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Not in My Parliament

Not in My Parliament. (NMP).

Today we learn that a record number of nominations have been put up for selection for the nine available places for Nominated members of Parliament. (The NMP scheme)

I’ll tell you where I am straight away. I even find it hard to write the phrase Nominated Member of Parliament. It sounds so ridiculous to my ears. It is an oxymoron unless you are unfortunate enough to still be living under a communist regime where it presumably makes perfect sense.  In fact, functional representatives nominated or selected by different organisations were used in Hong Kong in the first iteration of the post 1997 Assembly because of Beijing’s aversion to direct elections. Since then the Hong Kong Assembly has been steadily moving towards being wholly directly elected overwhelmingly supported by the people despite opposition from the powers in Beijing. Nominated Members of Parliament and increasing the number of nominated members represents a step backwards for Singapore and a step away from democracy.

Isn’t the whole point about members of parliament that they are elected and therefore have a mandate of the people and are accountable to their constituency? They have a responsibility to the citizens at large to elect laws into being, balance the budget and so forth. Parliament is a serious business. Should we really be running a side-show inside?

The way the State directed media is hyping the record number of applicants is fishy to say the least. Ironically this attempt to create a buzz has unwittingly provided the kind of truth that we rarely see in our papers with all  the ‘experts’ agreeing that parliament doesn’t function as it should and can’t hold a decent debate.  The Straits Times kicked off the fun fair with Professor of law Thio Li-ann who said, “it could be because in an increasingly re-politicised environment, there is great interest in channels of participation in public affairs, which is a way of keeping the government to account as well as to promote viewpoint diversity”

The applicants comprise those who have organisations behind them and those who are completely independent.  How can only nine people with partisan and sectarian agendas representing only themselves promote any meaningful diversity?  As they cannot vote and have no mandate to represent the people how can they hold the government to account?  What professor Thio is actually saying here is that Parliament is not to be looked to for promoting diverse viewpoints and needs nine selected bystanders to keep it to account.  It is also ridiculous to suggest that a PAP dominated panel process would result in diversity of selection, as was evidenced with the last batch. She is clearly showing contempt for the democratic process and the role of the Opposition, hardly surprising as she herself is a former NMP.

She then has the temerity to say, “They can get to the merits (of the debate) without being concerned about grandstanding or … ‘playing politics’.” So there you are Mr Prime Minister. All along you and your parliamentary colleagues have been obstructing the path to the merit of the debate with all your grandstanding and ‘playing politics’.  Following the Prof to her logical conclusion we don’t need Parliament or elections, just people like her getting straight down to it. We wouldn’t want to inconvenience her path to running the country with any of that playing and grandstanding.

In fact a system of representatives of groups of people (lawyers, tradesmen, plebs) originated with the Romans and this was carried over to Mussolini’s Italy and Nazi Germany as the bedrock of Fascist government. The idea is that certain groups of people are more important, more worthy, more equal than others and they get a voice.  In modern-day Singapore the NTUC is a good example with several MP’s already in parliament plus their chosen applicants for the NMP positions.

In short the NMP scheme undermines the fundamental principle of ‘one man one vote’.

The second apologist canvassed was Bridget Welsh of SMU who said that she see the incoming NMPs, “drawing on their expertise to enhance the debate and offer alternatives on national issues.” It is good to see that she is in agreement with the Prof and also believes that debate in parliament is ineffectual and flat. The good and great nine contestants who make the final cut are needed to enhance the debate and presumably get a Simon Cowell recording contract as well.

Like Thio she is also completely ignorant of the function of parliament when she talks about ‘drawing on expertise’.   Again a fascist viewpoint suggesting as it does that rule of the people by the people should be replaced with rule of the people by the experts. Parliament is not about being an expert. They summon experts, they hire and consult. They have the civil service. Ms Welsh’ assertion fits in perfectly with the PAP’s view repeated ad nauseam for the last 50 years that the ordinary people aren’t ready, aren’t up to it, or are just too daft to act in their own best interests.

There is a system for sectarian/ partisan/special interest voices and it is lobby groups and civil society activists.  In a truer democracy, diversity and alternate views would be represented by the balance of MP’s from different parties accurately representing the balance of their constituencies and that balance would keep the government to account.  We can keep the government to account in a variety of other ways and one would be to install a parliamentary ombudsman.

We do need to start putting in place the building blocks of democracy if we are ever to develop towards being a fully functioning, fair democracy. The NCMP scheme acts as a kind of apprenticeship and is therefore useful for training up parliamentarians for the alternative Parties. The NMP scheme is more akin to a, ‘bring your son to work day”.  And here’s the rub. I’ve yet to see any NMP actually go on to stand for election and fight to gain a mandate of the people or even aspire to become an MP, so it is completely misleading to bill this as some kind of ‘politicisation.’

I started this article by saying the amount of hype being given to this is suspicious. Whether you object to the scheme as a perversion of democracy or agree with  Dr Tan Cheng Bock who worries that the scheme will harm our diversity and bring in people with hidden agendas much of Singapore will jump on the bandwagon and celebrate the number of applicants as a marvellous sign of civil activism.

We will see a lot of commentary on this subject in the coming days. Most of it will echo the language we saw used by the talking heads in today’s ST article. The key words and phrases will be diversity, representation, new society or re-politicised society, strengthening, or enhancing the debate, alternative views, voices, balance, and accountability.  The net effect is an attempt to convince you that the NMP scheme can do everything that the people sought from an Opposition force in parliament.     It is an attempt to neutralise the demand for change, the demand to be heard and the demand for accountability. It is a magician’s sleight of hand in a conjuring trick. “Watch the pretty girl in the fishnet tights whilst I stuff the rabbit into the hat. Hey presto I made the rabbit disappear!”


