NMPs want to discuss social shifts in Singapore

NMPs want to discuss social shifts in Singapore
About 1,000 people dressed in various shades of pink turned up at Speakers’ Corner to participate in Singapore’s first outdoor gay event. The event was organised by Pink Dot Sg, a gay interest group.

SHIFTING social norms are among the concerns that some of the nine incoming Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) want to discuss in the House.

The new batch, announced yesterday, start their term on Aug 26 but have already cast their eye on several broad social trends.

Said social entrepreneur Kuik Shiao-Yin, 36: "I'm very concerned about how we maintain racial and religious harmony in Singapore and guard against extremism of all sorts. That has been an issue over the years."

Tensions between the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender camp and religious groups have made recent headlines. The annual Pink Dot picnic drew a record 26,000 in June and a Wear White campaign championing "pro-family" values was set up in response. Reflecting on this, Ms Kuik, the youngest of the new NMPs, said: "How do you encourage a culture of moderate and fair-minded public dialogue that gives everyone a space in society?"

A fellow nominee, National University of Singapore (NUS) vice-provost of student life, Professor Tan Tai Yong, 51, noted that different Singaporeans have different views on social norms.

"It's an interesting time to reflect on some of these issues and on where the country is heading," said the historian, who has been teaching at the NUS since 1992.

The NMPs were chosen for their ability to add to discussions on Singapore's issues and provide alternative voices, said Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who chaired the selection panel.

The new line-up, unlike the previous two, does not include any representative for the arts or environmental groups.

Among the nine nominees, many will draw on personal experiences in championing causes in Parliament.

Ms Kuik, who is expecting her first child in two months, said one issue she will be thinking about is how young women balance work and having children.

Corporate lawyer Chia Yong Yong, 52, who has peroneal muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, is keen to champion issues concerning people with disabilities, such as inclusion. "My colleagues and I have worked with persons with disabilities for years.

We feel we're able to have better empathy and understanding of issues on the ground," said the president of SPD, formerly the Society for the Physically Disabled.

Others will use their experiences to raise issues pertinent to their fields. Prof Tan, for instance, is keen on Singapore's heritage.

And income inequality is close to the heart of Mr K. Karthikeyan, 55, who formed the Singapore Petrochemical Complex Employees' Union in 1986 and has been a union leader since. "I don't think we should have low wages any more.

The rich-poor divide affects Singapore socially. If people think they are going to stay poor, they think, 'Why do I bother working if my pay is so low and the rich are so far above me?'"

The progressive wage model, which boosts low incomes according to workers' skills, is something he would like to see implemented in more sectors, said Mr Karthikeyan, whose nomination was welcomed by the NTUC, of which he is vice-president.

Banking executive and Association of Muslim Professionals director Ismail Hussein said that while he represents the Malay-Muslim community, he would cover a range of issues and focus on areas that matter to all Singaporeans.

Sembawang GRC MP Ellen Lee, who was on the NMP selection panel, said the nine are a diverse group. She said of their 21/2-year term, which may end earlier if a general election is called: "It's not the length of the tenure, but what they do with the time that counts."

charyong@sph.com.sg


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