Role of the opposition in a parliamentary democracy

The role of the opposition in a parliamentary democracy – William Leong

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate His Majesty’s Royal Address for the 3rd session of the 13th Parliament.

His Majesty at the beginning of his Royal Address called upon the honourable members of this Parliament to open a new chapter with a new mindset and determination in view of the trials and tribulations faced by the country in 2014. The Honourable Speaker has also repeated this call when he opened the Royal Address for debate.

There is a need of a new mindset for our nation to have a more mature approach to democracy.

The first change in mindset is to recognise that the opposition has an important role to play in the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. It has been recognised since 1826 that the opposition is an integral part of parliamentary democracy when the parliament in the United Kingdom described non-government members of parliament as “His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition”.

Genuine opposition is a necessary attribute of democracy. It is about the right to dissent in a civilised manner. It is about tolerance and trust in the ability of citizens to resolve differences by peaceful means. Without an effective opposition, tyranny takes over.

It may be the rights of the political opposition that is immediately and visibly removed but the true damage is to the legitimacy of the ruling party to govern and ultimately it leads to the destruction of democratic rights and freedoms of the public generally.

The lack of a strong opposition in Parliament may lead to extra parliamentary opposition in the form of violent protests in the streets.

There is no full political democracy if there is no free and fair elections, a full and unquestioned recognition of the rights and functions of the opposition of the day. This means that there must be political minority rights.

It must be vigilant against oppression and unjust invasions of the people’s rights. It should be allowed to offer political alternatives, to improve parliamentary decision making through debates, reflections and contradictions, it should be given the facilities and opportunities to check on expenditures, question over expenditure and expose to the light of public opinion wasteful expenditure or worse.

It must be allowed to ask questions and illicit information: it arouses, educates and moulds public opinion, it must be allowed to scrutinise every action by the government and in doing so, prevents shortcuts in the democratic processes and procedures of government to keep the government on the straight and narrow path thereby enhancing stability, legitimacy, accountability and transparency in the political process.

It is time to realise that the debate between the government and the “loyal opposition” has practical value and is for the good of the society. It must be recognised that the government and the opposition are not each other’s enemies but each other’s partner instead in their indispensable complement to a functioning democracy.

The role of the opposition in a parliamentary democracy – William Leong
18 March 2015 TMI


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