By Kenji Ong
I refer to the opinion dated Feb 27, 2016 by Maurice de Vaz titled “GRC System – A flaw in our politics”.
Group Representative Constituency (GRC) Scheme
First of all, I think that although it is almost universally recognized that the People’s Action Party (PAP) has in fact gerrymandered the GRCs to their advantage at every election, it has become sort of a double-edged sword for them now. In the 2011 election, the PAP did in fact lose an entire GRC in Aljunied, causing us Singaporeans to lose our Foreign Minister (as he then was) George Yeo; Minister in PMO, Second Minister for Finance, Second Minister for Transport (as she then was) Lim Hwee Hua; and Senior Minister of State (for Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as he then was) Zainul Abidin.
Furthermore, by winning the GRC over from PAP, Workers’ Party (WP) denied current Acting Minister for Education and Senior Minister of State for Defence Ong Ye Kung from entering parliament and he had to wait a full 4 years for the next election to be fielded in Sembawang GRC to be elected.
A flaw in our politics? I don’t think so now. The WP has already shown us how much the GRC scheme can work against the PAP as much as it has worked for them since 1988.
Moreover, the oft-cited example of how minority candidates are able to be elected on their own merits is usually just limited to one in recent times, Michael Palmer in Punggol East Single Member Constituency (SMC). Don’t get me wrong, I feel that Michael Palmer fully deserved his seat in parliament (He can even speak Chinese well!), just that we need to have more examples to work with if we want to rebut the initial objectives of implementing the GRC scheme in the first place. And what’s to say the initial objective of ensuring a number of minority candidates in parliament has not been met? In fact, the GRC scheme has been ensuring just that since its implementation in 1988.
As for the suggestion by de Vaz to create “minority wards”, it is a good idea but however it is lacking in practicality. The same can be said for the Elected Presidency, which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has embarked on forming a Constitutional Commission to look into having a minority candidate as President. Will we then have to create “minority cycles” when only minorities are able to run? As a resident of a particular constituency, I would definitely want to return to that constituency to serve if I ever get the chance to, and I should not be denied this opportunity just because I am not a minority candidate who lives in a “minority ward”.
Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) Scheme
I disagree with de Vaz and feel that the NCMP scheme should be retained for opposition voice in Parliament. With constitutional amendments set to take place to the NCMP scheme, giving NCMPs full voting rights as elected MPs, NCMPs will no longer be second-class MPs in parliament.
Additionally, the fact that parliament has seen very little opposition candidates mainly boils down, in my opinion, to how opposition parties have been running in elections. In the 2015 elections, there were 13 SMCs up for grabs but opposition parties generally chose to field their strongest candidates in GRCs even though statistically speaking, they were doomed to lose. Most of the “stronger” elected opposition MPs like J.B. Jeyaretnam, Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Kiang first established themselves in SMCs before they even thought of venturing out to challenge a GRC. SDP in 2015 chose to field two of their strongest candidates, Chee Soon Juan and Paul Tambyah in a GRC instead of SMC and paid the price as they lost out to the PAP.
Therefore, is it the GRC scheme that is preventing opposition politicians from getting through to parliament? From the looks of it, I feel that they chose the harder path themselves and should look at a change in tactics when approaching the next General Elections.
The author is a student at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore.