Speaker of Parliament

The Prime Minister is not the biggest fish in Parliament, it’s the Speaker.

Think of him as a judge in a court. In fact, before 1993, Speakers wore wigs similar to those worn by court judges. The Speaker even has his own “bailiff” – the Serjeant-at-Arms – to maintain orderly conduct in the chambers.

The Speaker presides over parliamentary sittings and enforces the rules prescribed in the Standing Orders of Parliament – aka the procedural do’s and do not’s in Parliament – such as hurrying certain long-winded Members of Parliament (MPs) to cut their speeches or questions short, should they dwell past the allocated time.

Even Cabinet Ministers do not escape unscathed – Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam was asked to wrap up his response to another MP’s question in 2017, when the current Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin first took the stage. Mr Tan is also an MP for Marine Parade GRC.

Though it is not necessary for the Speaker to be an MP, all but two of the past Speakers have been MPs while in office – Sir George Oehlers (1955-1963) and Mr P Coomaraswamy (1966-1970). But the Speaker cannot be drawn from the ranks of office-holders.

Traditionally, the Prime Minister nominates a person as Speaker. The person's name is then proposed and seconded by the MPs at the start of each new Parliament, before the person is elected to the role.

Although the Speaker may belong to a political party, he or she must remain impartial and fair to all MPs. The Speaker does not take part in debates but can abstain or vote for or against a motion if he has a vote as an MP. That is, he comes down from his high chair and a deputy takes over.

But the Speaker has no casting vote, which refers to an additional vote given in a voting deadlock.

The Speaker is also the second in succession for the President’s office – and assumes presidential duties should the President and the chairman of the Council of Presidential Advisers be away. In fact, a Speaker who has held his or her role for three or more years is automatically qualified as a candidate in the presidential elections.

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