Institutionalising opposition in LegCo: Insights from Singapore

September 02, 2020 08:07
Workers' Party has become the largest opposition party in Singapore. Photo: Reuters

In the shadows of the Sino-US conflict and pandemic covering Hong Kong, Prof. Anthony Cheung the former Secretary for Transport and Housing, expressed his somewhat sanguine vision for our Hong Kong. His proposal identified three core constitutional issues: (1) the universal suffrage of the Chief Executive(CE), (2) the institutionalisation of an opposition in the legislature, and (3) the reforming of the district councils through combining local wards into larger regional councils with greater official mandate and jurisdiction.

Prof. Cheung’s insights are largely echoed by the recent moves by the Singaporean government in enshrining and recognising an official Leader of the Opposition, which serves as a paradigmatic example of the ruling, dominant party (e.g. the PAP) extending an olive branch towards its opponents, in order to broker a tenable working relationship that benefits all in the polity.

Singapore’s Inaugural Leader of the Opposition

It’s worth noting that GE2020 was not the election that featured the lowest levels of support for the PAP. Comparing GE2011 to GE2020, PAP saw a 1% improvement over GE2011 (GE2015 should be considered an anomaly, given that Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death heavily swayed voters). Across a large number of electoral districts, PAP candidates had been both more established-in-reputation and qualified than their opponents. Take Marine Parade for an example, which featured a heavyweight line-up from PAP. Yet in this constituency, PAP only garnered 57%, against a relatively unknown Workers' Party(WP) team.

Inderjit Singh, former Member of Parliament(MP) who has resigned in 2015 since his first term of MP in 1996, posted his commentary on Facebook. He warned PAP’s fourth generation(4G) leadership the true public opinion is the opposite of their propaganda, “4G leadership will listen to Singaporeans ‘with humility and respect’”. Instead, the 4G leaders' general image is perceived to be one of arrogance, an elitist, natural aristocracy who project a “we know best” attitude.

Subsequent to the declaration of results for GE2020, PAP’s government outlined the duties and privileges of the Leader of the Opposition in the Singaporean Parliament. Having gained 10/93 seats in GE2020, WP became the largest opposition party in Singaporean history. Mr. Pritam Singh, the Secretary-General of the WP, was subsequently appointed as the first Leader of the Opposition of the Singaporean Parliament.

As the rising star in GE2020, Pritam Singh and WP has kindled a flame and ignited a new political imagination amongst the young generation of Singaporean. PAP recognized the shifting people's mandate, and established the new position - a move that was both classy and conducive towards cultivation of genuine political talents.

Regulating Political Parties in Hong Kong

Per the argument of Prof. Cheung, institutionalising the role of an opposition in the legislature facilitates the integration and coordination of parties, thereby introducing room for positive bipartisan competition and cooperation under the constitution. With the formalisation of a bipartisan system as the eventual objective, the majority and minority leaders could automatically assume the chairmanship and deputy chairmanship of the House Committee, according to Prof. CHEUNG’s proposal.

Regularising Hong Kong’s partisan politics has been touted as a priority for Hong Kong politics for many years. Prior to the introduction of a new role in the legislature, however, creating a suitable position for the political party is of utmost importance. Transparency in funding could only emerge under a mature bipartisan political environment.

Under the Basic Law, the CE must consult the Executive Council(ExCo) prior to making important policy decisions and introducing bills to the LegCo, etc. Yet in practice, despite the fact that the representatives of pro-establishment parties at LegCo are also members of the ExCo - hence the de facto cabinet, we have surprisingly seen that they would disagree with some of the government policies even notwithstanding their presupposed partisan loyalties.

Assuming a healthy party politics environment, pro-establishment parties, the inevitable alliance of government, should take the responsibility of supporting government’s policies. On the other hand, the government should also govern in accordance with the real public opinion. Under the new regulations for political parties in Hong Kong, people expect to see the officials connected with the reality and better policy discussion.

National Security Law Serving to Clarify Baselines

Institutionalising the opposition’s role in the constitution would rebuild the confidence and buy-in of the people in politics. Rejecting the leader and representative of opposition, as a result, people must ultimately go back to street which is not what all of us want to happen.

Since the 18th National Congress of the CPC, Bottom-line Thinking has been the solution for facing complex international politics and the world economic situation. In Hong Kong’s context, considering the fact that the National Security Law was enacted in a way that might have rubbed Hongkongers in the wrong way, the central and Hong Kong government should start to introduce some genuine reforms in the constitutional sphere, so as to regain the trust of the people.

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BEd (Chinese History) at EdUHK