Group Representation Constituencies (GRC) – Does It Really Safeguard the Interests of Minority Group?

Singapore introduced the GRC to ensure that the minority group is represented in Parliament. The argument is that without GRC, it would be very difficult for minority groups (Malay, Indian and Eurasian) to compete against Chinese for popular votes and risk not represented in Parliament.

This argument is flawed as minority has always been proportionately represented in the parliament even prior to the establishment of GRC. If we look into the current and previous cabinet, we can see that even at its highest level, the minority races are represented. This policy is, in fact, an insult to the minority groups as it suggests that people of their races would not be able to enter the Parliament through their own merits.

I strongly believe that good leaders, regardless of their races, would be able to make informed and sound policies without prejudicing any races. After all, a Chinese MP would be able to hear and address the concerns of other races as well as an Indian or Malay MP. Moreover, the Parliament makes decisions by voting. Even with the introduction of GRC, the minority groups would still be outnumbered should there be any voting required for policies that cross the racial line. As such, we are still dependent on the goodwill of the majority to vote sensibly after hearing the views of minority groups. As such, GRC does not safeguard the interests of minority groups.

To safeguard the views of minority, we can propose that the committee appointed by the President to elect their own Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP) to represent the views of minority groups. Currently, the committee determines if the candidates for the election belongs to any minority groups. These NMPs should be given veto power if any policy proposed by the Parliament is prejudiced against the minority groups. The said policy would then require Presidential Endorsement which would act as another layer of safeguard. These NMPs would be the best people to serve the needs of the minority groups as they are not under the Party Whip and do not have vested political interests.

Abolishing the GRC would bring about many benefits:

1. Each candidate would contest based on individual merits
2. Allowing independent candidates or smaller political parties to compete fairly
3. Prevent bigger parties to sneak in below par candidates into the team

The merits of abolishing the GRC outweigh the objective of the GRC. We have established that GRC is not required to maintain a minority presence and additional safeguards could be achieved through a more effective NMP scheme.

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Posted on May 11, 2011, in What's Happening?. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. From an objective and neutral standpoint, I agree with your analyses. It is clear from the start that any ruling party would want to be dominant for a long as possible, as this eases the introduction of new/revised policies. No exception with the PAP. On the flipside, i’m sure the GRC system also gives PAP more room to maneuver, especially in the regard of the introduction of new candidates, particularly the younger and untested ones. Being in rule allows the party to engineer the environment for a higher likelihood of success. For example, the redrawing of electoral boundaries helped to segment undecided voters from the last GE to be in a new constituency where there are stronger candidates which helps to lure fence-sitters over. For all intents and purposes, they could also have restructured GRCs (transferring of candidates) where the opposition was likely to put up a strong fight. But they didn’t. Reasonably, such a move, particularly in Aljunied GRC would have fueled negative sentiments, adding on to the strong undercurrents only addressed at the tailend of the campaign.

    It is also logical to postulate that GRCs help to streamline manpower and campaigning. It is definitely easier to allocate/share resources within a GRC. I mean look at all the walk-the-ground, GRCs candidates always walk and campaign together.

    Having said all these, my personal take is all for 87 SMCs eventually. I buy very much into the individual merit argument that every single candidate must earn their right to represent the people.

    and bottomline, just supporting your BRAND NEW blog too 😉

  2. Gerrymandering would be very obvious if we have 87 SMCs. It is very difficult to justify shifting a couple of 20 blocks out and a couple in. However, when using the GRC, the ruling party can easily ‘carve’ out a SMC and absorb a hostile constituency easily.

    I do believe in the logic of sharing resources for common planning. I believe that a current system from you know which country has already done that. We could have governorship for GRC that is de-linked from the MPs. You vote the governors to run your town councils(that would be GRCs) but you vote your MPs as representatives to run your country. How does that proposal sound?

  3. My personal take would be that MPs should be elected, while governorship, in your case, sounds like just part of the civil service.

    After all, running of town councils is pre-dominantly a form of public administration. Hence, I don’t feel the need to select competent people and I have faith in our own civil service to do that job for us.

    However, when it comes to policy-making and strategic direction for the country, I think various options should be given to the electorate to decide.

  4. I do agree that governorship can be part of the civil service structure.

    However, governorship can also showcase the administrative skills of the governor. If the governorship is not elected, it will by default fall under the civil service and would act under the policy and direction of the ruling party. The ruling party will end up running the management of all districts even if they control only 51% of the seats.

    However, making the governorship a separate election would enable the various party to vie for the management of the town councils as well. Moreover, the election of the governorship could be staggered with the parliamentary election to ensure smoother transition for either elections.

  5. That’s precisely the issue that the opposition candidates are trying to sell, that civil service and political parties are separate.

    In reality, you’re right, the distinction is grey in SGP. The hierarchical structure of ministries are again engineered for efficient implementation of policies. Although the political divide lies between a Minister of State and a Permanent Secretary, that divide remains only on paper and not in reality.

    Coming back to your point, it would make better sense for the electorate to choose the MP and have the MP then function analogous to a board of a company that decides on the recruitment/selection of the governor.

    Giving the electorate voting rights to choose MP and governors would definitely put confusion into the campaign message. One moment, public policy, next moment administrative skills. We can’t expect the electorate to switch between two frames of mind during an election. Unless there’s two independent and separate elections.

  6. Hence my recommendation to have a separate and staggered election. With the governor in-charge, the ruling party policy will have no influence over the civil service for town planning and maintenance which will empower the governor to take active role in the development of the district in collaboration with the civil service.

    Ruling party would be able to devote their time in national policies for the good of entire Singapore amd cannot choose which district gets to implement those policies.

    That said, it is unlikely that we would drastically change our constitution and political structure and this debate is purely academic. I would still want GRC to be abolished though.

  7. I was surprised to find that basic services such as cleaning and garbage collection became issues during the Aljunied handover. Politics has no place in such bread-and-butter civic services. In Australia we have town councils run by councillors that are elected in an uninteresting fashion. The garbage is collected, other local services are run, and nobody bats an eye-lid.

    As far as minority representation via GRCs goes, the fact that policy prejudicing minority races is passed shows that the representation afforded by GRCs is ineffective. Two such policies are race bias in immigration (I’ve never heard of a Malaysian Malay coming to Singapore, please tell me if I’m wrong), and the mechanisms for baby bonuses, two of which (tax breaks and dollar-matched savings) benefit the more wealthy, and in turn leave behind the less wealthy, falling largely into the minority groups.

    Thanks for starting this blog, really enjoying it so far.

  8. Hi Ben, you are very welcome.

    I am not sure how accurate the reports on Aljunied are. It would indeed be a very sad day if people resort to such petty politics. In fact, the whole idea of joining politics should be to make the country a better place to live in. I believe that altruism should be the key and not power or money. And if the reports are true, I would be very disappointed.

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