GE2020 SINGAPORE VOTES: ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Singapore GE2020: No blank cheque as government accountable to people, say Ministers

People's Action Party candidates for Tanjong Pagar GRC Chan Chun Sing (centre) and Alvin Tan speaking to Mr Teo Choon Khng, 60, at a bakery in Owen Road yesterday.
People's Action Party candidates for Tanjong Pagar GRC Chan Chun Sing (centre) and Alvin Tan speaking to Mr Teo Choon Khng, 60, at a bakery in Owen Road yesterday.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

They say party cannot do as it wishes as it has to answer to people of the country

The People's Action Party (PAP) will never have a blank cheque to do as it wishes because it is accountable to Singaporeans, two ministers said yesterday.

The country's Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme also guarantees that Parliament will have a diversity of views and opposing voices, regardless of whether opposition members are elected, they added.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah were responding to Workers' Party (WP) candidate Jamus Lim, who had called on Singaporeans to vote for the WP and deny the PAP "a blank cheque" during a televised debate on Wednesday night.

Speaking to The Straits Times, Mr Chan said this is not a "correct characterisation" of what the coming general election is about, adding that the PAP is always accountable to the electorate and responsible for the people's welfare.

"In governance, the PAP is accountable to the people always, whether it is election (time) or not," he said.

"I don't think there is anything such as a blank cheque as if the PAP can do anything without accountability."

He added: "Everything that we do, at every step of the way, we have to be responsible to Singaporeans, their welfare, their well-being and we have to be responsible for the long-term survival of the country."

Mr Chan was speaking on the sidelines of a walkabout at Pek Kio Market, where he was joined by his Tanjong Pagar GRC teammates, Ms Indranee and PAP new faces Alvin Tan and Eric Chua.

During the Wednesday debate, Associate Professor Lim, who is in the WP's Sengkang GRC team, said: "The PAP has argued that the election is really about giving them a mandate to bring the country out of this crisis and they need this mandate in order to do so.

"The truth is the PAP in all likelihood will have this mandate by the end of this election... what we are trying to deny the PAP isn't a mandate, what we are trying to deny them is a blank cheque."

Ms Indranee, in her rebuttal, pointed to the NCMP scheme: "The PAP will never have a blank cheque, because no matter what happens, the Constitution guarantees at least 12 opposition seats."

ACCOUNTABILITY TO PEOPLE

In governance, the PAP is accountable to the people always, whether it is election (time) or not. I don't think there is anything such as a blank cheque as if the PAP can do anything without accountability. I don't think that's a correct characterisation. Everything that we do, at every step of the way, we have to be responsible to Singaporeans, their welfare, their well-being and we have to be responsible for the long-term survival of the country.

MINISTER FOR TRADE AND INDUSTRY CHAN CHUN SING

She also said NCMPs have equal voting rights as elected MPs. This means they can vote on parliamentary matters such as constitutional amendments, supply and money Bills, and a vote of confidence.

The NCMP scheme was introduced in 1984 to ensure a minimum number of opposition members in Parliament. NCMP seats are offered to losing opposition candidates who garner the highest percentage of votes at the polls.

 
 
 
 

In 2016, the Constitution was amended to give NCMPs expanded rights and to increase the number of opposition MPs from nine to 12.

These 12 seats can comprise any combination of elected MPs or NCMPs. This means that if there are 12 or more elected opposition MPs, no NCMP seats will be allocated.

In a Facebook post later, Ms Indranee said that opposition seats are guaranteed. But, she added, "a strong and capable government with a clear mandate to do what needs to be done to overcome the crisis" is not.

"That is in the hands of the voters," she wrote.

Mr Chan said the NCMP scheme has institutionalised diversity of views in Parliament.

"We designed it as such because we want to make sure any discussion about the future of the country and the policies that we are going to implement are done robustly.

"It is in our interest to do so as both the PAP and Government," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2020, with the headline 'No blank cheque as government accountable to people: Ministers'. Print Edition | Subscribe