Tell us more about NMP hopefuls

Tell us more about NMP hopefuls
Members of the panel on racial and religious harmony forum organised by OnePeople.sg comprise (from left), Associate Professor Kwok Kian-Woon from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU); Mr Zulkifli Baharudin, former nominated MP; and Mr Gerald Singham, vice-chairman of OnePeople.sg, who is also moderator for the forum.

SINGAPORE - A recent exchange in Parliament highlighted the interesting issue of public scrutiny of a group of MPs who are nominated rather than elected and represent the non-partisan views of different sectors and communities.

One among this group, Nominated MP Eugene Tan, asked last Monday if the names of those seeking appointment as NMPs should be made public at some stage of the selection process.

There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament; the Constitution allows for up to nine of them to be appointed for a 21/2-year term by the President, on the recommendation of a selection committee chaired by the Speaker of Parliament.

In reply, Leader of the House and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said a more open process of selection could deter potential candidates from coming forward, as they might be uncomfortable with the public scrutiny, particularly if they were not in the end appointed as NMPs.

What struck me about Dr Ng's remarks was that, apart from reflecting the People's Action Party Government's position on the NMP system, he could just as easily have been talking about how the all-pervasive scrutiny from a social media-fed public has made it harder for his party to recruit potential candidates for elections.

Embedded in Dr Ng's remarks is a kind of rueful lament at the growing politicisation of society following the 2011 General Election and particularly the Punggol East by-election early this year.

There were many reasons why the incumbent PAP lost in that ward, one of which was a campaign strategy that left its inexperienced candidate flying solo in the initial stages while the opposition Workers' Party had a full team backing their candidate throughout.

The missteps in the PAP campaign - amplified through social media - cost it a seat, as well as a candidate it felt was strong enough for higher office. More on political recruitment in the new normal later.

I actually agree with Associate Professor Tan's view that there is a need to make the NMP system more transparent.

To give another illustration of its opacity, it is not clear to NMP hopefuls what the Special Select Committee of Parliament looks for, as it does not publicise its reasons for selecting a particular slate of candidates.

Releasing to the public the names of those up for consideration as NMPs is not an entirely new thing.

It would formalise what has been happening on the ground to some extent in the last five years - some sectors do release the names of their NMP candidates to the media, while certain applicants have also declared their interest in the position.

For example, ahead of the last round of NMP selection in January last year, the National Council of Social Service named its multiracial slate of five nominees. One of them, Mr Laurence Lien, chief executive of the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre, was selected as an NMP.

Many other names in the hat were also revealed, including actress Janice Koh representing the arts, then fencing association president Nicholas Fang representing the sporting community, environmentalist Faizah Jamal and Associate Professor Tan, a law academic. All four are now NMPs.

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