By Anyhow Hantam
I had originally wanted to offer my 2 cents on the electoral boundary changes, however many have already voiced what I wanted to say and moreover I promised brevity for this election season. Accordingly I’ll leave it at that and focus instead on 1 aspect/result of the new electoral boundaries – Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs).
Take one look at the number of seats and contests – what sticks out like a sore thumb?
There are just 29 contests – 13 SMCs (to elect 13 MPs) and 16 GRCs to elect a whopping 76 MPs. Where else in the world except in authoritarian regimes do you have such polls?
Certainly not in any functioning democracy, if a Govt proposed such a thing in the West, heck even in Malaysia – there would riots and protests in the streets. Truly Uniquely Singapore!
Only voters in 13 constituencies can vote for their elected representative directly. In the remaining 76, their votes are diluted. If this happened in another country say North Korea, we’d be laughing at them. But it’s happening right here and we’ve become the butt of jokes.
1. GRCs – Another Broken Promise.
GRCs came into effect in 1988 for the general elections that year. In 1984, the PAP saw its vote share dip and also lost just 2 seats, but went into panic mode. Heck even Lee Kuan Yew was so worried about losing the next elections, he actually thought of the idea of giving parents 2 votes instead of one – that’s how much faith he had in the younger generation. They needed to come out with something to stem the flow of opposition votes and so the GRC system was introduced. But let’s take the PAP’s argument (rather excuse) then – they were just worried about minorities being under-represented in a population with an overwhelming Chinese majority. So GRCs were introduced to ensure minority representation, that at least 12-15% of MPs would be from the minority races – the Indians, Eurasians and especially the Malays.
PAP Marine Parade GRC poster in 1988. 3 seats including 1 for the Malay minority candidate – Othman Eusoffe. This was the reason given when GRCs were introduced and to be kept at 3. So how come Marine Parade GRC saw up to 6 candidates at 1 time? Are GRCs to secure minority representation or ensure a PAP victory?
And how was the GRC concept sold to Singaporeans? The answer can be found in this 11th May 1988 Straits Times article. (You have to click on agree button to view it). Let me summarise:
- Up to half of seats to be GRCs. Not more than half!
- GRCs will comprise a team of only 3 candidates.
- Committees will be set up to certify Malay and other minority candidates.
- A specified number of GRCs will be for Malays, the rest for the other minorities.
- By-elections will only be called if all 3 seats become vacant.
- Since only a maximum of half the seats can be declared as GRCs, the other half will remain as SMCs.
This was the premise that GRCs were sold to the voters, note the key element or justification was to ensure minority representation. The promise to keep at least half as SMCs and that GRCs will only comprise of 3 member groups. Indeed that year saw 13 GRCs (39 seats) out of 81 seats. More than half remained as SMCs (42 seats).
And what has transpired since then? Well just like the promise to return CPF at 55 years and to keep HDB flats cheap and affordable – that’s exactly how the promise on GRCs was kept.
2. The Current GRCs for the Next GE – What Happened to Minority Representation Only?
Since then we have seen GRCs increase to ridiculous levels. SMCs from half, even reached a stage where just under 10 were on offer. 3 man GRCs no longer exist. Currently there are 16 GRCS to send 76 MPs to Parliament.
If the goal is to ensure minority representation why must we send 76 MPs for 16 minority MPs? If the goal is to have at least 16 minority candidates – surely 16, 3 man GRCs totalling 48 MPs is sufficient, leaving 41 seats to be contested as SMCs. So are GRCs solely to ensure minority representation or is there something else behind it? I think the answer is obvious.
3. The Current GRC System Punishes You.
Let’s not beat around the bush – GRCs as it stands are a punishment. Not only are we punished and made to compete in employment and immigration, even in elections we have to compete. Instead of having 1 vote to vote for your choice, you have to compete with 3, 4 or 5 other voters (in other wards) in the GRC.
Only if a majority of them vote the same way as you, will your vote make a difference. In an SMC you have 1 full vote, in a GRC you only have at best a 1/4 of a vote. Even if a majority of voters in your particular constituency want to vote for someone or a party, it has no value if slightly more voters in the other constituencies vote differently.
