Parliament votes in favour of amended motion for speaker to discharge duties independently and impartially 

03/08/2023

“This house reaffirms its commitment to the need for the speaker of parliament to be independent and impartial and for parliament to be a fair arena for all”, booms Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Mr Leong Mun Wai. It was not the first time the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) had raised hell on perceived injustices, and it is unlikely to be the last. But sadly, in spite of existing standing orders (aka how-to-be-a-parliamentarian guide), we are met with the fact that Mr Leong has once again missed the point in his rallying cry.  

At first glance, it reads like a benign motion not dissimilar to one of those ‘be kind’ posters everybody tends to agree with. But as Mr Leong speaks, the truth unravels, with the speech descending into a soliloquy about the conduct and moral shortcomings of the previous speaker (Mr Tan Chuan Jin), who has since resigned. And as it went on, newly elected speaker Mr Seah Kian Peng found himself in the unenviable position of having to rein in Mr Leong, whose political bias against the PAP makes him a strangely paradoxical figure to be talking about impartiality. 

Eventually, with his beef directed towards Mr Tan out of the way, Mr Leong proceeded to give us a history lesson about speakers and their duties, making no mention of why or how parliament is an unfair arena. In the end, just as we are left none the wiser why PSP filed this motion in the first place, it fell upon Leader of the House Indranee Rajah to provide some perspective. 

“Insofar as what he (Mr Leong) means by independent, it was clear from his speech that he meant either non-partisan or not a political party member,” said Minister Indranee.  

The question is, does it matter? Will stripping an individual from their political affiliation ensure impartiality and fairness? One might recall John Bercow, a former speaker of the House of Commons, who is renowned for making his politics known despite being nominally independent. And as humans, we are destined to be partisan. That doesn’t mean that we cannot be impartial. As such, the fact that the speaker is from the ruling party does not take away their ability to discharge their duties fairly and independently, noted MP Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC). 

That said, we can implement rules to keep parliament a fair arena for everyone. Joining in the debate, MP Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten SMC) spoke about the importance of Standing Orders in regulating parliament proceedings. Through it, all parliamentarians can speak on bills, ask questions and file motions to address specific issues without plunging the process into chaos. Furthermore, parliamentary privilege ensures all members (ruling party or otherwise) can raise and discuss matters without fear of prosecution, said MP Vikram. 

Numbers-wise, the ruling party dominates the parliament by a large majority. But to call it an unfair one would be an unfair assertion. Because if it is, nobody would have to sit through Mr Leong’s motion that reeks of sanctimony and victimhood. However, despite how misguided the motion is in pinning the failings of one individual as bringing down an entire system, there is merit underlying the suggestion. After all, speakers have to discharge their duties impartially and do so while adhering to parliamentary rules. 

And with some amendments by MP Vikram – “This house affirms its commitment to the need for the speaker of parliament to a) discharge his duties independently and impartially and b) to uphold the Standing Orders of Parliament and the obligations under the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act 1962”, the updated motion which is more practical and less accusatory is now something the PAP can proudly support and stand behind. 

Photo Source: MCI/ Seah Kian Peng via Facebook