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!”

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