4. How the PAP Benefits from the GRC System.
Let me give an example – let’s say there are 5 constituencies in a GRC each with 10,000 voters – a total of 50,000 votes. How does the PAP benefit? Here’s how they set up their GRC teams.
- Ward A – PAP Minister – 62% of the vote – 6200
- Ward B – PAP Junior Minister – 60% of the vote – 6000
- Ward C – 2nd or 3rd term PAP MP – 57% of the vote -5700
- Ward D – 2nd term PAP MP (new face the last time) – 47% of the vote – 4700
- Ward E – New PAP candidate – 43% of the vote – 4300.
Total votes 50,000. Majority needed 25,001. Total PAP votes here – 26, 900. So despite losing 2 wards (D and E), the PAP wins all 5 on the strength of the other 3. Of course the figures can vary, maybe the junior minister polls less than the 3rd term MP (they usually keep popular ones for 3rd or 4th terms). All they basically need to do is average 59 – 60% for 3 constituencies to win.
Why is this so?
Because if you look at every single election where an opposition candidate wins the seat for the first time, it’s usually below the 55% mark, sometimes just barely above 50%. No opposition candidate has ever been elected in a seat for the 1st time with over 60% of the vote, I don’t think even above 57% (I may stand corrected on this). Not JBJ, Not Chiam, Not Low, Not Aljunied and not Lee Li Lian or the 2 other SDP MPs – Ling and Cheo.
GRC results from GE 2011. As stated it’s clear from the GRCs where the PAP vote share fell below 60%, that some of the wards therein would have fallen if they were SMCs. Is it fair to voters in these GRCs or single wards that they end up with MPs that they didn’t want? Is this meritocracy let alone democracy?
So in a GRC the PAP team is quite safe. To strengthen their hand they ensure a Minister is there, sometimes even 2, and they will assure voters that as Ministers they will bring goodies and amenities to the GRC.
For insurance there will be a senior MP who’s polled well before to keep the vote % percentage healthy. Don’t forget they know how precincts voted – these will either be given special care or others may be brought via electoral changes to counter the weak performing ones.
If the 2 other candidates are not seen as strong or capable, they hope voters will look at the larger context of the GRC and vote PAP. Eg: Ok maybe you don’t like Tin Pei Ling – but look who’s your other MP – Goh Chok Tong himself. So if you don’t want Tin never mind, give your or count your vote as 1 for the ex-PM. Finally if really voters in a particular ward are gonna give a majority of their votes to the opposition, it’s never been above or close to 60%. It’s usually a tight affair, so all we need to do is poll higher in a majority of the others. And thus far it’s always reaped its rewards.
In order to win Aljuneid GRC, WP’s chief Low Thia Khiang had to forsake his safe Hougang seat and field his strongest team. And still the result was close. 5 % less, and we’d only have 1 opposition seat for all the effort in GE 2011. Why are voters subjected to a form of ‘Russian roulette’ with GRCs? Enough is enough! Punish the GRC system and vote in opposition and see how swiftly the PAP will adopt a different concept for future elections.
The only time this strategy failed was of course Aljuneid in 2011. But there were certain factors for that as well – the strongest opposition stood and they sent their 2 heavyweights – Low and Sylvia together with 3 other strong candidates. And unfortunately for the PAP, despite having a very popular Minister in George Yeo, his presence was negated by 2 very unpopular MPs – Cynthia Phua and Lim Hwee Hua. The latter rubbed voters the wrong way with her aloofness and perceived arrogance. Zainul Abidin might be popular with some voters but new candidate Ong Ye Kung wasn’t well received. So it needed a combination of factors and everything to line up perfectly for the WP to win this GRC.
And despite all that, they still only won with 54% of the vote. And after sacrificing their A team to win this 1 GRC, they were unable to repeat the trick elsewhere. The tried and tested method returned the PAP candidates in other GRCs, despite an almost 10% swing in some cases.
