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The General Elections: Thinking About Group Representation Constituencies

‘The Opposition is “not that small-minded”’ –  that was Opposition Member of Parliament Chiam See Tong’s response to Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng, who questioned on Wednesday whether the Opposition were motivated by party or personal interests in trying to capture a Group Representation Constituency (GRC)” (We’re ‘Not That Small-Minded’: Chiam, Mr. Teo Xuanwei).

All the recent discussion on the Opposition’s intentions to contest in group representation constituencies (GRCs) – as reflected in the news report “We’re ‘Not That Small-Minded’: Chiam” (March 26, 2011) by Mr. Teo Xuanwei – neglect the fact that critics have dismissed the notion of GRCs as a form of gerrymandering. Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng’s salvo that Opposition politicians were seeking to capture GRCs for personal or party gains is merely a red herring: GRCs – with its inherent set of disadvantages – renders the elections an uneven playing field for contesting candidates.

Logically, given the characteristics of GRCs, winning one would be the quickest way for the Opposition to increase actual representation in Parliament; correspondingly, this would heighten their exposure and on-the-ground responsibilities. Singaporeans would then be exposed to a more diverse assortment of socio-political and economic policy recommendations. Experienced Member of Parliaments (MP) at the helm of a GRC team can provide valuable insights and advice, as well as to heighten administrative flexibility. These aforementioned justifications clearly resonate with the incumbent administration’s own strategies – such as how seasoned Cabinet Ministers lead individual GRCs – hence, DPM Wong’s assertions of Opposition pragmatism seem contradictory.

Nonetheless, GRCs have their own set of shortcomings. First, weaker candidates can conveniently be tagged onto a single GRC; and since voters would more commonly identify with the party or with the heavyweight Minister, individualism of candidates would become secondary. Removing impediments to make it a smooth passage for these favoured “crème de la crème” defeats the purpose of an election, since the people have the right to democratically cast their votes based on an individual’s capabilities and history of commitment. Second, the GRC system also weakens the link between MPs and their constituents, especially if the boundaries have been drawn up disproportionately.

One cannot naively assume guaranteed victory after leaving their previous employment, especially if he has had negligible contributions to the community or constituency he is contesting in. Actions speak louder than words; pure rhetoric on “helping low-income households” and “empowering students” seem superficial and unconstructive. Accordingly, this methodology relies heavily on the effectiveness and quality of the selection process; one that is conducted extremely secretively, and one that has been purported to place inconsistent emphasis on professional proficiencies over tangible on-the-ground engagement or involvement. If a potential politician cannot stand in elections independently and campaign for his causes, would he be sufficiently competent to engage his residents vis-à-vis, understand their concerns, and solicit necessary feedback?

Along the same note – bearing in mind all the considerations – if the Opposition parties do manage to capture a GRC in the upcoming General Elections, it would not only speak volumes of their ability, but also – conversely – reflect the popular sentiments on the ruling party. Beyond the imminent Elections, it is definitely high time for us to consider the prospect of rendering all constituencies into single member constituencies (SMCs), thereby levelling the playing field for all interested and able political candidates.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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