Singapore is now in uncharted territory.
You’re probably aware of the Worker’s Party’s (WP) historic capture of two GRCs and one SMC in GE2020, the largest number of seats ever won by an opposition party in Singapore’s short history.
With a record 10 opposition MPs voted into parliament this election, the whole landscape of Singaporean politics will look very different.
For one, fewer people will be nodding in agreement while trying not to fall asleep when PAP MPs and ministers are talking.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also formally appointed WP chief Pritam Singh as the Leader of the Opposition, something we all assumed Low Thia Khiang was for at least a century.
But what other real changes will there be in parliament? Well, we could have a shadow cabinet.
Reader: *shivers* Why does that sound spooky?
Don’t worry, it’s not a bad thing at all.
While A Shadow Cabinet sounds like a Thai horror movie on Netflix, it’s a feature of government that we could have in Singapore soon.
So, what exactly is a shadow cabinet?
1. Consists of Opposition MPs
Simply put, a shadow cabinet is a group of MPs from the opposition who develop alternative policies and hold the government accountable for its actions and responses.
Each minister of a shadow cabinet has a corresponding shadow minister.
2. It is a Feature of Westminster Parliamentary System
As your secondary school History teacher taught you, Singapore was ruled by British colonialists for 144 years.
Even though they left our shores in 1963, we retained several tenets of their rule, such as the English language and their parliamentary political system.
The Government in Singapore is modelled after the Westminster system, with its three separate branches: the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judiciary.
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A shadow cabinet is one feature of this Westminster-style Parliament. While it can be found in other countries, it has never been formally implemented in Singapore.
There’s a reason for that, though.
3. We Could Soon Have One Because Of The Number of Opposition MPs in Office
This may shock your democratic sensibilities, but the Singapore government has never had more than four opposition MPs in Parliament for most of its history.
Then, in 2011, WP made electoral history by being the first opposition party in Singapore to win a group representation constituency (GRC). This gave them a total of 6 seats in parliament, along with their win in Hougang SMC.
As you know, the party made history again by winning two GRCs and one SMC in GE2020. This granted them 10 seats in parliament, the highest number of seats held by the opposition.
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As a result, PM Lee did something which no prime minister in Singapore has done before.
4. Opposition Now Has A Formally Designated Leader
One of the reasons we never had a shadow cabinet is because we never had a Leader of the Opposition.
In the 1991 general election, after an unprecedented four seats were won by the opposition, Mr Chiam See Tong, who was then with the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), was referred to as the “unofficial leader of the opposition”, a title not unlike the one your boss gave you instead of a promotion.
Reader: But he said that the Super Important Document Shredder was a highly coveted position.
Of course, it is.
In other countries with the same Westminster-style Parliament, opposition parties often have a Leader of the Opposition – a formal title bestowed on the leader of the largest minority party.
Due to the high number of seats won by the WP, PM Lee recently announced that WP secretary-general Pritam Singh would be the official Leader of the Opposition.
A Leader of the Opposition typically seats opposite the Prime Minister (as other opposition leaders have done in the past), has the same amount of speaking time, and will draw an additional salary.
5. Several Other Countries Have One
The United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia have all had shadow cabinets in parliament.
The common denominator here is that they were all former British colonies, of course.
In the UK, for example, the Labour Party has formed the shadow cabinet since 2010, as they make up the minority in parliament.
6. Malaysia Formed A Shadow Cabinet For the First Time Recently
In 2018, four Malaysian opposition parties unveiled a shadow Cabinet for the first time in its history.
The government said that the shadow cabinet would play a “check-and-balance role for each ministry”, and will serve as a ‘policy watch’ and formulate alternative policies to compete with the ruling party.
7. Shadow Ministers Provide An Alternative To The Ruling Party’s Ministers
A shadow cabinet is made up of shadow ministers, and each minister of a cabinet has a corresponding shadow minister.
Shadow ministers are officials who scrutinise, appraise, and criticise policies and actions of the ruling government’s ministers and departments.
They don’t literally follow official ministers wherever they go, of course, that would make for some awkward bathroom breaks.
They essentially act as the opposition spokesperson in respect to his or her designated areas and are there to provide an alternative view on policies and proposals.
For instance, if a PAP MP were named Minister of Bubble Tea Affairs, the WP could appoint Jamus Lim as the Shadow Minister for Bubble Tea Affairs, to debate very important bubble tea issues.
8. Shadow Ministers Do Not Have An Official Position
According to OnlineCitizenAsia, while shadow ministers have a significant role in helping to lead opposition positions on specific issues in their respective ministries, their appointments are not official Parliamentary positions.
9. They Do Not Draw An Additional Salary
Pritam Singh, in addition to being famous for saying “Ownself check ownself“, will also be the first opposition MP to draw a salary on top of his MP allowance as the Leader of the Opposition.
Shadow ministers, however, will not.
Since they have no official status in parliament, shadow ministers will not draw an additional salary like their secretary-general.
I guess they’ll have to make do with their annual allowance of $192,500.
10. Shadow Ministers Could Take Over Official Cabinet Positions If They Win an Election
In the next general election, if the WP managed to clone 20 more Jamus Lims and Raeesah Khans and won the majority of seats in parliament, the shadow ministers could take over the official cabinet positions they were uh… shadowing.
This means that Jamus Lim, who was formerly Shadow Minister for Bubble Tea Affairs, could become the official Minister for Bubble Tea Affairs.
This would require a huge political upset of course, and has never happened in Singapore’s history.
Then again, no opposition party had won 10 seats in parliament before GE2020, so who knows what could happen in the future?
And on a side note, politicians have been talking about NCMP (Non-Constituency Member of Parliament) in recent days. So, what’s an NCMP? Do you know that it’s just like an MP but the allowance is much lower? Watch this video to find out more:
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