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Pritam Singh spotlights alleged gerrymandering in GRC System, leaving PAP without convincing rebuttals

A motion was put forth on Wednesday (5 Jul) by Ms Hazel Poa, the Non-constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), who called for the abolition of the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system.

Taking part in the motion at the end of the debate, Mr Pritam Singh, Leader of the Opposition and Secretary General of the Workers’ Party, referenced the Workers’ Party’s 2020 manifesto, in which they argued for the replacement of the GRC system with Single Member Constituencies.

Mr Singh voiced his belief that Singaporean society has matured beyond voting solely along racial lines, and suggested that the continued existence of the GRC system could unintentionally reinforce the racial divisions it was intended to ameliorate.

One of the most contentious issues discussed was the practice of gerrymandering, with Singh questioning the inconsistencies surrounding the alteration of electoral boundaries. He pointedly asked, “Every constituency which is a tight fight between the PAP and the WP, what happens?”

Singh then raised the concern of the GRC system being weaponised for gerrymandering purposes. He did not shy away from expressing his skepticism about the lack of defense for the system from gerrymandering accusations.

Questioning the rationale behind Fengshan and Joo Chiat becoming part of a GRC when it was previously a tightly contested Single Member Constituency (SMC), he remarked, “There was no convincing argument to me why Fengshan comes out when it’s a tight GRC, when it’s a tight SMC. Joo Chiat becomes a GRC is included into a GRC when it’s a tight SMC at previous elections.”

Drawing from the insights of his predecessor Mr Low Thia Khiang, Mr Singh further highlighted the inherent issue of the GRC system being a political football. He noted that SMCs that have seen tight contests invariably become GRCs, thereby increasing the difficulty for the opposition.

Referring to the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), Mr Singh asserted, “So I don’t think the PAP can walk away from any topic on the GRC by saying multiracial ism is important for Singapore. We all agree with that. But what of the matter when the rubber meets the road?”

Mr Singh ended his questioning by urging the house, including Mr Chan Chun Sing, who is the Minister-in-charge of Public Service and Education Minister, and the Nominated Member of Parliament, to defend the GRC system against accusations of gerrymandering.

He insisted, “How would not just Minister Chan but even the NMP who spoke defend the GRC system from the gerrymandering? That is not an imaginary issue. It’s a real issue that has happened repeatedly and that’s a hallmark of the way the PAP has employed the GRC system. And that leads to cynicism and the argument which I believe some would make every now and then about the problems of the GRC system, notwithstanding the very, very well-meaning and principal argument about the importance of multi-racial racialism.”

In response to Mr Singh’s arguments, Mr Chan Chun Sing pivoted the discussion towards Singapore’s progress in racial and religious integration rather than addressing the gerrymandering question directly.

He emphasized the nation’s achievements and the ongoing journey towards further progress. His response, while not addressing the issue of gerrymandering head-on, focused on the collective effort towards progress in racial integration.

After a short exchange between PSP NCMP Mr Leong Mun Wai and Mr Chan, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean stepped in to address the issue of gerrymandering, bringing a different perspective to the conversation.

SM Teo suggested that the process of changing boundaries is not exclusive to GRCs and reminded the house that Single Member Constituencies (SMCs) have been reshaped as well.

He offered a broader perspective, arguing that concerns over gerrymandering should not be confined to a specific type of constituency but should be considered in a broader context.

However, he did not directly respond to Mr Singh’s pointed observations regarding specific instances of boundary changes who then suggested to Mr Singh that he can make a request for the GRCs all to become SMCs.

Responding to SM Teo, Mr Singh reiterated his position, emphasizing that it was important for him to state his views on the GRC system.

“The Workers’ Party is prepared to contest any constituency on an SMC basis. In our manifesto, we clearly outlined this position. We went to the 2020 elections with that stance,” Singh stated.

He then appealed to the government to use its influence to urge the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) to provide a more detailed report when redrawing boundaries.

Mr Singh noted that past boundary reports, extending to 30, 40, or 50 pages, elaborated on why boundaries were redrawn. In contrast, he noted, the latest EBRC report was relatively brief, in single digits.

He further criticized that the reports merely list constituency numbers and their new boundaries, without providing an explanation. “You are going to continue to have cynicism about the GRC system and it’s not going to stop. As far as this motion is concerned, I think we’ve quite evidently laid out our position.”

Despite the vigorous positions taken by Mr Singh and the two PSP NCMPs, the motion for abolishing the GRC system was dismissed due to the supermajority of the People’s Action Party in Parliament.

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