For those who went to bed after the Sengkang or Aljunied results were declared, you may have missed this huge announcement from PM Lee Hsien Loong during his post-election press conference:
‘I told Mr [Pritam] Singh that with 10 MPs, I think it is right that he, the Workers’ Party leader, be formally designated as the Leader of the Opposition, and that he will be provided with appropriate staff and resources to perform his duties, and he thanked me for this.’
This, to my best knowledge, is unprecedented in our history. Low Thia Khiang was offered the title of ‘unofficial Leader of the Opposition’ (previously held by Chiam See Tong), but Low did not accept it because he considered it derogatory, and famously said, ‘Either you have a leader of the opposition, or you do not have it. There’s no need to have an unofficial leader of the opposition’.
Now, after 55 years of practising parliamentary democracy as a sovereign nation, we will finally have an official Leader of the Opposition, with his own, dedicated staff team. Just consider that fact. In terms of institution-building, this is momentous — a huge step towards fairer political contestation, both inside and outside of Parliament.
Note that in the Westminster system, the office of Leader of the Opposition is established by convention, rather than by statute. That is the case in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, for example — although in India, the position was given statutory recognition by a 1977 law. In Singapore’s case, the office is not found in our Constitution, though I stress that this does not make it any less official. As some of you may know, in the UK even the office of Prime Minister is not established by written law. ‘Prime Minister’, believe it or not, originated as a term of abuse!
Congratulations to Mr Pritam Singh on becoming Singapore’s first Leader of the Opposition. Will we have a shadow cabinet, next? #GE2020