Leader of the Opposition in Singapore: Roles and Resources

Last updated on August 31, 2020

man giving a speech

On 11 July 2020, following the 2020 Singapore General Election results, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that opposition party Workers’ Party Secretary-General Pritam Singh would be formally designated the title of the first official Leader of the Opposition (LO).

What exactly are the role and powers of the LO in Singapore?

In this article, we explain what you need to know about this political appointment in Singapore’s parliamentary system. It will cover:

What is the Leader of the Opposition (LO)?

The LO is a formally designated position that has been established in other Westminster parliamentary systems, like Australia and the United Kingdom, and refers to a Member of Parliament (MP) who is elected by opposition MPs as their leader and spokesperson.

As neither Singapore’s Constitution nor the Standing Orders of Parliament provide for such a position, the LO was previously considered as an unofficial role in Singapore, and there had been no formally designated LO in Singapore’s legislature until 2020.

Why was the Leader of the Opposition Role Formalised?

During the 2020 General Elections, the Workers’ Party won a second Group Representation Constituency (GRC) in Sengkang, in addition to Aljunied GRC.

Together with a seat at the Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC), the Workers’ Party now holds a total of 10 seats in Parliament, up from 6 in the previous election. This makes it the opposition party with the largest representation in Singapore’s Parliament to date. 

In his speech at the swearing-in ceremony for the Cabinet and other political office holders on 27 July 2020, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the 2020 General Election results reflected Singaporeans’ strong desire for a greater diversity of views in politics.

Hence in a joint press statement issued by the Office of the Speaker of Parliament and Office of the Leader of the House, the government stated that the formal designation and appointment of the LO would therefore recognise this desire and enable Singapore’s political system to “evolve in a way that maintains our sense of national purpose”.

How is the Leader of the Opposition Chosen?

In a typical Westminster parliamentary system, the LO is elected through a vote of the members of the main opposition party. The LO can keep his or her position as long as he or she remains an MP and has the support of the majority of the elected opposition.

In Singapore’s case, the first LO, Mr Pritam Singh, was formally designated by the Prime Minister following the 2020 General Election results.

What are the Roles and Powers of the Leader of the Opposition?

The duties carried out by the LO in Singapore are similar to those of the LOs in other Westminster parliamentary systems. These include:

  • Leading the opposition in presenting alternative views in parliamentary debates on various policies, Bills and motions.
  • Scrutinising the government’s positions and actions in Parliament.
  • Being consulted on the appointment of opposition members to Select Committees.
  • Taking on other duties, in addition to the LO’s parliamentary duties, such as attending official state functions, as well as taking part in visits and meetings alongside members of the government and the Public Service.

The LO will also be afforded certain parliamentary privileges. These include the right of first response among other MPs, as well as the right to ask the lead question to the ministers in parliamentary debates on policies, Bills and motions, although these would be subject to existing speaking conventions. For example, one such speaking convention is that a question must not be made as a ploy for debate.

A lead question refers to the question, or questions, that is raised by the LO when the Speaker of Parliament begins Question Time during a parliamentary sitting.

The LO will also receive confidential briefings by the government on select matters concerning national security and external relations, as well as in the event of a national crisis or emergency.

In addition, the LO will also be given up to 40 minutes to make his speeches, which is equivalent to the time given to political officeholders like ministers and parliamentary secretaries. In contrast, all MPs are allowed to speak for only 20 minutes in response to questions raised, and are given up to 10 minutes to address a committee of the whole of Parliament.

What Resources Does the Leader of the Opposition Have?

In Singapore, the LO will receive double the allowance of an elected MP. This would amount to an annual remuneration package of S$385,000 (inclusive of the LO’s existing allowance as an MP).

In terms of administrative and support resources, the LO will be provided an office and the use of a meeting room in Parliament House. Allowances will also be provided for the LO to hire up to 3 Legislative Assistants as well as 1 Secretarial Assistant.

A secretary will also be provided to support the LO with administrative tasks relating to his parliamentary responsibilities.

How is the Role of the Leader of the Opposition in Singapore Different From that of Other Countries?

The main difference between the role of the LO in Singapore, and that of the LOs in other Westminster parliamentary systems, is that the LO in Singapore would not be able to pick a “Shadow Cabinet” to follow the work of government, scrutinise the government’s policies, or offer alternative policies.

A Shadow Cabinet typically consists of members from the main opposition party, and it serves 3 primary roles:

  1. To serve as an organising committee of the opposition’s parliamentary business;
  2. To facilitate the opposition’s position as the alternative government, for example, by scrutinising policies and providing an alternative policy vision; and
  3. To provide experience and training for potential future ministers.

Shadow Cabinets feature in the parliamentary systems of Australia and the United Kingdom.

Aside from these key differences, the role of the LO in Singapore is largely similar to that of LOs in other countries with a Westminster parliamentary system.

How Long is the Term of the Leader of the Opposition?

The LO’s term lasts for as long as the LO remains an MP. In Singapore, the usual term of an MP is for 5 years, unless the MP is re-elected to serve additional terms in subsequent General Elections or the term is dissolved earlier by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.

The government has stressed that as the LO is a new political appointment, the role of the LO will continue to evolve as Singapore’s political system develops. This will help ensure that the interests of Singapore and Singaporeans continue to be served by a robust and stable political system.