SINGAPORE – Just 30 names have been put up for consideration for Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) positions, according to a statement from the Office of the Clerk of Parliament.
This is a marked drop from previous nomination rounds, and the lowest number since the ninth Parliament was dissolved in 2001.
Nominations for this round closed at 4.30pm on Wednesday and the statement was issued on Friday.
Observers and current and former NMPs The Straits Times spoke to said the low number may be due to there being more opposition voices in Parliament – nine Workers’ Party (WP) MPs and two Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) from the Progress Singapore Party.
Nevertheless, they added that amid a more divisive political climate globally, NMPs can continue to provide a non-partisan perspective in Singapore.
The NMP scheme was started in 1990 to ensure a wide representation of views in Parliament. There can be up to nine NMPs during each term, which lasts 2½ years.
When the last round of nominations was called in 2020, there were 61 submissions for the first session of the 14th Parliament, the highest number since the NMP scheme started.
In the 13th Parliament, 41 names were submitted in the first session in 2016, and 48 in the second session in 2018.
There were 21 submissions for the final session of the ninth Parliament, which was dissolved in October 2001. Since that year, there had been a general upward trend in the number of submissions up till 2020, with the exception of a dip during the latter half of the 12th Parliament.
The Constitution states that those who are nominated must be “persons who have rendered distinguished public service, or who have brought honour to the Republic, or who have distinguished themselves in the fields of arts, letters, culture, the sciences, business, industry, the professions, social or community service or the labour movement”.
Besides submissions from the public, seven functional groups – business and industry; the professions; the labour movement; social service organisations; the civic and people sector; tertiary education institutions; and media, arts and sports organisations – are typically invited to submit names of suitable candidates. Each group has an appointed coordinator to seek the views of its constituent organisations.
Possible reasons for low number
Political analyst and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) associate lecturer Felix Tan cited possible reasons for the low number of submissions: fewer interested candidates, or not enough candidates with relevant credentials to be considered.
But he believes the most likely reason for the muted interest could be the wider range of voices in Parliament, especially with more opposition members now occupying seats.
The NMP scheme, mooted by then First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in November 1989 and introduced in 1990, was meant to evolve a more consensual style of government, where alternative views would be heard and constructive dissent accommodated.
When the scheme was being debated in Parliament in 1989, there was only one elected MP from the opposition camp – Mr Chiam See Tong from the Singapore Democratic Party – and two NCMPs from the WP.
Associate professor of law at the Singapore Management University and former NMP Eugene Tan said the relatively low number of applications this time may “well be an aberration”.
With more opposition voices in Parliament now, it may not be surprising if NMPs have been consigned to the margins of key debates or have not been able to get a foothold in the debates, he added.
“In a more contested landscape, there may be the view that non-partisan voices may not command a premium that they used to. It would not surprise me if the NMP scheme sleepwalks to irrelevance in the fullness of time,” said Prof Tan.
Today, NMPs can vote on all matters before Parliament except constitutional amendments, motions to remove the president, motions of no confidence in the government, and supply and money Bills.
Ms Anthea Ong, an NMP from 2018 to 2020, said the drop in applications may be because some Singaporeans feel the increased number of elected opposition members in this Parliament already provides the diversity of voices and ideas needed for more robust parliamentary debates in an increasingly challenging environment.
NMP Abdul Samad Abdul Wahab cited a more practical reason.
With a general election that must be called by 2025, he said, there may be a shorter term ahead for new NMPs as they may not serve the full 2½ years. They may thus not have a longer runway to put forth their ideas.
The vice-president of the National Trades Union Congress rejected the notion that NMPs have taken a back seat to more vocal opposition members. He said he has spoken up where necessary, and even corrected a fellow parliamentarian.
“There are instances where the NMPs have abstained from voting on issues, and we have raised ideas that have led to tweaks in policies,” he noted. “If it’s good for Singaporeans, why would we not support it? We don’t rebut things just for the sake of it.”