The Republic’s 13th Parliament will sit for its first session this Friday (Jan 15) at 3.30pm, with President Tony Tan delivering his opening address at 8.30pm.
Proceedings will kick-off with the re-election of Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, followed by the oath-taking of 89 Members of Parliament (MPs) and two Non-constituency MPs (NCMPs) selected at the ballot box during the 2015 General Election.
Parliament will then reconvene from Jan 25 to Jan 29 to debate on the President’s address. But before the heavy lifting begins, take in these quick info nuggets on the Parliament of Singapore.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The first session of the first Parliament of independent Singapore was held on Dec 8, 1965, four months after Singapore separated from Malaysia. A total of 51 members attended a sitting inaugurated by the Republic's first President, Yusof Ishak.
MEMBERS BY THE NUMBERS
This year, there will be up to 92 members in the House - 89 MPs and 3 NCMPs. However, Ms Lee Li Lian, who should be the third Non-Constituency Member of Parliament, had said after the General Election that she would not be taking up the post.
There will be 21 new faces, including NCMPs Leon Perera and Dennis Tan of the opposition Workers’ Party.
AGE AND GENDER
Of the 89 MPs, 21 are women and 68 are men.
Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong is fittingly the most senior at 74 years old, while MacPherson SMC representative Tin Pei Ling is the youngest at 32, despite being a second-term MP. The average age of all the MPs? 48.4.
Ms Grace Fu will become the first woman to sit in the Cabinet front row, after becoming Singapore’s first female full minister to head a ministry (Culture, Community and Youth). She also happens to be Singapore’s first female Leader of the House.
Mr Patrick Tay will take the seat that used to be occupied by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March 2015.
THE SERJEANT AND HIS MACE
A weapon of war during medieval times, the mace now symbolises sovereign power and authority. The design of Singapore’s mace includes a winged lion, fishes, Chinese junks and Sir Stamford Raffles’ family coat-of-arms.
It is carried in and out the Chamber by the Serjeant-at-Arms Ong Boon Chye, 59, at the start and end of each Parliament sitting, and remains at the Table of the House for the duration of each session.
However, when the President is present, the mace will not be displayed - hence it will be absent from the opening of Parliament on Friday as the ceremony will be presided over by President Tony Tan.
Aside from being custodian of the mace, the Serjeant-at-Arms also sits in the Chamber throughout the sitting to wait on the Speaker’s orders and to maintain order in the House. He may use force to compel obedience to direction from the Speaker, such as removing an offender from the premises.
Mr Ong also reportedly only has four slices of wholemeal bread for lunch every day. He said this helps him stay alert for the tasks he needs to complete.
SWEARING ALLEGIANCE TO SINGAPORE
The election of a Speaker is the first item of business at the Opening of Parliament. Upon being elected by the House, the Speaker is the first to take her oath of allegiance at the Table of the House.
She then presides over the administration of the oaths to all Members of the House by the Clerk, in groups at the Table, starting with the Prime Minister and thereafter row by row. After taking their oaths, they sign their oath forms and hand them back to the Clerk. When the oaths are completed, Members will make their congratulatory remarks.
No MP can take part in any parliamentary proceedings until he or she has taken the oath of allegiance.
A BRIEF GLOSSARY OF PARLIAMENTARY LINGO
Aye: An old English word used for voting “yes” in Parliament
Hear, hear: The traditional parliamentary expression for the purpose of applauding a speech. Applause may also be indicated by Members clapping hands or rapping on the sides of their seats.
Filibustering: The use of long speeches or other tactics to deliberately delay proceedings.
Guillotine: An order made by the Speaker or the House fixing the time allowed for debate on a particular matter.
Hung parliament: Occurs when no party or coalition of parties controls a majority of seats in Parliament. The governing party has to rely on the support of the other parties or independents in order to secure a majority.
Unicameral: Singapore’s Parliament is unicameral, that is it consists of a single House with no senate or upper House.
Unparliamentary language: Words or expressions which are offensive and insulting and which should not be used during parliamentary proceedings. Any Member found using such words or expressions will be called upon to withdraw them immediately, failing which he may be in breach of parliamentary privilege
ADMISSION IS FREE
Parliament proceedings are open to the public on a first-come-first-served basis. Up to 223 visitors can be allowed into the viewing space - named the Strangers’ Gallery - which is separated from the House by shatter-proof, floor-to-ceiling glass panels.
With 90 members, the state-of-the-art Chamber will be three-quarters full - it can seat up to 120 and features an electronic voting system, electrically-operated lecterns, IT terminals and more.