5. Punish 4 and 5 men GRCs for it to Keep its 1988 Promise.
There’s no excuse or compelling reason for so many GRCs. It’s a joke that to elect 89 MPs, there’s a contest in only 1/3 of that amount for these 89 seats. What kind of election is this? Why are candidates who clearly could not win if they stood 1 v 1 in a single seat be allowed to become MPs? Is this the meritocracy that the PAP always claim to be their guiding principle in running Singapore? If you can’t have meritocracy in getting into office, how can you claim to practise it when you are in office?
Meritocracy – Talking 1 thing but doing another. GRCs – Promising 1 thing but then breaking it. How many times are Singaporeans going to let the PAP get away with this?
If you can’t keep your promise when you propose something, it’s very hypocritical when you accuse others of failing to keep theirs. And don’t forget the wider implications here, if this trend continues what kind of Govts will Singapore in the future have? Not men and women who are capable or worthy of office, you get mediocre candidates who become MPs and later on Ministers. The rot starts when your selection and appointment process – ie: their very election is not of the highest standards. And we can see the results even now, just look at the way the country has been run these past 10 years. Blindly implementing policies and programs without a long lasting view or grasp of the effects. From employment, immigration, housing, transportation, cost of living and population growth. Mistakes have become more and more frequent just as the excuses that inevitably follow.
And by selfishly imposing conditions and tampering with the electoral process just to ensure you always have the upper hand, you prevent the alternative from growing as well. In the end Singaporeans are screwed both ways. An inept Govt and a similarly incapable opposition.
The only way to stop all these nonsense is for voters to be brave and give the PAP a black-eye in ensuring that 4-6 GRCs are lost. They of course will give you the doomsday scenario, but if you don’t act now that doomsday will come 1 way or the other. In this election no matter what they say, they will still return to office. The WP only wants to contest 28 seats – about 1/3, can they win all 28? Unlikely.They have no desire to become the next Govt. The other parties despite whatever bluster you hear and read, are aiming to win some seats in Parliament, to prove themselves as worthy MPs, not to become the Govt. Any Govt in the world with a working or comfortable majority can rule effectively, there’s no need to win 80 -90% of the seats. The PAP can certainly do so as well. If the BN in Malaysia that lost its 2/3 majority 2 elections running, can still run the country and Najib Razak can remain in power, there’s no reason that the PAP can’t as well.
You must punish the 4 and 5 men GRCs, only when a few are lost will the PAP back down and limit it to the 3 it originally promised and allow for more SMCs to prevent larger losses all at 1 go.
The GRC system is not an icon or model of democracy. I would term it a joke, but unfortunately it’s no joking matter – it’s a serious flaw and a direct punishment on voters. There has never been an indication that a minority race cannot win a seat on his or her own. In fact Michael Palmer proved it in 2011. JBJ proved it in 1981. People look at the strength and capability of the candidate and his party, not his race. But even if we say better be safe than sorry and deem it a ‘necessary evil,’ then ensure it’s kept to the minimum it was promised on introduction. Never more than 3 candidates and never more than half of all the seats. If it worked in 1988 – the year it was first implemented, no hitches – 13 GRCs all won by the PAP, with 13 minorities elected, why must it be tampered with further?
This is probably the most crucial elections since independence. With the % new citizens rising steadily, they could well be difference in a lot of contests. Voters must start thinking long term. Is it healthy to give the PAP carte blanche? Is it good to let them runaway with numerous seats via GRCs? Future generations might very well prosper or regret because of how you vote in this election.
The only explanation is that it’s a punishment and reduction of the voting public’s right to elect their representatives freely without interference. It’s a desperate attempt by the PAP to remain in power at all costs even above the voter’s choices or interests. They deem themselves as masters with a perpetual right to rule. It’s time voters stood up to this brazen grab of power and punish them with a timely reminder that it’s the voters not the PAP or any other party that are always the true and perpetual masters.
As we celebrate 50 years of independence, don’t mark it with another loss of your independence as voters and Singaporeans. If you do not protect Singapore now, the rot will set in eventually and voters 50 years from now, will look back on the SG50 generation, as the people who surrendered their independence without a fight. Your failure to put a stop and punish, to ensure meritocracy and democracy to flourish, will cause them to suffer. Please think and act wisely when you cast your vote.