Led by Chan Chun Sing, PAP outmanoeuvred WP before letting WP fill up its NCMP seat
In a role reversal, PAP is now playing chess while WP is playing checkers.
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In an interview with Lianhe Zaobao during last year’s General Election, Workers’ Party (WP) Chief Low Thia Khiang said that “it will be a failure for the People’s Action Party (PAP) if it does not know how to score political points”.
Low said that a politician “must have the political acumen to score political points” but “every politician needs to be responsible”, as “one cannot just say populist things to score political points or raise populist subjects”.
This must be an advice that the PAP MPs took to heart, during the debate in parliament on the motion to fill the third Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) seat, which will go to East Coast GRC candidate Daniel Goh.
But the motion to fill the NCMP seat was not so straightforward.
The heated debate lasted for close to 2 hours on a Friday evening past dinner time.
— Channel NewsAsia (@ChannelNewsAsia) January 29, 2016
Anyway, let’s get the facts right before we analyse the “political point scoring” by the PAP.
1. WP Sec-Gen Low tabled a motion to fill the third NCMP seat.
2. The Parliament supported WP’s motion, after PAP Minister and Party Whip Chan Chun Sing amended WP’s original motion.
3. WP MPs’ dissent to the amendment was recorded.
4. All PAP MPs voted for the amended motion, while WP MPs and NCMPs abstained from the vote.
Here is how PAP scored its political points last night:
Political Point 1: PAP allowed WP to fill its third NCMP seat. It did not come across as “petty” by voting against filling up the third NCMP seat.
In other words, PAP’s move supported the principle of having the maximum number of NCMPs in the House and dispelled the impression that it was afraid of WP star candidate and East Coast GRC candidate sociology professor Daniel Goh.
Political Point 2: PAP used its parliamentary advantage over WP (83 vs 6+2) to assert its viewpoint.
What’s the point that PAP wanted to make?
It was stated in the amendment filled by Chan.
Chan said the following:
“Madam, I propose to amend the Motion as such with the following additions for sub-para c. But regrets that Ms Lee Lilian having stood as a Workers’ Party candidate and received the highest vote share among all losing opposition candidates, has now decided to give up her NCMP seat to another candidate from her Party with a lower vote share, contrary to the expressed will of the voters. And that the Workers’ Party supports this political manoeuver to take full advantage of the NCMP seat, even as its secretary-general criticises NCMPS as just duckweeds on the water of the pond.”
Political Point 3: PAP showed that it respects the office of the NCMP more than WP.
Chan: “In response to Mr Low’s earlier point, I will be the first to say that if any of my PAP MPs dare call the NCMPs second-class citizens, I as the Whip will put them in their place. But on the other hand, please do not call them ‘duckweeds’, because even in a pond, the duckweeds has a purpose. Let us respect each other. Let us respect the different roles that we play in this House, be it MPs, NCMPs or NMPs.”
CHAN CHUN SING ON NCMPs“Even in a pond, the duckweed has a purpose”: Chan Chun Sing on Low Thia Khiang’s analogy for NCMPs. He says as Party Whip, he will put PAP MPs in place if they dare to call NCMPs “second-class citizens”. http://bit.ly/1ZY5RlC Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, January 29, 2016
Chan: When one takes up the NCMP scheme, I hope it is for the correct reason, to serve Singapore. And I hope it is not for the wrong reason, to showcase our talent. We don’t want the NCMP scheme to be a revolving door.”
DON’T MAKE NCMP SCHEME REVOLVING DOOR: CHAN CHUN SING“We don’t want the NCMP scheme to be a revolving door”: Chan Chun Sing who filed an amendment to the motion to fill the third NCMP seat in Parliament. http://bit.ly/1ZY5RlC Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, January 29, 2016
In conclusion, WP made a few miscalculations in tabling its motion which it later had to abstain from voting:
1. When it moved the motion to fill the third NCMP seat, it naively assumed that the PAP will either accept or reject the motion.
In other words, WP thought that it was a win-win situation – if PAP had voted for the motion, WP would welcome Goh as their 9th parliamentarian. If PAP opposed the motion, WP would gain sympathy points from the public.
But Low and his WP counterparts have forgotten that this was not the first time that PAP has amended a motion to its advantage.
In light of the public’s adverse reaction to motion of the White Paper on Population in 2011, MP Liang Eng Hwa helped make the motion less politically toxic by adding the following: “maintaining a strong Singaporean core” and placing priority on infrastructure developments.
2. WP’s actions (filling up the NCMP seats) speaks louder than its words (rejecting NCMP scheme in principle).
WP’s argument against NCMP scheme in principle cut little ice, because there is a contradiction between WP opposing the scheme, while allowing its members to take up the NCMP seats offered to them.
Low’s reason for WP accepting NCMP seats – to “work within the system” was a good one.
A similar argument was made by NCMP Leon Perera last night, about “working in a flawed system” and building a democratic society “step by step” and “brick by brick”.
However, one couldn’t help but be more persuaded by PAP’s point that there was indeed political “manoeuvering” involved.
And what’s the manoeuvering? WP’s intent was perhaps to showcase more WP candidates for their political advantage in future.
While Lee’s refusal to take up the NCMP seat has stolen almost all the limelight, what was gone unnoticed is how Perera became the NCMP in the first place.
One would assume that Gerald Giam, the leader of the East Coast GRC team and the NCMP in the last parliament, would be the natural choice to be WP’s nominee, instead of Perera or Goh.
Giam’s reason was that both Perera and Goh are the most suitable candidates because they “have both taken leading roles in policy work within our Party“.
3. WP’s justification on abstaining from the vote is a bit meh.
WP posted on its Facebook last night that it had abstained from voting on the motion as it did not want to endorse PAP’s amendment.
However, the question on everyone’s minds is:
If WP did not wish to endorse PAP’s amendment, shouldn’t WP reject the motion instead by voting against it?
Top photo screengrab from CNA.