Following the results of the 2020 general election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong conferred on the secretary general of the Workers’ Party (WP), Pritam Singh, the title of first official opposition leader.
With its victory at Sengkang GRC, the Workers’ Party further strengthened its position as the main opposition party in Singapore, reducing the number of its elected opposition members from six to 10.
The two NCMP seats are offered – when the number of elected opposition members was less than 12 – to the Progress Party Singapore, which won the highest percentage of votes (48.31% in the West Coast of the RCMP) among the opposition parties.
Prime Minister Lee said the election results reflected a clear desire for a diversity of voices in Parliament.
He said he congratulated Singh and the WP on their good performance in the election, and Singh will have the support and resources to fulfill this role.
However, he did not specify exactly what human and human resources will be allocated to Singh.
With that, we examine what the “official” leader of the opposition means and why the former secretary general of the GT Sec Thia Khiang never received this role.
What exactly is a “Leader of the Opposition”?
The Leader of the Opposition is a title held by the leader of the largest party not in power in a system of parliamentary government in Westminster.
The Singapore parliamentary system is inspired by the Westminster system in Great Britain. There, the Leader of the Opposition draws a salary in addition to the MP’s allowance and chooses a shadow cabinet to monitor the work of the departments.
In other countries with a Westminster system of parliamentary government, the Leader of the Opposition has a secretariat and also has offices in the Parliament buildings.
In addition, he will also have access to government data and information to be effective in reviewing government policies.
Currently, the leader of the opposition party with the largest number of elected opposition MPs is the Secretary General of the WP, Pritam Singh, who was elected to the leadership of the WP on April 8, 2018 .
With that, Singh should continue to sit directly in front of Prime Minister Lee in Parliament, which is the norm after he succeeded Low Thia Khiang.
What about a shadow cabinet?
A shadow cabinet is made up of a group of opposition spokespersons who, under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition, form an alternative cabinet to that of the government.
Members will mask or reflect the positions of each member of the Cabinet. In most countries, a member of the shadow cabinet is called a shadow minister.
For example, a shadow Minister of Education will be posted in the shadow of the Minister of Education in Cabinet.
It is the responsibility of the Shadow Cabinet to scrutinize government policies and actions, as well as to propose alternative policies.
“A shadow cabinet allows for strong debate because it is very specific to each ministry,” said political scientist Dr Mustafa Izzuddin, who is also a senior international affairs analyst with the political consultancy firm Solaris Strategies Singapore.
“They are awaiting the formation of the cabinet itself and once it is formed, the opposition will respond in return,” he added.
Singapore currently has 16 ministries. With only 10 deputies elected WP, the possibility of a shadow cabinet can only be formed in the future.
However, it is likely that Singh could assign fictitious ministers to key departments only. Alternatively, he could assign an opposition member to hold more than one ministerial position.
“When they had six opposition deputies [before 2020 General Election], they followed the Cabinet, but not in the official sense. They may have already divided [the responsibility] between them. For example, an opposition member may have held two [or more] ghost ministerial positions, “said Dr. Izzuddin.
Relatively, the shadow budget is prepared by shadow cabinets as an alternative to the actual budget presented by the government.
Shadow budget will generally be a key part of the party manifesto in an election and will be largely, if not fully implemented, when the opposition party subsequently forms a government, especially if it obtains an absolute majority .
Other prominent opposition leaders
In the UK, the current Leader of the Opposition is Keir Starmer, leader of the Labor Party and the country’s main opposition party. He also runs a shadow cabinet.
The Conservative Party is led by Boris Johnson, who is also the British Prime Minister.
In the United Kingdom, the Leader of the Opposition not only has his MP allowance – he is also entitled to a salary. From 2013 to 2014, former opposition leader Ed Miliband received an additional £ 62,440 for his role.
Since 1937, the holder also receives a car with driver for the official business of cost and specifications equivalent to the vehicles used by the majority of the ministers.
However, it should be noted that his shadow ministers do not receive a salary, as it is only granted to the Leader of the Opposition.
In Australia, the leader of the opposition is Anthony Albanese, who is the leader of the Labor opposition party. He sits opposite Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is the leader of the ruling Liberal Party, in the chambers.
As the leader of the Labor party, Albanese would earn around A $ 259,000 a year. As Leader of the Opposition, he is expected to earn approximately AU $ 390,000 (S $ 380,210) since last year, including an additional AU $ 131,000.
The rights and privileges accorded to leaders of the opposition in these countries differ, with some receiving high salaries equivalent to almost the same level as a cabinet minister, such as the Leader of the Opposition in the United Kingdom.
If Singh were allowed to receive the salary of a cabinet minister, his salary could be $ 55,000 a month, or $ 660,000 a year.
Previous opposition leaders never received formal title
With all this, one wonders why the former secretary general of the WP, Low Thia Khiang, was doing essentially the same job without the high official status.
Going back to history, the first inaugural opposition leader in Singapore was Lee Kuan Yew in the Legislative Assembly in 1955, when Singapore was still a Crown colony of the British Empire.
The term “unofficial opposition leader” was then coined in 1992 for Chiam See Tong, then a member of the Democratic Party of Singapore (SDP).
At the time, three out of four opposition members of the House belonged to the SDP. House leader Wong Kan Seng used the title to give Chiam “courtesy and priority among opposition members.”
Chiam was seated directly in front of the Prime Minister – a seat that Low later occupied, followed by Singh when he succeeded Low as party leader in April 2018.
In 2011, Low rejected the “unofficial” leadership position previously held by Chiam, stating, “Either you have an opposition leader or you don’t. It is not necessary to have an unofficial Leader of the Opposition. “
Prior to GE 2020, the position was considered an unofficial role, which is why the Leader of the Opposition did not withdraw additional allowances to fill the position.
Instead, they were entitled to the ordinary compensation compensation granted to other regular parliamentarians.
However, following the first official appointment of the Leader of the Opposition, it is not yet known whether additional remuneration, or even salary, will be awarded to the incumbent.
Why is PM Lee formalizing the role now?
Adding to his response on the assignment of the role, Prime Minister Lee said: “I told Mr. Singh that with 10 MPs, I think it is right that he, the leader of the Workers’ Party, be officially designated as the Leader of the Opposition. “
To a large extent, the Prime Minister reacts to feelings and public opinion during the elections and understands the need for a more robust debate in Parliament.
Monetary [matters] apart, the Leader of the Opposition will have high status in Parliament, in terms of engaging in vigorous debate and forming his own shadow cabinet.
– Dr Mustafa Izzuddin
Not just a paper leader, the Leader of the Opposition should do more than just oppose.
Instead, the public will turn to them to propose alternative policies and solutions to those proposed by the PAP.
For example, if the government proposes to raise the GST rate from seven to nine percent when it plans to increase health, infrastructure and security spending, the opposition must counter-propose a system capable of respond to increased spending while keeping the GST rate at seven percent.
Featured image credit: Reuters / The Online Citizen Asia
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