Workers’ Party should make clear if it will accept NCMP seats: Heng

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Voters should consider the Workers' Party's motives for opposing the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

He also called on WP to make clear if its candidates would accept these seats, which are offered to losing opposition candidates with the highest vote share.

In 2016, the Constitution was amended to increase the number of NCMP seats from nine to 12. NCMPs have also been given the same voting rights as elected MPs, meaning they are able to vote on all Bills and motions, including supply Bills, constitutional amendments and motions of confidence.

Mr Heng said: "The PAP is not trying to shut the opposition out of Parliament. We understand that diverse views are important to ensure the best outcomes for Singapore, and Singaporeans value this diversity."

The scheme has emerged as a key issue in this general election, with opposition parties criticising it as a ploy to entice voters to vote for the People's Action Party (PAP).

While WP MPs have taken up the posts in the past, the party has always maintained that the scheme is a ploy by the PAP to dissuade Singaporeans from voting for the opposition.

Former party chief Low Thia Khiang compared NCMPs to "duckweed on the water of the pond", to illustrate his view that they are unable to sink roots in a constituency and build up grassroots support.

Mr Singh, when asked earlier if his party would still take up NCMP seats, replied: "It's a very speculative question at the moment, but I'm sure you know we will have to address these matters after Polling Day."

In his message yesterday, Mr Heng said the WP's decision to keep mum on whether it will take up NCMP seats is "playing games with voters", who are entitled to know its stand.

Mr Heng pointed out that the WP has taken "full advantage" of the NCMP scheme from the start, with eight of the 10 NCMPs to date coming from it.

Mr Heng said the WP should answer two questions: whether there can be an "opposition wipeout" with the NCMP scheme in place, and whether its candidates will accept seats.

"The WP talks a lot about transparency and accountability. This is what they need to do, to be transparent and accountable to voters."

Asked for his response, Mr Singh said last night that the party's stance is clear.

"I'm quite surprised Mr Heng of all people would make that sort of comment. I would invite him to have a look at the Hansard," said Mr Singh, referring to parliamentary records.

"The NCMP scheme was introduced in 1984, and there's a long history of the position that the Workers' Party has taken on the NCMP scheme," he added.

"It's on record. It's in the public domain. And Mr Heng just needs to look at that."

PSP chief Tan Cheng Bock, who also opposes the scheme, has said he would decline an NCMP seat if offered one, although other party members could take it up.

"At least Dr Tan Cheng Bock of PSP has been upfront," Mr Heng said. "But he may have forgotten that in 1984, when the scheme was debated in Parliament, he supported having NCMPs."

Mr Heng rounded up his speech by stressing that opposition and alternative voices in Parliament are guaranteed by the NCMP and Nominated MP schemes.

"By voting the PAP, Singaporeans will give us a strong and clear mandate to form the next government to take Singapore through this crisis and emerge stronger," he said. "At the same time, you are assured that opposition and alternative voices will continue to be heard in Parliament. Opposition voices will not be wiped out."


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