Tweaking the NCMP scheme

May 28, 2009

Ice Cream SkyI have a recurring dream. Lying in a beautiful green meadow, the fluffy clouds suddenly turn into rich mocha ice-cream. The sky begins to drizzle crushed nuts and M&Ms on the ice-cream as great big dollops of it fall into my open mouth. The flowers on the ground open up their petals to reveal cheap Cadbury chocolate as the petals turn into Kettle potato crisps. I eat and eat without ever getting sick. I’ve never known such bliss. And then I wake up. The echoing void in me is resounding. The disappointment is crushing.

And so I felt a sense of déjà vu on Wednesday when PM Lee Hsien Loong announced proposed changes to the country’s electoral system. This was to encourage a wider range of views in Parliament, including opposition and non-government views.

The changes were in three forms. Firstly, to increase the number of Opposition MPs in Parliament to at nine for every term; secondly, to make the Nominated MP scheme a permanent one; and thirdly, to increase the number of Single-Member Constituencies (SMCs), reduce the number of six-member Group Representative Constituencies (GRCs), and increasing the number of five-member GRCs. 

The public reaction has generally been positive. Academics, observers and commentators have noted that these are small steps towards a more open political sphere.

But why announce the changes now?

According to PM Lee, these changes are announced now in order that they may be debated and discussed before the next General Elections scheduled by 2011.

But could there be some strategic agenda behind it?

There has been a clear and irrefutable trend in neighbouring countries in recent times towards greater democratization. Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia have all undergone greater political liberalization in the past few years, and have seen greater Oppositional representatives in respective parliaments. More importantly, such events have been closely watched by young Singaporeans. On platforms like Internet forums and public seminars, many Singaporeans have openly wondered why Singapore has not yet achieved such political liberalization and when would it do so? There can be no doubt that the People’s Action Party (PAP) is aware of such aspirations from the young.

This must be worrying for the PAP. Fearing that amongst the young and restless there may be a change-for-change’s sake attitude, PM Lee has made a pre-emptive strike.

These changes may be a matter of keeping up with the Jones’, politically speaking. It makes better sense to have these pre-emptive changes before the comparisons between the one-party state and more politically pluralistic neighbours become too loud, thus acting like a political valve that releases pent up pressure from idealistic young Singaporeans clamouring for more Opposition in Parliament. Such a move ensures that Singapore’s political system, while not completely liberal, does not lag too far behind the zeitgeist.

The introduction of more Opposition into Parliament must surely be to sharpen the response, debating skills and reasoning of PAP backbenchers. Some of the reasoning of PAP MPs in the last few days has been truly shocking not only for their intellectual poverty but also for their lack of original thought. PM Lee must surely be uncomfortably aware of this. However, will more Opposition lead to better debates?

I doubt it. It is more likely that the current bunch of PAP MPs will develop a siege mentality and become even more defensive. The lines between us-and-them will be more clearly drawn.

Lastly, the announcement of such changes also comes before the APEC Summit in November. This would invariable win the city-state some good press coverage given the inevitable reportage on the restrictions to protest groups which will be descending on to Singapore.

Of the three changes, the increase in NCMP seats has garnered the most attention. This is because, together with the compulsory nine NMP seats, there will be a guaranteed 18 non-PAP MPs in Parliament. This is unprecedented since 1965.

The number of NCMPs will now be increased from a maximum of six to nine. There are three real consequences.

Firstly, the message sent to voters will be this: there is no need to cast your ballot for the opposition because some will get in as NCMPs anyway. In actual terms this would spell a dip in the popular vote for the Opposition. It is a psychological gain for the PAP.

Secondly, with more NCMP seats up for grabs, different Opposition parties will find it harder to agree amongst themselves which constituencies to contests and which to avoid. There would be more 3-corner or even 4-corner fights. This would of course split the Opposition vote and benefit the PAP. Take for example Aljunied GRC in the last election. The PAP team won 56 per cent of the votes, while the Worker’s Party won 44 per cent. With the promise of two NCMP seats up for grabs in GRCs, other Opposition parties will be tempted to contest in Aljunied too as it is popularly perceived as the weakest GRC. This would surely cut the Worker’s Party’s 44 per cent share.

Thirdly, meanwhile there are also strategic gains too. NCMPs have limited voting rights. The more Opposition MPs that come under the NCMP scheme means that there will be more opposition MPs in Parliament who cannot vote on constitutional matters, public funds, no confidence motion or to remove the President. Ultimately it means more Opposition MPs with fewer voting rights.

 Sigh. Dreams are a bitch. 

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One Response to “Tweaking the NCMP scheme”

  1. The SS Says:

    “there will be a guaranteed 18 non-PAP MPs in Parliament. This is unprecedented since 1965.”
    We should stop saying this.. an NCMP is NOT an MP cos they don’t look after any constituency(so does NMP). The more we use the word MP freely interchangeable with NCMP, they more the citizens will be fooled to believe there will be 18 representation when it comes to voting rights in Parliament and we will play into the PAP’s hands.

    But yes.. its just a day dream… nothing has changed. we have to wake up to the reality of only voting in full flegded MP’s do we stand a chance to being truly democratic.
    The PAP’s meaning of Voices is really that.. Voices aka NOISES.. nothing more. Perhaps just to provide some sort of spectacle of debate when actually it won’t matter one bit.


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