Opening Address: Non-Partisanship: Politics Without Punishment

Posted by Daniel Chew under Public Forums on 28 January 2000

Opening Address by Daniel Chew

Good evening, distinguished speakers, ladies and gentlemen.


Non-partisanship's emergence as an alternative form of political expression has found both favour and opposition amongst politicians, civil society and academia.

It is perceived as a platform that allows participation of those who wish to play active citizens and yet are not ready or do not wish to engage with politics or political parties directly.

On the other hand, some argue that non-partisanship stumble our local political development as it subsumes itself to furthering the status quo of the current political structure and diminishing the need for credible oppositions.

If so, why do people prefer political type activities that proclaim that they are non-partisan to the party political ones?

Is it because they want to politick but do not want to take responsibility, i.e. politics without punishment?

How can the idea of non-partisan be realistically justified since we are often required to take positions on certain issues?

Is non-partisanship helpful to Singapore political development or is there a need to go beyond that?

These are the few issues we hope to explore in today's forum.

Nominated Member of the Parliament

An interesting example that we would examine this evening on non-partisanship would be our current Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) System.

Some background information on the NMP system that should facilitate our discussions:

NMPs are appointed to ensure a wider representation of views in Parliament.

This provision was made in the Constitution in 1990.

Under the provision, the President may appoint up to nine NMPs on the recommendation of a Special Select Committee of Parliament.

Nominations are open to the general public. Persons to be nominated should have distinguished themselves whether in public service, or in their various fields of profession. Each NMP serves a term of two years in the Parliament.

As you are aware, one of the main business of Parliament is to legislate for the country.

Every proposal for a law must be initiated in the form of a Bill that that are normally introduced by a Minister;

However, you may wish to note that the recent Maintenance of Parents Bill is introduced by one of the Nominated MPs, Assoc. Prof. Walter Woon.

Non-partisan groups

Apart from the NMP system, there are also several non-partisan groups such as the Socratic Circle and the Roundtable that engage their members in political discussions.

These groups mainly comprises network of socially and politically concerned citizens who are committed to the preservation and enhancement of Democracy in Singapore.

Deep within them, the members of these groups have a strong desire to engage the state and its citizenry in debate over political and policy issues.


Apart from the NMPs and the non-partisan groups, there are many Singaporeans who wish to express their opinions on political matters.

Surely, few wish to be forced to join any political parties before they are allowed to express their political views. So, should we label these Singaporeans as non-partisans?

How could the open call from BG Lee Hsien Loong to Singaporeans to engage the government in debate over national issues impact: 1) The roles played by the non-partisan groups and ordinary citizens; and 2) The idea of non-partisanship?

Finally, what are the concrete steps that should be taken by the Government, civil society and individuals so as to realise the full benefits of non-partisanship, perhaps in the name of Singapore 21 vision?

With these issues on mind, allow me to introduce our distinguished speakers today:

Mr. Goh Chong Chia - recently appointed NMP - Deputy Managing Director, TSP Architects + Planners - Currently holding Chairmanship and various Honorary appointments in several committees / councils

Ms. Eleanor Wong - Lawyer by profession - The Right Angle, a firm providing TV production and consultancy services

Mr. Zulkifli Baharudin - Serving second term (to confirm) as a NMP - Member of the Roundtable - Circle International, a logistics solution provider

Mr. Chia Shi Teck - Former NMP - Chairman, Heshe Holdings

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