GE 2011 – Watershed Election?

The recent Middle East uprising saw a turning point for many previously trapped under the strong clout of their authoritarian governments, while Singapore experienced a watershed 2011 general elections in May. Now, we are faced with the mounting anticipation of the August Presidential Elections. 2011 does indeed seem to mark an exciting, new chapter in Singapore’s political history. The sudden surges of reform and metamorphosis pay credit to countrymen challenging the status quo and existing systems. Of this, one of the most hotly debated topics would be that of the Group Representation Constituency ﴾GRC﴿ system, unique to Singapore. With respected ministers like George Yeo being booted out of Parliament, seemingly in exchange for unpopular candidates like Tin Pei Lin, sentiments against the GRC system have been aroused.

The GRC system first made its entry into the elections system in 1988, with 3 candidates in each GRC, one of which needs to come from a minority group. Over the years, the GRC system expanded to 4‐ member, and eventually, some to 5‐ 6 member groups. PAP had one main goal, which was to ensure minority representation in Singapore’s Parliament. In addition, this complemented the introduction of town councils to manage public housing estates, as it would provide economy of scale for a town council to manage a group of constituencies. An added advantage was to encourage new and even younger candidates to put their foot forward in the political scene and diversify the profile of members of parliament ﴾MPs﴿.

Thirdly, it is highly possible for new candidates to stand a good chance against existing MPs. Nicole Seah, despite being one of the youngest contenders, albeit running in a GRC, gained overwhelming popularity, and was said to have led her team to garner 45% of the votes of the Marine Parade residents. This was despite being up against Goh Chok Tong’s strong team. This goes to show Singaporeans’ political awareness and that they have learnt to make judgments on candidates’ capabilities, hence new and young candidates do not necessarily need to be in a GRC to gain the votes. Furthermore, even if SMCs could be less welcoming to new candidates, if one’s passion could be wavered by the possibility of losing the election, what are the chances of this candidate’s passion being able to withstand the test of the challenging journey as an MP? One positive example would be Seetoh Yi Pin. Despite not being able to match up to the overwhelming support for Chiam See Tong for many rounds of elections, he continued running election after election, and finally won the hearts of the Potong Pasir residents at this year’s elections, albeit by a small margin. His commitment to the people is what I believe Singaporeans are looking for in our MPs.

Moreover, such a system has been criticized for disadvantaging the opposition party, especially in Singapore’s political scene where the opposition seldom has enough strong candidates to field the 5‐6 seats. This system clearly favors parties with a large pool of resources and strong candidates. Of course, what has been causing the most discontent would be that such a system forces the people into a “buy one get all” situation. Less capable candidates are able to sit on the wings of heavyweight ministers to get into parliament, while more capable opposition party members fight harder to no avail. Cue Tin Pei Lin. As much as we want young MPs in parliament, if she is as lacking in substance as comments posted in social network Facebook have claimed, would she really add value to the parliament? In contrast, strong individuals like George Yeo could be seeded out because the overall strength of the opposing party overpowered his team. How would this then bring the best of talents into parliament as originally intended?

At the end of the day, we ought to look back at the purpose of the general elections. It is to empower each citizen with the mandate to bring the brightest of minds, and the most compassionate of leaders into parliament, to serve the nation. With the use of public funds to line the pockets of the MPs with a quarter million each year, it is only fair that we ensure every member gained his placed in parliament according to his merits, just as how Singapore prides itself for being a meritocratic society, no?

It could be too drastic to ask for a total change of the GRC system into SMCs, but there is indeed an urgent need to relook at how the system could be modified to ensure each MP is deserving of his place. PAP could play the same game next elections, putting Goh Chok Tong or Lee Hsien Long in Aljunied, and putting the residents through the torment of eliminating another strong team. If we do not want history to repeat itself, the GRC system needs to be revamped as the political awareness of the post‐independence Singaporean continues to be on the upsurge.

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