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The GRC system – I don’t know what to say…

Elliot Aruldoss/

credit: TNP

The Singapore General Election (GE) has come and gone and the talk of the town is the foothold The Workers Party (WP) has established in Parliament. However, it is also the very same GE that has seen the likes of individuals such as Ms Tin Pei Ling and Dr Janil Puthucheary sailing almost effortlessly into parliament despite much disapproval from Singaporeans.

Ms Tin has been criticized by the general public for both a lack of awareness of issues and a lack of depth about these, demonstrated by her inability to understand and comprehend issues faced by people on the ground and, of course, her inability to express herself. Dr Janil Puthucheary, on the other hand, has been criticized by an angry public for not having done National Service. In fact, he became a Singapore citizen at the age of 35, ‘coincidentally’ escaping the age ceiling or cap for compulsory national service.

Unfortunately, despite anger and sentiments of disapproval, these two lucky stars have successfully landed in Parliament, in spite of all the misgivings and anger toward them. The very people whom many didn’t want in government are now firmly there. Ironic isn’t it, Singapore?

Now, let me steer you to another issue. On 9th May 2011, Senior Minister Professor Jayakumar, in the Straits Times, said that the fact that The Workers Party won a GRC proves that the political system (GRC) in Singapore works and does not benefit or “perpetuate” only the ruling party’s rule. I wish to rebut this comment. It is extremely difficult for any opposition party to even contest in a GRC, let alone win one.

Let us look, in detail, at a system devised and approved by the ruling party, the PAP. In 1988, the PAP gave birth to a scheme more commonly known as the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system. In each GRC, there must be at least one candidate that is representative of a minority group. Therefore, the PAP’s main justification for the creation of the GRC system was to give minority groups a voice in Parliament.

It is however, important to note the sinister mechanics behind the GRC scheme. It operates with a plurality voting system. Under this clever system, a vote for the most accredited candidate is also a vote for the entire team, regardless of the inefficiencies or the dislike directed toward the rest of the team. So for example, if you vote for Mr Goh Chok Tong, this means you also vote for Mrs Tin Pei Lin. Oh, the outrage.

Furthermore, the initial size for a GRC was a maximum of three candidates. However, as time went by, the PAP began to tamper with the system. It increased the capacity to four, and subsequently in 1997, to a super-size six-man team. This was apparently done to ease the process of pushing PAP potential candidates into Parliament without much resistance. These newbie candidates would be safe lodged behind the protective shields of tested and proven ministers.

With fresh blood being groomed and brought in with our consent, Singapore would find herself forever entrapped in an eternal iron clasp of a ‘golden’ age of PAP rule, highlighting the blatantly obvious fact: the GRC system solely benefits the ruling party.

Moreover, for a candidate of any other party to contest in a GRC, he or she must be able to raise the $16,000 election deposit required by law. To calculate the costs for opposition parties, to field a six-man GRC team would cost an opposition team $96,000.

So, with opposition parties facing barriers to entry such as costs, PAP teams find themselves, by default, the winners of uncontested GRCs during elections. These wins by default are known as walkovers, whereby the GRC team fielded by the PAP sails into Parliament without contest. A sense of perceived ‘failure’ of the opposition parties is perpetuated, with criticism that they are not well-organised or lack the courage to contest certain constituencies, especially those helmed by heavyweight PAP ministers.

Unknown to many Singaporeans, an individual who has largely benefited from this crafty GRC scheme, is Mr Wong Kan Seng. In the General Election of 1988, by which time the GRC System was already set in place, Mr Wong was part of a three-man GRC team which was returned uncontested.  In the General Election of 1991, he was part of a four-man GRC team, which went uncontested.  In each of GE 1997, 2001 and 2006, he was part of a five-man GRC team, all of which were uncontested. He has enjoyed walkover “victories” in each successive election.

One wonders, if he did not receive our vote, then surely this means that the PAP’s GRC scheme has revoked our constitutional rights to elect our government. This is a very serious concern.

Back to the main argument, even if opposition parties were to enjoy a high level of votes for them in a particular area, an Electoral Boundary Review Committee, under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), can redraw the boundaries of any constituency. The PAP, therefore, has the power to dilute the majority opposition vote by carving up a pro-opposition area and merging it with a pro-PAP area. This redrawing of the boundaries is known as ‘gerrymandering’ and it is the PAP that has made a mockery of the election process by constantly redrawing the boundaries with the blatant intention of changing the percentage vote in its favour should the need arise.

Some examples include the Marine Parade GRC which the PAP has extended, for reasons not made transparent to the public, all the way to some parts of Serangoon. With its constant slicing and dividing of the pizza-pie that is Singapore, the PAP has succeeded in eroding and breaking-up many communities, angering many Singaporeans who are forced out of their constituencies where they have been living all their lives into another, for its own political agenda.

credit: ST

Nowhere in developed countries all over the world can such a system be found - a system created under the guise of ensuring minority representation but is, in reality, the diabolical machinery behind the PAP’s hegemonic intentions. If the PAP were so sure that minority groups would not be able to be adequately represented in Parliament due to the ethnic majority of a populace, for example, Chinese, one wonders how Mr David Saul Marshall worked a largely Chinese and Malay ground, eventually becoming elected Chief Minister in 1955. Similarly, this year, in GE 2011, Michael Palmer was the elected Member of Parliament in the Punggol East Single Member Constituency (SMC). This is clear evidence that the GRC system is redundant and unnecessary as seen from the fact that Mr Palmer, a minority candidate, was more than capable of winning a majority vote from the people in a SMC.

We do not need the GRC system. We do not want such a system whereby its embedded rules and regulations can be manipulated and even changed entirely to suit the PAP’s own interests. Does Ms Tin Pei Lin need a piggyback ride on the back of Mr Goh Chok Tong into Parliament? Do not be mistaken. The fault does not lie with her, you or me. It lies with the GRC system.

As for the WP victory in Aljunied, contrary to what SM Jayakumar claimed, it is because of the rising tide of discontent from the ground toward the PAP that voters felt that it is time to have opposition in Parliament. If WP were to contest in more SMCs, I believe more of their candidates would get into Parliament. I would even say that if Mr George Yeo was running as a single candidate, he would not be a victim of this flawed GRC system and would have probably got elected into Parliament.

The GRC scheme should be abolished to make way for a fairer system. If the issue of minority representation is a concern, then the GRC system can be modified to require a maximum of two candidates, one of which should come from an ethnic minority group. Nevertheless, perhaps with change and chance finally knocking on our doors, a referendum should be conducted to see if we should or should not do away with the GRC system altogether. Let us see what Singapore thinks.