More Political Buffet…

April 27, 2010

Imagine you’ve been eating plain porridge for years. Then suddenly you’re shown a buffet spread of meat, seafood and cream cakes – a real step up in the variety department; or so you’re told. But you find that the meat is all dried up, the seafood’s less than fresh and the cream cakes are more cream than cake. This pretty much sums up the PAP’s move to make permanent the NMP scheme and to raise the NCMP number from six to nine – a flash of form over substance.

With the NMP scheme institutionalised, the government now literally selects the type of alternative voices it wants in Parliament. Ask too many inconvenient questions? Not show enough deference? Not accept ‘no’ for an answer? Well, one term is a fine privilege and how many can say they’ve rubbed shoulders with the entire Cabinet? Thank you very much for your time and effort, see ya! But wait, your work isn’t going to go unrecognised. The government will point to your feisty questions and arguments as proof that Opposition parties are not needed in Parliament for “real debate”.

Meanwhile, NMPs and NCMPs are not allowed to vote on Constitutional matters, the budget, motions of no confidence in the government or to remove the President. So what we have are MPs with limited powers, MPs that have been hand selected by committees dominated by the ruling-party while, as WP NCMP Sylvia Lim notes, the GRC edifice and gerrymandering remain. And we’re told all this is a step up.

All these point to a certain mindset within the PAP elite – give the people political buffet, dazzle them with the variety, but make sure we get to choose what is laid on the table. This decision to go with form-over-substance is implicit in Wong Kan Seng’s opening remarks when he said “We will have the opportunity to hear from a greater diversity of views in this House, including the views and opinions of a larger number of opposition members.” They can speak, so long as they don’t get to vote and so long as they are in the minority.

Perhaps more fundamental was the resistance of younger PAP MPs to the proposal. The resistance was token of course – more interesting was their cognitive dissonance when rejecting NMPs and NCMPs on the basis that they are not voted in.

Ho Geok Choo (West Coast GRC): “Opposition candidates who gain this backdoor entry could band together to put forth their causes or demands in an unparliamentary manner.”


Alvin Yeo (Hong Kah GRC): “We will see more opposition representatives in parliament but not speaking with a different voice.”


Irene Ng (Tampines GRC): “I don’t think its fair or correct to put them as a permanent institution who had to fight to get into Parliament and to submit themselves to open scrutiny by the people for the privilege to serve them and to speak for them”.


Zaqy Mohammad (Hong Kah GRC) “People elected who are accountable to their residents think differently, because at the end of the day, you know you are accountable to someone”.


Ho, Yeo and Zaqy entered politics in 2001, 2006 and 2006 respectively. All three never had to contest a single election in their political careers thanks to walkovers. Ng entered politics in 2001 and is part of a five member GRC team. Just what is it that makes them so unaware of their own contrived routes into Parliament?

The problem here is that these younger PAP MPs have covered themselves with the glory and legacies of the founding members. They are basking in the glory of the party’s historic victories, claiming them as their own and speaking with borrowed authority. It’s thus not uncommon to hear young PAP MPs utter statements like “We fought the communists”; “We rallied the people when we were kicked out of Malaysia”; or “We built this country from scratch”. Well excuse me, the first generation leaders did – you entered politics, hmm, 4 years ago.


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