fbpx
“Walkover” political careers have become more commonplace. By Melvin Tan.

20 Years of the GRC: Walkover political careers (Part Two)

*Please take part in the poll below (poll section on TOC) on whether you would support the call made by Mr Goh Meng Seng, for Mr Tan Kin Lian to contest in the elections.

This is the second part of a two-part look at the GRC system which was first introduced in 1988. You can read Part One here.

Melvin Tan / Guest Writer

In the four GEs from 1991 to 2006, Tanjong Pagar GRC saw walkovers in all of them while the Ang Mo Kio and Marine Parade GRCs were contested only once.

They are the “turfs” of current PM Lee Hsien Loong and the two former PMs, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

As a result, several PAP MPs in these “heavyweight” GRCs have enjoyed virtually “walkover” political careers to the present point - or even those who have since left office.

An example is Parliamentary Secretary Associate Professor Koo Tsai Kee, who stood in four elections in Tanjong Pagar GRC without ever having had a single vote cast in his favour.

Whether AP Koo steps down or continues despite a challenge in Tanjong Pagar GRC in the next GE, due by 2011, he already holds the record as the MP with the highest number of unbroken walkover victories.

Next is another former Parliamentary Secretary, Mohmad Maidin Packer Mohd, who first stood in Aljunied GRC in 1991 and entered Parliament through a walkover.

He later ran two terms uncontested in Marine Parade GRC and retired after the 2001 GE.

Others are former MPs Tan Boon Wan of Ang Mo Kio GRC and R. Ravindran of Bukit Timah and Marine Parade GRCs, both of whom took part in only two elections in 1997 and 2001 - but never had to fight a poll as their wards were walkovers.

In the past, opposition party candidates would switch their targets towards different wards and it was difficult to find a PAP candidate with a clean uncontested slate, with the exception of “heavyweight” SMCs.

However, these “heavyweights”, examples being Dr Goh Keng Swee, Dr Toh Chin Chye and S. Rajaratnam of the now-defunct Kreta Ayer, Rochore and Kampong Glam SMCs respectively, had been in the political scene long enough to go through bitter contests of the sixties with the Barisan Sosialis, United People’s Party and the Malaysia-affiliated Singapore Alliance Party.

Due to the GRC, “walkover” political careers have become more commonplace.

Not unexpectedly, more and more of these “walkover” MPs will emerge in the GEs down the road if the opposition’s inability to field candidates in all wards continue - directly or indirectly as a result of the GRCs themselves.

More convincing arguments needed

After 20 years, whether to abolish the GRC is a question that props up every now and then.

The stand for abolishment is steadfast in the minds of several individuals and entities, most notably leaders of the WP, to the extent that its MPs would even refuse to support any by-election as long as it fell under a GRC.

For every viable theory in support of the GRC concept, there is an equally viable argument against it, developing into a partition of opinions as shown in the Jurong GRC episode when the demise of former PAP MP Dr Ong Chit Chung created a vacancy.

When street surveys carried out by the Straits Times and the Online Citizen were completed, they revealed that people were divided on the issue.

If one were to argue for the GRCs scheme to be dismantled, one must go back to the basics of elections and politics and attempt a very focused argument to support such a call.

According to online encyclopedia Wikipedia, an election is a “decision-making process by which a population chooses an individual to hold formal office”.

As stated above, the word “individual” - and not “group” - stands out as a popularly accepted definition.

There are reasons why the principles of elected democracy and suffrage, which were first mooted in American and European continents, started with the election of an individual.

If a segment of the population elects a collective group rather than an individual, why are they segmented in the first place?

The election of a group of candidates could also be achieved by instituting one Singapore GRC of 84 seats, a deriding notion offered by opposition leaders in the past in criticism of the GRC.

In a large way, the derision of the scheme is not misplaced or exaggerated because it addresses a fundamental question - where would the line be drawn and where will it stop?

Why should the figure be at up to six members as per the present status of GRCs? Why not have 60 or 600 individuals per GRC?

Next, why should 600 people vote for six when 100 people can vote for one?

From the PAP’s perspective, the GRC allows the electorate to vote for teams rather than individuals.

Does this mean that the 13 PAP GRC teams will be unable to function together if they are elected separately?

If that is not the case and it is the PAP team that the PAP wishes to entice people to vote for, there is no need for 13 GRCs but a Singapore GRC, as stated above, would suffice.

Hence, a constituency’s size should be tailored at where only one individual from a political party can represent them.

In every sense of the word, every candidate sent by a party should be able to represent his or her party’s interest.

Concerns that ethnic minority candidates require some form of leverage is but conjured by the PAP and even then, a dual-member constituency, contrary to a large GRC, would have suffice to cater to this purpose.

The writer is a self-confessed partisan blogger, being a member of the Workers’ Party and presently serving in the WP Youth Wing, who owns “a blog @ Singapore”.

----------