06 April 2011

The Politics of GRCs - Part 2

Some people have expressed considerable concern that Singapore's ruling People's Action Party ("PAP") may lose some Group Representation Constituencies ("GRCs") in the coming general election.  That may result in some political appointment holders being kicked out of office.  It may also derail the renewal process within PAP.

Accordingly, they suggest that the opposition parties restrict themselves to single member constituencies, and not contest the GRCs.

By way of background, GRCs were created by 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.

Singapore's next Parliament will have 87 members of Parliament from 15 GRCs and 12 single member constituencies.  There are, on average, five candidates in each GRC.

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, and shields newer or weaker candidates.

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 are not invincible.

There are simple solutions to the concerns set out in the first paragraph above.

Firstly, abolish GRCs.  GRCs were created by PAP.  There is no evidence that Singaporeans vote along racial or religious lines.

Secondly, reduce the size of GRCs to a maximum of three candidates.  The win or loss of any GRC will result in the win or loss of only three members of Parliament.  With huge GRCs comprising six candidates, an electoral win or loss of any one of these super GRCs is a gain or loss of six members of Parliament.

Thirdly, put important political appointment holders in single member constituencies so that they will not be weighed down by weaker or newer candidates in GRCs.

Fourthly, acknowledge that the purpose of any general election is to allow the citizens of the country to choose in a free and fair manner the candidates or group of candidates that they consider to be in their best interest.  If any candidate or group of candidates lose, they and/or their party were simply not the better or best choice.  It is not supposed to entrench any candidate or group of candidates who are second best.  That is how a democracy is supposed to work.

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