Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme

The Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme was introduced in 1984 to ensure that there would always be a minimum number of opposition members represented in parliament. Under the scheme, the losing opposition candidates with the highest percentage of votes secured during a general election, subject to a minimum of 15 percent of votes cast, can be offered seats in parliament if the number of elected opposition candidates falls short of the minimum number.1 In January 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the minimum number of opposition members of parliament (MPs) would be raised from nine to 12 from the next general election, and that NCMPs would have the same voting rights as elected MPs.2

History
In 1984, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew proposed amendments to the constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Act to allow representation of a minimum of three opposition MPs, up to a maximum of six, in parliament.3 In proposing the change, Lee argued that having NCMPs would enable younger Singaporeans, who had not witnessed first-hand the divisive politics of the 1950s and 1960s, to learn about constitutional opposition and what an opposition in parliament can do. In addition, the NCMP scheme would provide valuable training for the younger ministers and MPs by helping to hone their debating skills as they engaged with opposition MPs in parliament.4


The proposal drew criticism from opposition political parties who thought that the scheme was a ploy by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) to dissuade the people from voting for the opposition. They called the NCMP scheme a back door into parliament and felt that no self-respecting opposition candidate should enter parliament through this mean. Some MPs also criticised the scheme, saying that it “diminish[ed] the democratic process in Singapore” and that opposition MPs should be “elected, not chosen from among the losers” and earn their seats on their own merit.5

The proposed changes to the constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Act were finally passed in parliament on 25 July 1984.Following the general election of December 1984, opposition candidates Chiam See Tong of the Singapore Democratic Party and J. B. Jeyaretnam of the Workers’ Party were voted into parliament as MPs for Potong Pasir and Anson respectively, thus making one NCMP seat available.7 This seat was offered to M. P. D. Nair of the Workers’ Party, who had polled the highest number of votes among the losers in the opposition. After Nair turned it down, the seat was offered to Tan Chee Kien of the Singapore United Front who also did not take it up, leaving the NCMP seat vacant until the next general election.8

After the 1988 general election, with Chiam re-elected as MP for Potong Pasir and the only opposition MP, two NCMP seats became available.9 These were offered to Workers’ Party candidates Francis Seow and Lee Siew Choh. Both accepted, making them the first two NCMPs.10 Seow was, however, disqualified as an NCMP in December the same year after he was fined for tax evasion.11

Rights, privileges and qualifying criteria
NCMPs are accorded all the rights, privileges, and duties of elected MPs with the exception that they are not entitled to vote in parliament on any motion relating to a bill to amend the constitution; a supply bill, supplementary supply bill or final supply bill; a money bill; a vote of no confidence in the government; and removing the president from office.12


NCMP candidates are subjected to the same qualifying criteria as elected MPs. A person is qualified to be elected or appointed as a MP if:

  • he is a Singapore citizen aged 21 or above on nomination day;
  • he is a resident in Singapore for at least 10 years prior to the date of his nomination;
  • his name appears in the register of electors;
  • he is able to speak, read and write in at least one of the four official languages (English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil); and
  • he is not disqualified from being an MP under Article 45 of the constitution.13

In addition, NCMP candidates must be a member of a political party and should have polled at least 15 percent of the votes in the constituency they had contested.14 For candidates from a group representation constituency (GRC), the percentage of votes polled by the group is deemed as that polled by each member.15 However, there is a limit to the number of NCMPs that can be appointed in any electoral division. Specifically, there can be no more than two NCMPs from one GRC and no more than one NCMP from an electoral division that is not a GRC.16

Changes
From the initial maximum of six NCMPs when the scheme was introduced in 1984, this number was increased to nine in April 2010, following further amendments to the constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Act. If the number of opposition candidates elected is fewer than nine, the opposition candidates with the highest percentage of votes polled at the general election will be declared as NCMPs to make up the minimum number of opposition MPs. The number of NCMPs is thus determined based on a fixed formula of nine less the number of elected opposition MPs. Previously, the number of NCMPs had to be declared by presidential order after each election, but this requirement was removed in April 2010.17


