Following the results of the 2020 general election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong awarded Pritam Singh, Secretary General of the Labor Party (WP), the title of the first official opposition leader.
With its victory in Sengkang GRC, the Labor Party has further secured its position as the main opposition party in Singapore and increased the number of its opposition MPs from six to ten.
The two NCMP seats will be offered to the Progress Singapore Party, which received the highest number of votes (48.31 percent in West Coast GRC) among the opposition parties if the number of opposition members elected was less than 12.
Prime Minister Lee said that the election results reflect a clear desire for a variety of votes in Parliament.
He said he congratulated Singh and the WP on their strong performance in the election, and Singh would receive the appropriate support and resources from the staff to perform this role – without explaining exactly what they are.
We take a look at what the "official" opposition leader means and why the former WP General Low Thia Khiang was never given the role.
What exactly is an "opposition leader"?
The opposition leader is a title held by the leader of the largest non-governing party in a Westminster system of the parliamentary government.
Pritam Singh / Photo Credit: Asia Newsday
The parliamentary system in Singapore is based on the Westminster system in Great Britain. There the opposition leader receives a salary in addition to the MP allowance and selects a shadow cabinet to follow the work of the government departments.
In other countries, the opposition leader is supported by a secretariat and also has office space in the parliament buildings.
It also has access to government data and information to effectively review government policies.
Currently, the person leading the opposition party with the largest number of elected opposition MPs is the WP's secretary general, Pritam Singh, who was elected to the WP's leadership on April 8, 2018.
Low Thia Khiang / Photo credit: Screengrab from YouTube
It is expected that Singh will continue to sit directly opposite Prime Minister Lee in Parliament, which was the norm after replacing Low Thia Khiang.
What about a shadow cabinet?
A shadow cabinet consists of a group of opposition spokesmen who, led by the opposition leader, form an alternative cabinet to that of the government.
Members will shade or mirror the positions of each cabinet member. In most countries, a member of the shadow cabinet is referred to as the shadow minister.
For example, a shadow minister for education is used to shade the minister of education in the cabinet.
It is the Shadow Cabinet's responsibility to review government policies and actions and offer alternative policies.
Photo credit: PM & # 39; s Office Singapore
"A shadow cabinet enables a solid debate because it is very specific for each ministry," said political scientist Dr. Mustafa Izzuddin, who is also a senior analyst for international affairs in Solaris Strategies Singapore's policy advice.
"They wait until the cabinet itself is formed, and once that is done, the opposition will respond," he added.
There are currently 16 ministries in Singapore. With only 10 WP members elected, the possibility of a shadow cabinet could only be further developed in the future.
However, there is a probability that Singh can only assign shadow ministries to key ministries. Alternatively, he could assign an opposition MP to shade more than one ministerial post.
“When they had six opposition MPs (before the 2020 general election), they shadowed the cabinet, but not in the official sense. You may already have shared responsibility. For example, an opposition MP could have held two (or more) shadow ministerial posts, ”said Dr. Izzuddin.
Relatively, the shadow budget is created by shadow cabinets as an alternative to the real budget submitted by the government.
The shadow budget will usually form a substantial part of a party's election manifesto and will be largely, if not fully, implemented if the opposition party subsequently forms a government, especially if it wins a full majority.
Other prominent opposition leaders
In the UK, the current opposition leader is Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labor Party and the country's main opposition party. He also runs a shadow cabinet.
Keir Starmer / Photo Credit: National Review
The Conservative Party is led by Boris Johnson, who is also the British Prime Minister.
In Britain, the opposition leader is not only entitled to his MP allowance, but also to a salary. From 2013 to 2014, former opposition leader Ed Miliband received an additional £ 62,440 for his role.
Since 1937, the owner has also had a chauffeur-driven car for official business, the cost and specification of which correspond to that used by most cabinet ministers.
However, it should be noted that his shadow ministers are not paid a salary as this is only granted to the opposition leader.
In Australia, opposition leader Anthony Albanese is the leader of the opposition Labor Party. He sits in the chambers opposite Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the leader of the ruling Liberal Party.
Anthony Albanese / Photo Credit: AFP
As a Senior Labor Frontbencher, Albanese would have earned about AU $ 259,000 a year. As an opposition leader, he is expected to earn around AU $ 390,000 (S $ 380,210) since last year, including an additional AU $ 131,000.
The entitlements and privileges granted to opposition leaders in these countries vary, with some receiving high salaries that are close to the level of a cabinet minister, such as the opposition leader in Britain.
If Singh were entitled to receive a cabinet minister's salary, his salary could be S $ 55,000 a month or S $ 660,000 a year.
Earlier opposition leaders never officially received the title
With all of this, one wonders why the former WP general secretary Low Thia Khiang did essentially the same job without the official, elevated status.
Back in history, the first first opposition leader in Singapore is Lee Kuan Yew in the 1955 Legislative Assembly when Singapore was still a crown colony of the British Empire.
The term “unofficial opposition leader” was coined in 1992 for Chiam See Tong, who was then a member of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).
At that time, three out of four opposition members were in the house of the SDP. The chairman of Wong Kan Seng therefore used the title to give Chiam "due courtesy and primacy among opposition MPs."
Chiam See Tong left / Photo credit: Wake Up, Singapore
Chiam was sitting directly opposite the prime minister – a seat that Low later took, followed by Singh when he succeeded Low as party leader in April 2018.
In 2011, Low rejected Chiam's “unofficial” leadership position, saying, “Either you have an opposition leader or you don't have him. It is not necessary to have an unofficial opposition leader. "
Before GE 2020, the position was considered an unofficial role, which is why the opposition leader did not receive additional permission from holding the position.
Instead, they were entitled to the usual ordinary remuneration granted to other regular MPs.
After the first formal appointment of the opposition leader, it is not yet known whether the holder will receive additional compensation or even a salary.
Why is PM Lee formalizing the role now?
PM Lee added in response to the transfer of the role: "I told Mr. Singh that with 10 MPs I think it is right that he, the Labor Party leader, be officially appointed opposition leader."
The Prime Minister largely responds to the mood and public opinion during the elections and understands the need for a more robust debate in Parliament.
Aside from monetary matters, the opposition leader will get a higher status in parliament in terms of commitment to a robust debate and the formation of his own shadow cabinet.
– Dr. Mustafa Izzuddin
The opposition leader is expected to be more than just resistance, not just a paper leader.
Instead, the public will look for them to offer alternative guidelines and solutions to those proposed by PAP.
For example, if the government proposes to increase the GST rate from seven to nine percent to increase spending on healthcare, infrastructure, and security, the opposition will have to propose a system that can cover the increased spending while maintaining the GST- Rate at seven percent.
Selected image source: Reuters / The Online Citizen Asia