We try to guess why MPs were laughing during Low Thia Khiang & Ng Chee Meng’s verbal spar

Verbal jousting brings out the humour on both sides.

By Sulaiman Daud | March 2, 2018

The feisty exchange between WP chief Low Thia Khiang and Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng turned a few heads.

On Feb. 28, during the Budget Debate in Parliament, Low called the announcement of the proposed Goods and Services Tax (GST) hike an “unnecessary distraction”, which prompted Ng to rise and say that he was “increasingly baffled” as he listened to speeches from WP MPs.

You can read the full transcript of their exchange here:

Low Thia Khiang calls GST hike announcement a distraction’, Ng Chee Meng responds

And you can also watch a video of their exchange here:

But what many Singaporeans noticed and commented on was the laughter that greeted both Low and Ng’s remarks.

Screen shot from Facebook.
Screen shot from Facebook.
Screen shot from Facebook.

The play-by-play

Now let’s see if we can determine exactly why MPs (on both sides of the aisle) were chuckling during this exchange.

The first instance was after Ng said that during the Committee of Supply debates in 2017, Low had wanted the government to be “upfront” about price increases. Reading from an iPad, he said:

“Mr Deputy Speaker, I have in hand what Mr Low Thia Khiang said in COS 2017 in the card to MOF. I quote, “I hope he”, meaning the Minister for Finance, “can be upfront with Singaporeans now so that they are not blindsided by the government, as they were with the sudden 30 per cent increase in water prices.” You can’t have the cake and eat it.”

In fact, it appears that the iPad he was reading from was used by none other than Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong himself, as Ng passed the iPad back to him afterwards.

After this verbal joust, we can see both Low and Sylvia Lim behind him smiling.

Said Low:

“Mr Speaker, I stand (by) what I said. I am not asking you to hide the intended increase in GST. I’m not asking the government to do that.”

Funny moment 1

So why were the WP MPs smiling during this exchange?

Perhaps they were conceding that Ng did have a point. Or maybe they saw an opening to deliver another punch.

In March 2017, during COS 2017, Low did indeed say that the government should be upfront so that citizens would not be “blindsided” by the hike in water prices.

Funny moment 2

But Low wasn’t done. He continued:

“What I’m saying is that by all means, you can announce it well before you want to increase. It’s good to increase before…announce it beforehand, but the question is whether or not you need to announce it together with this Budget. That’s another issue.”

This prompted a larger reaction, particularly from the front bench PAP MPs.

So why were they laughing after Low’s remarks?

Perhaps they saw the humour in Low’s straightforward, blunt talk.

After all, it was the PAP’s decision to announce the planned hike in GST together with Budget 2018.

It looks like they were refusing to be baited into the WP’s suggestion of separating the hike from the Budget, as they presumably had their own reasons for doing so.

Laughter 3

There was one more instance of laughter, perhaps the largest of the exchange. After sitting down for a short while, Low got back up again and said this:

“Mr Speaker, anyway, I have asked in the last election, and I think DPM Tharman promised there would be, we have enough, you know, money to spend, there would be no increase, that’s true. So next election is 2020, or 2021. So you’re going to increase after the next election. Good to announce it now, then we can debate it at the rally, public rally.”

Laughter greeted this statement. But why?

Perhaps the PAP MPs were delightfully surprised at how candid Low was with his intention for the GST hike to be debated at election rallies – a surely unpopular issue to bring up that would cost votes to the PAP.

But PAP MPs weren’t the only ones laughing. You can also see a hint of a wry smile on Low’s face as he sits down.

All in all, if you watch the video, the atmosphere does seem light-hearted.

Although the MPs are political opponents, perhaps working closely together in Parliament, regardless of party affiliation, has made the MPs more comfortable with each other.

Top image adapted from Gov.sg.

About Sulaiman Daud

Sulaiman believes that we can be heroes, if just for one day. His favourite Doctor is Peter Capaldi's Twelve. In his spare time he writes about film, pop-culture and international politics, which you are very welcome to read here.

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