At a public forum on race and racism yesterday (25 Jun), Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said that Singapore has not arrived at a state where its people are free of racial discrimination, and it is for this reason that the group representation constituency (GRC) system is still in place.
He was referring to the several recent racist incidents which has appeared in the news lately. He said these racist behaviors have shown that Singapore has some way to go to move beyond race.
The GRC system was implemented in 1988 to ensure minority representation in Parliament. Under the system, at least one of the candidates in the team must be a member of a minority group.
“We have the GRC system to ensure at least a minimum number of minority legislators in Parliament,” Mr Wong said and added that he respects the views of Singaporeans who believe Singapore is ready to move beyond the GRC system. Nobody would be more pleased than leaders in PAP with such an outcome, he said.
“But we are not yet totally immune to the siren calls of exclusive racial and cultural identities. Neither have we reached a ‘post-racial’ state. Surely, recent events have, if anything, confirmed our caution,” he added.
Mr Wong further shared that policies like the GRC system would ensure that the majority wouldn’t abuse its dominance. The system also ensures that no party could prevail by narrowly appealing to any specific race and religion, he pointed out.
Critics: GRC used for gerrymandering and bringing in candidates under heavy weight politician’s coat-tail
Critics, however, disagree with the PAP government’s justifications, noting that the proportion of minority MPs per GRC has decreased with the advent of five-member and six-member GRCs. By having teams of candidates standing for election for GRCs helmed by senior politicians, the ruling PAP is able to use the GRC system as a means for bringing first-time new candidates into Parliament with little chance of losing.
Take for example, Major-General Chan Chun Sing from the SAF was inducted into PAP and ran for MP the first time in Tanjong Pagar GRC together with founding PM Lee Kuan Yew in the team during 2011 GE. In fact, the PAP Tanjong Pagar GRC team won with a walkover that year.
Oppositions have also complained about the heavy gerrymandering used by the ruling PAP together with the GRC system in creating unfair elections in Singapore. Take the case of Joo Chiat SMC – in 2011 GE, WP candidate Yee Jenn Jong came to within 1% of winning Joo Chiat. In fact, Mr Yee lost to PAP candidate Charles Chong by only a whisker of 388 votes. But in 2015 GE, Joo Chiat SMC was mysteriously absorbed into Marine Parade GRC, which had five times as many voters and had previously voted in favour of the PAP by a 13% margin.
Expressing his disappointment, Mr Yee lamented, “There is no clear justification for the changes. With the eraser and the pencil, the mighty (EBRC) committee has made the Joo Chiat SMC with such a rich and unique tradition disappear. It was a SMC from 1959-1988 and also for the last 3 GEs since 2001.”
“We have walked the ground tirelessly for four years since the last (2011) GE, in and around the SMC, week after week, sometimes even in scorching heat and drizzles. Residents whom I have met were looking forward to a good and gentlemanly contest again like what we had the last time. Some ‘wise men’ in a small committee decided otherwise, for reasons best known to themselves,” he added.