Indian-origin Pritam Singh becomes Singapore’s first Leader of Opposition

Singh served as the secretary-general of Singapore’s Workers’ Party

Diaspora

September 7, 2020

/ By / New Delhi



Pritam Singh’s duties include leading and organising the Opposition’s parliamentary business as the Leader of Opposition

Pritam Singh, Singapore’s Indian-origin politician and the secretary-general of the Worker’s Party in the country, was designated as the Leader of the Opposition on last Monday, August 31. The city-state’s Parliament of Singapore conferred the duties and privileges to him as the country’s first Leader of the Opposition.

History was made in the Singaporean Parliamentary elections held in July as an opposition party bagged an unprecedented 10 seats in the Parliament, for the first time in the south-east Asian nation since its independence in 1965.

In fact, the Workers’ Party won enough number of seats for its leader to be named the first Leader of the Opposition in the city-state’s history. Thus when the new Parliament sat for the first time on August 24, 43-year-old Indian origin leader, Pritam Singh, was nominated as the Leader of Opposition by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, whose party won 83 out of the 93 seats in the election.

Singh’s historic nomination is a landmark moment for the Indian diaspora in the tiny nation. Not only is a Person of Indian Origin leading the largest opposition party in the country in the past 55 years, but the new cabinet also has an unprecedented four members of the Indian diaspora.

Singapore is home to over 700,000 Indian-origin persons, accounting for about 10 pc of the total population of Singapore. The past two decades have seen rapid growth in the number of Indians living in Singapore, which was only seven percent in 1990.

Indians have been welcomed with open arms in Singapore as various shades of Indian community comprising of Tamils, Malayalis, Punjabis, Gujaratis, Sindhis and other groups have made the Lion City their home. Indian diaspora has also been politically active and held important positions in various government departments from time-to-time.

The current Minister of home affairs and law in Singapore is Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam SC, better known as K. Shanmugam, another Indian-origin Singaporean politician and lawyer. Another key leader  Tharman Shanmugaratnam has held key positions in the cabinet for well over a decade. Now, Singh joins this exclusive club.

As the House began proceedings last week, one of the first orders of business was a ministerial statement by the Leader of the House, Indranee Rajah, on formally recognising Singh as the country’s first Opposition leader. Addressing the Parliament, Singh underlined the need to focus on foreigners and their living conditions. He emphasised on the conditions, management and accommodation needs of the foreign workers in Singapore.

Pritam Singh has been in active politics since for about a decade now, since 2011

43-years-old Singh was born and brought up in Singapore but has his ancestry linked to Punjab in India. He graduated from the National University of Singapore, where he completed Bachelor of Arts degree in History, in 2000. He has won the Straits Steamship Prize for being the top undergraduate student in History and Political Science subjects. He was later honoured with Chevening Scholarship for his postgraduate studies at King’s College London, where he completed a degree in Master of Arts in war studies in 2004.

According to the Workers’ Party website, Singh has been in active politics since for about a decade now, since 2011. “Pritam has spoken on a wide range of issues including foreign affairs and defence, and job disruption faced by PMET workers. In 2020, he called for giving seniors above 60 greater access to their the health insurance to settle inpatient and outpatient bills,” the website says, adding that as Chairman of the Aljunied-Hougang Town Council, Singh oversaw significant improvements in estate and compliance matters.

Singh joined the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) in 1994 and served as an officer from 1997 to 2002, having achieved the commissioned rank of Major.

During her address to the parliament on Monday, leader of the house Indranee Rajah said that Singh would be given an office in Parliament, staff support and resources, as well as additional allowance.“The Leader of the Opposition will also be given the right of first response among MPs to ask the lead question to ministers on policies, bills and motions in Parliament. This will be at the discretion of the Speaker and subject to existing conventions,” she said.

“I look forward to serving as the leader of the opposition and will carry out my duties to the best of my abilities. I will endeavour to ensure that the Workers’ Party under my leadership will remain loyal to Singapore and all Singaporeans. On behalf of all WP candidates and on a more personal note, thank you to all our families and loved ones, who have marched in step with us, through all the highs and lows over many years,” Singh wrote in his post on Facebook after he was sworn in.

As Leader of the Opposition, Singh’s duties include leading and organising the Opposition’s parliamentary business. He may also take on other duties such as attending official state functions and taking part in visits and meetings with members of the Government and the public service. Rajah added that the role of the Leader of the Opposition in Singapore will evolve with the country’s politics.

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