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Kelvin Teo looks at the implications of the walkover rule and the GRC concept.

The relation between GRCs and cabinet appointments

The following was first published in The Kent Ridge Common.

Kelvin Teo

A foreign counterpart of mine once asked me how our cabinet ministers performed during our 2006 General Elections. Admittedly, I did have great difficulties answering his question. My foreign friend hails from a western country, and the politics in his homeland is such that all the seats up for grabs during elections are contested by the incumbent candidate and opposition alike.

Of course, I couldn’t give a straightforward reply. I could only recall that Mr K Shanmugam and Mr Khaw Boon Wan were among the best performing PAP candidates, garnering 77% of the votes at Sembawang GRC, and that our current Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong garnered 66% of the votes at Ang Mo Kio GRC. However, I promised my foreign friend that I would research on the current cabinet and get back to him later.

When I finally got down to checking out the details of our current cabinet, what I found really surprised me. A little less than half (9 out of 20) of the cabinet ministers didn’t have to contest the most recent elections. They were given a shoo-in into parliament on the basis of a no contest in the GRCs which they stood in, winning on a walkover. Thus, technically speaking, I couldn’t tell my friend that Singaporeans voted for these ministers because the residents at their respective GRCs couldn’t vote in the first place.

The 9 ministers are as follows:

1.     Mr Lee Kuan Yew (Tanjong Pagar GRC)

2.     Mr Goh Chok Tong (Marine Parade GRC)

3.     Mr Wong Kan Seng (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC)

4.     Mr Lim Boon Heng (Jurong GRC)

5.     Mr Lim Hng Kiang (West Coast GRC)

6.     Mr Lim Swee Say (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC)

7.     Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam (Jurong GRC)

8.     Dr Ng Eng Hen (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC)

9.     Dr Vivian Balakrishnan (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC)

There wasn’t any other way for me to put it across to my friend. Singaporeans didn’t vote for a little less than half our cabinet due to the walkover rule. Some time back, I addressed the topic of the walkover rule which raises this question - can the walkover victory be justified if we do not know the preference of the voters in the ward? And this is a very valid question. I did further research and compared the cabinet appointments of candidates in walkover constituencies during the 1988 General Elections and came up with the following list:

Mr Yeo Cheow Tong (Health Minister) - Hong Kah GRC
Mr Wong Kan Seng (Minister for Community Development) - Toa Payoh GRC
Mr Lee Yock Suan (Labor Minister) - Cheng San GRC

The 1988 General Election was the year when the GRC concept was first introduced. A GRC consists of multiple seats, and the requirement is that a candidate from a minority race (malay, indian or others) must be fielded. In 1988, the maximum size of a GRC is 3 seats, and has since increased to 6. Some GRCs are allocated 5 seats.

Comparing the results of the 2006 General Elections to those of previous years yield interesting discoveries. The question that comes out of it is whether the introduction of the GRC correlates with an increasing trend of cabinet members entering office through a non-contest. It appears so as I also researched on candidates from walkover GRCs who were appointed to the cabinet during the 1991 General Elections.

1.     Mr George Yeo (Aljunied GRC)

2.     Dr Ahmad Mattar (Brickworks GRC)

3.     Mr Yeo Cheow Tong (Hong Kah GRC)

4.     Dr Lee Boon Yang (Jalan Besar GRC)

5.     Dr Yeo Ning Hong (Kampong Glam GRC)

6.     Dr Tony Tan (Sembawang GRC)

7.     Mr Lee Kuan Yew (Tanjong Pagar GRC)

8.     Mr Wong Kan Seng (Thomson GRC)

9.     Mr Ong Teng Cheong (Toa Payoh GRC)

10.  Mr S Dhanabalan (Toa Payoh GRC)

*Dr Richard Hu won by a walkover in Kreta Ayer, which is a Single Member Constituency.

The introduction of GRC contest has various interesting impacts, many of which have been highlighted previously. And some of them have resulted in interesting trends, one of which has been discussed in this article. Thus, this give rise to pertinent questions regarding the nature of electoral contest within Singapore such as the implications of the walkover rule and whether the GRC concept has impacted competition dynamics.

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