Parliament backs President's Address; fills third NCMP seat vacated by WP's Lee Li Lian

Dramatic twist at end of five-day debate as WP rapped for 'political manoeuvre' over seat

MPs yesterday voted to support the Government's agenda as spelt out in the President's Address at the opening of the 13th Parliament, but the day ended with an unexpected twist of events.

People's Action Party MPs unanimously voted to support a motion proposed by Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang to fill the third Non-Constituency MP seat.

WP MPs, however, abstained from the vote after being blindsided by an amendment to the motion which said the WP was making a "political manoeuvre to take full advantage of the NCMP seat".

The motion paves the way for another WP candidate to fill the seat. He is East Coast GRC candidate Daniel Goh.

Yesterday, all MPs endorsed the address by President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who set out five broad aims of the Government in this term: keep Singapore safe and secure, renew the economy, foster a more caring society, transform the urban landscape and partner Singaporeans in nation-building.

During the debate that started on Monday, MPs spoke on how workers and vulnerable citizens and businesses could be helped in a challenging economic climate.

They also stressed social cohesion in the face of the terror threat.

Wrapping up the debate after 62 MPs spoke this week, Mr Christopher de Souza said: "The vehicle through which these five aims will be delivered is a decisive, stable and reliable Government - one that is effective and leads by example, and that introduces well-crafted and effective initiatives."

After the President's Address was endorsed, Mr Low began the process to declare the third NCMP seat vacant and have it filled. It had been offered to his party's Punggol East candidate Lee Li Lian, the top performing opposition candidate who lost in the Sept 11 polls. But she turned it down.

In an intense, nearly two-hour debate, the PAP and WP crossed swords over the principles of the NCMP scheme and the WP's motives in wanting to fill the seat.

Ironically, the WP ended up abstaining from voting on its motion after Government Whip Chan Chun Sing introduced an amendment to "reflect the truth", he said.

The amendment said Parliament would declare the seat vacant and resolve to fill it, "but regrets that Ms Lee Li Lian, having stood as a WP candidate and received the highest vote share among all losing opposition candidates, has now decided to give up her NCMP seat to another candidate from her party with a lower vote share, contrary to the expressed will of voters".

The change also said "the WP supports this political manoeuvre to take full advantage of the NCMP seat, even as its secretary- general criticises NCMPs as just 'duckweed on the water of a pond'."

Mr Low used the phrase in his response to Wednesday's announcement by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that NCMPs would get the same voting rights as elected MPs.

The minimum number of opposition MPs - including NCMPs - will also be raised from nine to 12.

During the exchange, MPs on both sides accused the other of using the system for political gain.

Mr Low said it was a self-serving system to provide sparring partners for the PAP MPs, but Mr Chan said he did not believe the WP was being "gracious" by taking up NCMP seats to "train the PAP".

Mr Charles Chong, who defeated Ms Lee, said she had let down the voters who supported her. But Mr Low said as the then incumbent MP, she wanted to respect voters' decision not to elect her.

Mr Chan countered, saying Ms Lee had also said she wanted to give other WP members a chance to "showcase" what they can do.

"The honour and privilege to join this House is for service to our nation. It is not for us to showcase ourselves. It is not for us to showcase our party talents," Mr Chan said.

This article was first published on January 30, 2016.
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