. (PHOTO: Lee Hsien Loong/Facebook)

SINGAPORE — Following the Workers’ Party’s (WP) historic gains in the general election, WP chief Pritam Singh was appointed Leader of the Opposition (LO), the first politician in independent Singapore’s history to be formally given the title.

In the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy, this is the title that is historically given to the leader of the party that has the second largest number of seats in parliament. The LO is typically regarded as an alternative Prime Minister to the incumbent and leads a Shadow Cabinet, or alternative government, with members assigned to keep close watch over specific ministries.

The role of LO exists in a number of Commonwealth countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.

In the wake of the election results on 10 July, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Singh would be provided “appropriate staff support and resources to perform these duties”.

On Tuesday (28 July), the offices of the Speaker of Parliament and the Leader of the House revealed in a joint statement that the WP chief will be given certain parliamentary privileges such as the right of first response among MPs.

He will also have the right to ask the lead question to ministers on policies, Bills and motions. In addition, he will 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".

The two offices said they considered the Westminster parliamentary systems such as the UK and Australia in defining the privileges and duties of the LO in Singapore.

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.

In the United Kingdom

The role of LO originated in the UK, and is a tradition that dates back to the 19th century.

The current LO is Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party. His full title is Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition, reflecting the opposition’s ultimate loyalty to queen and country. He assumed the role in April this year.

Starmer leads the Official Opposition Shadow Cabinet, which scrutinises the Cabinet and also offers alternative policies. It currently consists of members from the Labour Party, the main opposition party in the House of Commons.

In this handout photo provided by UK Parliament, Britain's Labour leader Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament via AP)
In this handout photo provided by UK Parliament, Britain's Labour leader Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament via AP)

During parliamentary sessions, the Leader sits on the front bench on the Speaker’s left, directly opposite the Prime Minister. He is entitled to a salary in addition to his salary as a Member of Parliament. In 2019, the Leader’s salary amounted to 65,171 pounds (S$115,856) per annum. By comparison, Singh will receive an allowance that is double that of an elected MP, or S$385,000 a year.

In recent months, Starmer has won praise for his questioning of Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Parliament. A recent Bloomberg opinion piece by Martin Ivens said, “The voters think Starmer looks and acts like a prime minister-in-waiting.”

Parliamentary exchanges in the House of Commons are typically rowdy affairs, particularly during Prime Minister’s Questions, a weekly half hour session where the PM answers questions from Members.

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