On 27 January 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in parliament that the constitution would be amended to give NCMPs the same voting rights as elected MPs and that the minimum number of opposition MPs would be increased from nine to 12. This would take effect from the next general election. With this change, NCMPs would be “equal in powers” – though not in responsibility and scope – to MPs. NCMPs are currently not allowed to vote on constitutional amendments, supply or supplementary bills, money bills or motions of no confidence in the government.18 

Timeline
25 Jul 1984: Passing of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 1984 and the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act, providing for the number of NCMPs to be set at three, up to a maximum of six.19
26 Apr 2010: Passing of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 2010, increasing the maximum number of NCMPs from six to nine.20
27 Apr 2010: Passing of the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act 2010, allowing for up to nine NCMPs to be appointed and setting a fixed formula for determining the number of NCMPs to be declared. There is also a cap on the number of NCMPs in any electoral division.21
27 Jan 2016: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announces that the minimum number of opposition MPs would be raised from nine to 12, and that NCMPs would have equal voting rights as elected MPs.22



Author

Lim Puay Ling



References
1. “3 Reasons for Opposition MPs,” Straits Times, 25 July 1984, 1; Cheng Shoong Tat, “NCMPs – Govt’s Answer to Need for an Opposition,” Straits Times, 6 September 1988, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Lydia Lim, “More NCMPs in Parliament from Next General Election, PM Lee Proposes,” Channel NewsAsia, 27 January 2016. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
3. Parliament of Singapore, Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill, vol. 44 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 24 July 1984, col. 1722; Parliament of Singapore, Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill, vol. 44 of Parliamentary Debates: Official Report, 25 July 1984, col. 1835–46.
4. Pang Gek Choo, “Non-Constituency MP Scheme: Mere Trickery or Genuine Offer,” Straits Times, 4 January 1997, 35. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “‘All MPs Must Earn Their Seats’,” Straits Times, 13 July 1984, 13; Tan Tarn How, “How the Non-Constituency MP Scheme Can Cut Both Ways,” Straits Times, 18 September 1988, 22; “Jeyaretnam Says 'Yes' to Offer of NCMP Seat,” Straits Times, 11 January 1997, 3; Pang, “Mere Trickery or Genuine Offer.”
6. Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 1984, Act 16 of 1984, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 114 (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGAS); Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act 1984, Act 22 of 1984, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 190. (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGAS)
7. “PAP Wins All But Two,” Straits Times, 23 December 1984, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Bertha Henson, “In Search of an Opposition,” Straits Times, 25 July 1989, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Leslie Fong, “PAP Landslide,” Straits Times, 4 September 1988, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Ahmad Osman, “Francis Seow and Siew Choh Writing in to Accept Offer,” Straits Times, 12 September 1988, 14; “Francis Seow and Siew Choh Made Non-Constituency MPs,” Straits Times, 18 September 1988, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Conviction Disqualifies Seow as NCMP,” Straits Times, 10 January 1989, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Parliament of Singapore, Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Bill, 1722–23; Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, Singapore Statutes Online, section 39.
13. Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, Singapore Statutes Online, section 44.
14. Cheng, “Govt’s Answer to Need for an Opposition.”
15. Cheng, “Govt’s Answer to Need for an Opposition.”
16. Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act 2010, Act 10 of 2010, Singapore Statutes Online.
17. Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act 2010, Singapore Statutes Online; Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 2010, Act 9 of 2010, Singapore Statutes Online.
18. Ong Hwee Hwee, “PM Lee Hsien Loong Proposes Changes to NCMP, GRC and Elected Presidency Schemes: 8 Things about the Political Changes,” Straits Times, 27 January 2016 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); Lim, “More NCMPs in Parliament.” 
19. Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (Amendment) Act 1984, Act 16 of 1984, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 114; Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act 1984, Government Gazette. Acts Supplement, 190.
20. Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act 2010, Singapore Statutes Online.
21. Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act 2010, Singapore Statutes Online.
22. Ong, “PM Lee Hsien Loong Proposes Changes”; Lim, “More NCMPs in Parliament.” 



The information in this article is valid as of 3 April 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

 

 

 











Subject
Legislators--Singapore
Politics and Government