Former PAP MP Inderjit Singh comes up with radical idea for a new parliament

Inderjit Singh, formerly a Member of Parliament (MP) for the People’s Action Party (PAP) would like a drastic change for the Parliament.

In an opinion piece that appeared in The Straits Times dated 1 Dec, the man who represented Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency (GRC) until 2015 suggests that Singapore follow the system in Britain, and convert our current unicameral parliament to a bicameral one.

A unicameral system features a single chamber, which means bills only have to pass through one layer of consideration before the President assents. In a bicameral parliament, a bill has to pass through scrutiny from two Houses before put to presidential consideration.

Together with Charles Phua, a young graduate from Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Mr Singh suggests that Singapore’s society and needs are evolving, thus invoking a need for both diversity and constituency service in political office.

Each country needs to grow its own political institutions, sensitive to its context and conditions. Here, a good political system must efficiently aggregate people’s voices and effectively foster robust debates to strengthen policies for the benefit of Singapore and Singaporeans.

— Inderjit Singh

Daniel Goh doesn’t feel the same

However, Worker Party’s (WP) Daniel Goh, a sociology Professor from the National University of Singapore, stated his preference for the original unicameral system.

According to Daniel Goh, there would be “inevitable consequences of inviting more politicking leading to gridlock down the road.”

But, is a bicameral system really better than a unicameral one? MustShareNews takes a look at the features of a bicameral system, and what both parties have to say.

1. The parliament would be split into two houses

There would be a upper house and a lower house.

The upper house would practice advisory powers, having the ability to initiate bills, veto, and check the lower house bills. The bill must pass both houses in order to achieve constitutional amendment.

Inderjit’s Take:

  1. There would be better check and balances within the government, as bills that are not carefully considered can be subject to further scrutiny. For example, the British upper house has the power to throw out bills from the lower house.
  2. Stagnation of the political machine will not occur if there is a good balance of powers between both houses. Usually, countries with bicameral parliaments are associated with gridlock and ineffective law-making as the legislation would not be passed as long as one house has reservations. If there is a good balance of power between both houses, laws can be better debated and considered before passing, and may help to mitigate the gridlock associated with bicameralism.

Daniel’s Take:

  1. Having two houses is not efficient in law-making, and would cause politicking which will gridlock in the system. According to Daniel, a bicameral parliament would result in political debates which might not reach conclusions, resulting in bills that are unable to pass in either houses, leading to gridlock in the system.
  2. Singapore does not require such a complicated system. Building on existing institutions and keeping the system simple is enough to ensure efficiency in governmental processes such as passing legislation.
  3. Singapore is a small country and does not need a larger parliamentary system. Keeping in mind that we are the Little Red Dot, our population of 5.4 million pales in comparison to countries like Britain and India, countries which both possess a bicameral parliamentary system. Further, would there be enough people to fill up both the upper and lower houses?

2. The Upper House would be chosen based on appointment and elections, while the lower is chosen solely based on elections

Inderjit’s Take:

  1. There will not be a compromise between diverse views and serving the municipal needs, as the electorate need not choose between those candidates that “are good on the ground” and candidates who represent different opinions.
  2. Ministers in the upper house need not be elected MPs, which helps mitigate the vagaries of election and encourages experts who are otherwise unwilling to serve due to elections. India’s former Prime Minister was not elected, but nominated to the upper house, meaning that the lower house gets to nominate a Prime Minster too.

Daniel’s Take:

  1. Deeper democracy is required to increase the trust quotient. Appointing officials disregards the democracy of elections. The Government must have the people’s backing, in order to increase trust in the government.

No real trend in bi/unicameralism

Currently, countries that possess a bicameral parliament include, India, Australia, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Countries with a unicameral legislature include, Israel, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Greece, and Hungary.

So really, there’s no actual trend in why certain countries prefer a bicameral system while other countries opt otherwise.

We will have to ask ourselves: Do we actually need a bicameral parliament? Will it work for Singapore?

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With reference to Facebook and The Straits Times