New potential GE candidates should walk the ground early to gain acceptance and understand residents’ problems, says Ng Eng Hen

On Saturday (7 September), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen stated that potential candidates for the upcoming general election should walk the ground early so they know what it feels like to be a Member of Parliament.

While speaking to a group of reporters at the official opening of drainage improvement project ABC Waters @ Kallang River, Dr Ng noted that it’s crucial for new candidates to be on the ground in order for them to be accepted and understand residents’ problems.

This is because understanding certain issues at a community level is time consuming, especially for those who have never been part of grassroots activities before, explained Defence Minister.

Dr Ng is the first Minister to comment on the upcoming election, after the sudden announcement of the formation of the Electoral Boundary Review Committee (EBRC) was made by the Elections Department on Wednesday (4 September). The formations of the EBRC is usually a sign that elections are looming as the GE has to be held by April 2021.

When questioned on when the new candidates for People’s Action Party will be introduced, Dr Ng said that it all depends on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“But I think the assumption must be that if you’re a potential candidate, you won’t wait till then. You would already be speaking to residents and understanding their problems, so I think you should be doing your groundwork,” he noted.

When the reporters asked if his constituency, Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, would be redrawn and a Single Member Constituency hived off, Dr Ng noted that it was the right of the EBRC to decide.

“But as the Prime Minister has already announced that he wanted smaller sized constituencies, my advice to my PAP branch members is that we must assume that every constituency can be single member constituencies,” said Dr Ng, who is also a member of the ruling PAP’s Central Executive Committee.

He added, “We must be prepared to contest the elections on that basis..if it does happen to any of the five current divisions of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, we are prepared.”

The EBRC, which was convened in August and chaired by Secretary to the Prime Minister Tan Kee Yong, has been assigned to decrease the average size of group representation constituencies (GRCs) and design more single-member constituencies (SMCs). In 2016, PM Lee promised to have “smaller GRCs and more SMCs”.

Bilveer Singh, who is a lecturer at the National University of Singapore, told The Star that, “We always talk about ‘one man, one vote’, but in Singapore, because of the GRC system, we have got a ‘one man, one team’ system. If there are more SMCs brought in, this means a return to the ‘one man, one vote’ principle, which is very precious. It means that the man voted into parliament was really voted in by the people in the area.”

The GRC system was first introduced in 1988 to have at least one Malay, Indian, or a minority race in a constituency. This is done to make sure minorities are represented, but critics opined that it is making it harder for the opposition to break PAP’s dominance.