Legitimacy issue dogs NMP scheme

Legitimacy issue dogs NMP scheme

Last Saturday's report on the Nominated MP scheme ("What next for the NMP scheme?") is timely, given the evolving political landscape, and serves as a good starting point for its review. The scheme is one of those uniquely Singaporean solutions that some segments of the population will always find hard to embrace.

From the start, many viewed it as a stop-gap measure to stage-manage a platform for diverse views in Parliament. It did not help that the scheme was conceived and implemented in a top-down fashion by the Government.

Doubts about its sustainability and long-term relevance remain to this day.

By definition, an MP is a representative of voters in Parliament. The term "Nominated MP" is therefore an oxymoron, and the member lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the public. This poses a huge psychological barrier that NMPs have had to overcome, notwithstanding their admirable individual qualities.

Over the years, their role has evolved into one of representing various interest groups. On the surface, this appears to be a good thing as it brings into Parliament "a broader representation of views and voices", as observed by sociologist Tan Ern Ser.

But NMPs represent only their interest groups; they do not represent the voters at large.

Therein lies the legitimacy issue: If the individual NMPs had stood as candidates in an election while championing their causes, they might or might not have been elected.

Being given the floor in Parliament cloaks them with legitimacy that they did not earn. It may not be considered just if they succeed in pushing through an agenda that is not representative of voters' wishes.

The lack of transparency in the NMP selection process only adds to the challenge of institutionalising the scheme.

The risk of distorting sectional representation in Parliament is real and cannot be discounted.

NMP Eugene Tan is correct in stating that NMPs are headed for irrelevancy.

The scheme has had a good run; it is time to call on MPs to get back to the real business of representing voters.

Yeoh Teng Kwong

This article was first published on May 28, 2014.
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