Singapore Opens Door to Two-party Political System

Main opposition party finally gets official status . . .

For the first time, Singapore’s main opposition party has been designated the “official” opposition and accorded extended resources and privileges. This follows the July 10 general election, in which the left-of-centre Workers’ Party (WP) led by Pritam Singh won 10 out of 93 seats, the most ever won by an opposition party. Prime Minister Lee Hsian Loong announced the shift from “unofficial” to “official” immediately after the election, saying the results indicated a desire, particularly among younger voters, for a “diversity of voices” in parliament.

Will new privileges bring new debate?

The terms of the official role, which do not appear in Singapore’s Constitution or Orders of Parliament, were outlined in a July 28 parliamentary announcement, and include increased staffing allowances and office space in Parliament House, permission to appoint opposition MPs to committees, and access to select confidential government briefings. In parliament, Singh will have the right of first response and the right to ask lead questions, as well as extra speaking time. While previously Singh was only able to ask questions, he is now able to present alternate views and policies. Most do not expect significant changes when parliament reopens on August 24. Still, pundits suggest that institutionalization of the opposition could set Singapore on the path towards becoming a true two- or multi-party system.

A controversial salary bump . . .

The formal designation entails the doubling of Singh’s annual salary. He posted this week that he will donate 50 per cent of the top-up, about C$94,000, to low-income residents and community programs within WP-held wards, other charities, and his party. This led to accusations of grandstanding from prominent supporters of the ruling People’s Action Party, including First Lady Ho Ching. Some also suggested Singh was acknowledging the ongoing controversy over ministerial salaries, which are the highest in the world. Prime Minister Lee, whose annual salary is about C$1.7 million more than that of Canada’s Prime Minister, justified the high salaries during an online dialogue this week as effective in preventing corruption.