During the debate on the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill which was read for the second time on 6 February 2017, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Chan Chun Sing, replied to Worker’s Party MP for Aljunied GRC, Pritam Singh’s question on whether a by-election would be held in Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC should Mdm Speaker run for the Presidency.
He replied, “Even if we have one less, there are 24 out of 89, which is 27 percent of Parliament.”, implying that there will be no by-election if Mdm Halimah Yacob were to vacant her seat in the GRC to run for Presidency.
Mr Singh had said during in the second reading of the Bill, that the Workers’ Party opposes the proposed Bill as the party believes that Singapore is best served by an appointed President and a system that will allow the Government to appoint a President regardless of race or religion.
He maintained the WP’s position on the matter with six arguments.
On the last argument, Mr Singh said, “Finally, the idea of race poses other considerations in certain cases of reserved elections involving public sector track or public sector deliberative track candidates.”
“For example, in the case of Mdm Speaker, should the honorable Speaker decide to stand as a candidate, what happens to the very existence of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC which, by law, requires a Malay Member of Parliament as one of its political representatives in Parliament?”
“Should it be passed, does this Bill herald a new precedent in marked contrast to the scenario in Jurong GRC some years ago when the late PAP Member of Parliament Mr Ong Chit Chung passed on?”
“Does the Bill and the prospect of reserved Presidential elections change the Government’s thinking on the question – Will a by-election be called in a GRC when the minority member of a GRC steps down to contest in a Presidential election?”
“Can the Government set out its position on this matter in light of the introduction of reserved Presidential elections,” he asked.
The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Chan Chun Sing, on the issue of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, said, “Mr Pritam Singh asked about the GRC system. This is totally unrelated to the Bill today but, since it was raised, I will deal with it.”
He said, “When Mr Goh Chok Tong moved the motion to explain the GRC system to this House, it was done with a very clear intent to achieve two purposes.”
“One, it was to ensure that this House has sufficient minority Members in the House as a system. Today, we have about one-third of our House with minority Members. That is more than what you would expect proportionally from adding up the percentage of Malays, Indians and Other Minorities. So, that was the first purpose ‒ to make sure that this House has sufficient minority represented. And, over the years, we have achieved this by leaning forward and having more than the minimum that we are expected to have.”
“The second reason for the GRC system was to make sure that none of the parties will campaign on issues on a race/religion platform, that we will all, regardless of party lines, campaign on the basis that we are all Singaporeans, that we will not use race, language or religion for political reasons.”
“These were the two very clear reasons why we established the GRC system in this House. “The Members of the GRC team who are elected to serve their respective GRCs are expected to serve all their residents, regardless of race, language or religion,” he said.
“Mr Goh Chok Tong was further asked: if one Member of the GRC team resigns or for whatever medical reason is incapacitated, does the GRC need to hold a by-election? And the answer was given that it is no, because, recalling the two specific reasons that we set up the GRC system: one was to ensure that this House has sufficient minority representation and, given our current circumstances, we have more than what we would expect by a pure proportional representation system; two, the aim was to make sure that no parties campaigned on the issues of race, language or religion; and three, all Members of the GRC team are expected to serve all their residents regardless of race, language and religion.”
Stating again that the issue is totally unrelated, but to put on record his reply since it was asked, Mr Chan said, “Today, we have 25 minority Members of Parliament out of 89 elected. Even if we have one less, there are 24 out of 89, which is 27 percent of Parliament.”
At the end of the session, the Bill was read a third time and passed.