NMP Scheme 'is Useful But Should be Transitional'

Posted by Irene Ng under Breaking News on 29 January 2000

This is to enable it to bring about political change so that a strong opposition and a two-party system may emerge, argues two NMPs.

THE Nominated MP scheme is useful but to effectively bring about political change, it must be a transitional one so that a strong opposition and a two-party system may emerge.

NMPs Zulkifli Baharudin and Goh Chong Chia argued this last night at a forum on the role of non-partisan politics.

Mr Zulkifli said: "At the end of the day, it takes people who have been NMPs or been in civil-society groups to actually get into the political arena and decide for themselves whether they want to join the ruling party or the opposition, without which, I don't think we can see a truly strong two-party system emerging in Singapore."

He added that non-partisan politics will affect the opposition more than the ruling party as the opposition occupies the same space as NMPs.

Mr Goh believes that for the democratic system to work, the ruling party needs to be checked.

"In developed countries, there are shadow governments with policies worked out and ready to take over the role and reign of the government.

"Unfortunately, this does not exist in Singapore today."

The two NMPs were among four speakers at a forum titled "Non-partisanship: Politics Without Punishment", attended by about 50 people.

The forum, held at the RELC, was organised by the Think Centre, which has described itself as an "independent political-research initiative".

The other two speakers were Ms Eleanor Wong, vice-president of the local television-production house Right Angle and former NMP Chia Shi Teck.

Ms Wong disagreed with the need for a two-party system. She argued that the current system has, over the years, made room for those who wanted to make practical changes.

She noted that the platform of the People's Action party is pragmatism. "I don't know what platform is in opposition to that, other than an unrealistic one."

The PAP, she said, is a party "which is very good at co-opting useful ideas and useful people, and bringing into the fold people you can't defeat and defeating those you can".

"It seems to me that, in the long run, functionally, if we can make practical changes in practical areas, my question is: Do we need more?"

Like the two NMPs, Mr Chia said that NMPs, while useful, have a limited role because they lack mandate.

He then shared his personal experience of how he had offered to stand in the elections with a team but "the pressure was so high that everybody dropped out".

The Nominated MP scheme was introduced in 1990 to give free rein to alternative and non-partisan views in the House. NMPs are appointed by the President for a two-year term on the recommendation of a Special Select Committee of Parliament.

The number of NMPs has grown from two in 1990 to nine today.

Different views on role of NMPs

'For the more serious and committed members of civil society, they have to make a choice to join the ruling party or the opposition. I don't think they can make a very large difference by joining the NGOs or even being NMPs.'
-- NMP Zulkifli Baharudin, member of the Roundtable.

'The role of NMPs can be a transitional one. The political system will evolve into a two-party system. It will take some time but I believe it will come.
-- NMP Goh Chong Chia, principal partner at TSP Architects and Planners.

'There is now a functionally-substantive and vocal civil society that has managed to work out a slightly uneasy but cooperative relationship with the Government. I tend to think that's a good thing. It seems to me that in the long run, functionally, if we can make practical changes in practical areas, my question is: Do we need more?'
-- Ms Eleanor Wong, vice-president of Right Angle, a local television production house.

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