27 March 2011

The Politics of GRCs

Group representation constituencies ("GRCs") were created by Singapore's ruling People's Action Party ("PAP") and introduced in the 1988 general election.

A GRC is an electoral division in which an election is to be held on the basis of a group of candidates.

The stated purpose of a GRC is to ensure the representation in Parliament of members from the Malay, Indian and other minority communities.  Each GRC will have at least one candidate belonging to a designated minority community.

Minority communities account for 23.8 per cent of Singapore's resident citizens.

Singapore's next Parliament will have 87 members of Parliament from 15 GRCs and 12 single member constituencies.

With 15 GRCs, the minority communities will be assured that there will be at least 15 members of parliament, or 17.2 per cent of all members of parliament, from the minority communities.

What is so special about GRCs?

Since GRCs were introduced in 1988, no opposition party has captured a GRC.  It is not clear, however, whether this is due to the nature of the GRCs or simply the dominance or popularity of the ruling PAP.  Since the 1968 general election, no opposition party has won more than a handful of seats in Parliament.

GRCs allow a party to use stronger or more established candidates to anchor the team.

Thus the ruling party has an advantage in a GRC because it has more strong and/or established candidates, especially when it has been dominant for a long time.  Nevertheless, even strong candidates may be defeated, just as then Australian Prime Minister John Howard learnt when he was defeated in 2007.

The leaders of some opposition parties have spoken of the need for their parties to win a GRC in the coming general election.

Deputy Prime Minister and PAP first assistant secretary-general Wong Kan Seng recently questioned their motivation.  Is it for renewal, to leave a legacy or to create history by winning a GRC?

Renewal is appropriate and necessary for PAP and the opposition parties alike.

There is no reason to suggest that the opposition parties are motivated differently from PAP when it comes to winning a GRC.

Capturing a GRC is an obvious necessity for an opposition party because there are only 12 single member constituencies out of 87 seats in the next Parliament; the rest of the seats are in GRCs.

Even so, the capture of a GRC by an opposition party, if and when it happens, is only a first step.  It has limited significance if the opposition does not go on to win more constituencies in future elections, to give the country a credible alternative to PAP.

A general election is about a country's future.


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Notes

1.  "Election is about Your Future, not about Leaving a Legacy: DPM Wong" People's Action Party (23 Mar 2011).

2.  "DPM Wong Throws Down Gauntlet to Opposition: Questions if Opposition Gunning for GRC for Political Ambition or Personal Legacy" TODAY (24 Mar 2011).

3.  "East Coast: The GRC to Watch?" TODAY (26 Mar 2011).

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