  1. Rajiv Chaudhry, Im sure you are extremely pleased with the little tirade you have made against Prof Thio.

    Your comments are in truth extremely xxxxxxxxx.( deleted by the moderator)and they count for nothing but fodder in a serious discussion. What do you mean by “anti-equality”? Like must be compared to like, and if you have not established that xxxxxxxxx.( deleted by the moderator) is “like” to xxxxxxxxx.( deleted by the moderator), then it is ludicrous to say that outlawing gay sex is “anti-equality”. If it can be proved that a majority of Singaporeans are in fact against gay sex, then the move to repeal 377A is nothing but the undemocratic actions of a selfish minority to impose their unwanted morality on the rest of normal society. As for your accusations of the Professor as being “anti-liberal”, that hardly constitutes criticism of any sort. Intelligent people differ, and even US politicians will tell you that there are respected liberals and conservatives in any mature political system.

    YOU ARE SUCH A xxxxxxxxx.( deleted by the moderator)

    Moderator’s comment.
    Normally we don’t publish comments that are just personal attacks and hurl abuse at people. This comment even misunderstands 377A. Lesbian ‘sex’ is ‘Gay sex’ and that isn’t made illegal by the Act. Anyway I thought I would let it stand to show the quality of the debate on the opposing team.


  2. Prof Thio Li-ann’s comments are not surprising in view of her well known anti-liberal and anti-equality stance. Her major (and rather dubious) achievement in parliament as an NMP was her tirade against the repeal of Section 377A (which criminalises sex between consenting males – but not females). Her mother, Thio Su-men is said to have master minded the AWARE saga. The regard with which the international community holds Prof Thio can be seen by the fact that New York University withdrew her appointment to teach a human rights course following protests from students over her anti-gay views. Its a pity the Straits Times chose to quote this lady but I suppose its par for the course.

    With regard to debate in parliament, a little known fact is that Singapore’s parliament sits for less than 30 days a year (as an aside, this makes our legislators easily the highest paid in the world on an hourly basis). By comparison, parliaments in the UK, Canada and other countries sit for up to 180 days a year. On top of this, the time allowed for a member to raise a matter on a motion for adjournment was recently chopped from 30 to 20 minutes. Only in Singapore can we pretend to have meaningful debate on matters of national importance with a time limit of 20 minutes per speaker and only in Singapore can we continue to maintain the charade of a functioning parliamentary democracy with the restrictions and systems currently in place. Cest la vie.


    • Thank you Rajiv for your comments. I feel you have raised an important issue about the hidden, sectarian or partisan agendas that NMPs may bring to Parliament with them (as they can be wholly unrepresentative of our people as a Nation.) My focus was primarily on how the system itself is an affront to democracy and also now increasingly unnecessary. The number was extended at a time before a GRC had fallen to the Opposition and when the government was genuinely afraid of a ‘watershed’ election. In the event that watershed didn’t occur, so I, for one, will continue to demand more accountability and a greater balance of power than a few ‘voices’ can provide.

      Your point about the number of hours worked by our parliamentarians makes for sober reading. It makes a good contrast to the statistics I always quote re our productivity. When you look at the GDP per hour worked by our (non-MP) citizens then we are working longer than any other advanced Nation to get to that double digit GDP whilst our productivity figures are amongst the lowest. Nothing more ably demonstrates the divide that is apparent in Singapore between the haves and “never-will-haves” than that figure compared to the shortest hours worked by our MPs for the highest salaries.

      Here is what I wrote on the Changes to speaking time back in November 2010.

      “Government Curtails Question Time
      Posted on November 10, 2010 by votingrp
      In a sign of just how disingenuous the government is when it says it says it wants to answer the public’s desire for more non-government voices in Parliament, the Standing Order Committee of Parliament has proposed that the time given to MPs to make their speeches or ask questions is to be cut from 30 minutes to 20 (see link below):

      Parliament meets infrequently enough as it is. Not content with perfecting a system where more than half the electorate is deprived of the chance to vote and 34% of those able to vote largely unrepresented in Parliament, the PAP want to ensure that there is less scrutiny and accountability of their Ministers and policies by limiting Question Time. Despite introducing innovations to a deeply flawed and undemocratic system to allow for more NCMPs, who are unable to vote on any issue of substance, the government appears to want to severely curtail their one useful function, which is to be able to ask questions and compel Ministers to answer.”


  3. This NMP system is another of PAP’s “Inventions” and a “slap” at democracy. Since PAP is so interested in “foreign talent”, then there must be some value in these “foreign talent’s” countries which they were trained and grew up in. If Singapore has the “ideas and talents”, then why aren’t we producing the needed talent within our system. Is everything from Singapore the best? Doubtful to that. Singapore does not have the best ideas as we are too small and too young to be a store of ideas. The Ideas come from countries like the USA and UK etc. these are the true models of democracy which the world must emulate.


  4. “The NMPC scheme acts as a kind of apprenticeship and is therefore useful for training up parliamentarians for the alternative Parties.”

    I believe you meant NCMP (Non-Constituency Member of Parliament).


    • NCMPs are quite different as they are meant to be an inadequate and unfair correction for the effect of the GRC system in depriving nearly half the electorate in Singapore of their choice of candidate. They can definitely claim that they represent the people in Parliament. This cannot be said of NMPs who only have to gather a minimum number of signatures and then be selected by a PAP-dominated committee.


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