SM Teo Chee Hean says the Constitution will ensure 21 alternative voices in Parliament, but can they vote on the Bills? – The Online Citizen

The Constitution will ensure that at least 21 alternative voices are present in Parliament after the next general election (GE), said Minister Teo Chee Hean on Thursday (25 June).

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Mr Teo has revealed “some facts” about the upcoming GE and the composition of the next Parliament.

According to him, there will be 93 elected Members of Parliament (MPs), which is up from the current 89 elected MPs.

“The Constitution also ensures that there will be at least 21 alternative voices in Parliament after this GE,” the Minister wrote.

The 21 alternative parties comprised of 12 Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) – from among the remaining alternatives’ candidates with the highest votes – and nine Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs).

This is to guarantee that there would be at least 12 MPs from the alternative parties in Parliament, compared to nine MPs from the alternatives in the last Parliament, said the Minister.

While the nine NMPs will offer “non-partisan perspectives on arts/culture, sports, the sciences, business, industry, the professions, community service or the labour movement”.

“All NCMPs will also now have full voting rights, including for (i) Constitutional amendments; (ii) supply bills for the budget; (iii) money bills; (iv) motions of no confidence in the Government; and (v) removal of the President from office,” Mr Teo explained.

PAP made changes to the Constitution in 2016

Although the Minister guarantees a total of 21 alternative voices in Parliament, NCMPs and NMPs are not allowed to vote on the Constitutional Bills under the Parliament rules.

This goes way back to 2016 when Parliament passed changes to the Constitution to ensure that all races can run in the Elected Presidency from time to time and raised the criteria for presidential candidates.

The amendments state that the next term will be reserved for Malay candidates, and it increased the maximum number of NCMPs to 12 and granted them the same voting rights as elected MPs.

A total of 77 MPs from the PAP approved the Bill to make the changes, while all six MPs from the Workers’ Party (WP) opposed it.

During the debate, Mr Teo said that the amendments to the Constitution will encourage multiracial representation in the presidency, adding that WP’s call for an appointed president and elected senate was not workable.

Commenting on the urgency to amend the Elected Presidency, WP’s secretary-general Pritam Singh said – during the WP Member’s Forum 2020 on 19 January – that it was politically manufactured by the PAP.

He pointed out that the “numerical balance that the Prime Minister dismisses, on the contrary, absolutely counts because the PAP cannot change the constitution at its pleasure unless it has more than 2/3 of the seats in Parliament, like it can today.”

Mr Singh added that if PAP has less than two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, it will have to rationally persuade Singaporeans.

“It is an inherent checking mechanism in our parliamentary democracy against any ruling party that chooses to put its political interests first,” he remarked.

Citing his conversation with the Malay community on the changes made in the Elected Presidency, Mr Singh said that the demand for a Malay President was not a pressing concern.

In fact, many of them were more enthusiastic about Malay MPs taking up ministerial appointments in high-profile Ministries rather than the Elected Presidency.

Nevertheless, perhaps Mr Teo can also include in his Facebook post the fact that if the People’s Action Party (PAP) decides to change the rules for the GE and its candidates – like it did for the Elected Presidency – these 21 voices cannot do anything to prevent that from happening.