GRC Is To Protect The Minority Candidates?

 see also: The messy state of electoral boundaries

“Till today, I am still puzzled by why the PAP cannot fight a fair election without gerrymandering, abusing the GRC system, basically, making sure they enter into a boxing ring with an opponent who is expected to fight them with hands tied behind the back. There is a reason why bullies are not popular in schools. Why not be the school prefect?” – Alvinology

“The PAP’s continued insistence on the GRC system reeks of political deception at its crudest; nothing more than a mechanism to entrench its power by parachuting unworthy PAP candidates into Parliament.” – NSP



GRC is a truly unique Singapore politcal system  which stands for Group Representative. It was originally conceptualised as a mechanism to ensure some representations of the minority and women candidates in the unlikely event that the electorates are unwise.One GRC originally constitutes 3 candidates was however expanded gradually to 4,5 and 6 candidates within a GRC under the watch of ex-PM Goh Chok Tong to also provide a “backdoor” for otherwise reluctant politicians to enter into politics. Not a single GRC has been won by the opposition parties so far (Updated Jan 2012: Workers’ Party finally broke the psychological barrier in the watershed 2011 election). The single ward constituency was also drastically reduced over the years to only 8 in the last election in 2006. In the last election, almost half of the eligible voters did not get to exercise their votes partly as a result of the large size of GRC which the opposition parties had trouble to find enough quality candidates to fill in a GRC contest.

In post-independence Singapore, there were five General Elections before the GRC system began in 1988. Each of those five elections produced at least 16 ethnic minority MPs.

“The 1984 General Election (the last one without GRCs) saw the highest percentage of victories for ethnic minority candidates in inter-racial electoral contests, compared to the previous four elections. Minorities won six of 19 such contests (31.6%).

The five pre-1988 elections saw a total of 78 inter-racial electoral contests. Minorities won 20 of them (25.6%). The remaining 58 were won by PAP candidates. If one is to accept the government’s claim that Singaporeans vote along ethnic lines, doesn’t this mean that the 58 PAP winners could be inferior candidates who did not win on merit?

It is mind-boggling for the government to continue claiming that Singaporeans vote along ethnic lines and, at the same time, claim that meritocracy is a way of Singaporean life. 

In a 27Jun2006 Straits Times report, Goh Chok Tong admitted that the role of GRC is not just to ensure minorities are adequately represented in Parliament, they also contribute to Singapore’s political stability, by ‘helping us to recruit younger and capable candidates with the potential to become ministers’. ‘Without some assurance of a good chance of winning at least their first election, many able and successful young Singaporeans may not risk their careers to join politics.’ Echoing similar view in Mar 2011, Lim Boon Heng, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, said that “In the past, they had to serve in single constituencies where demands on them were much higher. Today, a young candidate like Pei Ling (a 27-year old PAP candidate) will stand in a GRC, and she’ll have the support of older members of Parliament in her constituency….. For those in the constituency who aren’t as comfortable talking to such a young person, they can look for someone older.”  Another example of the blantant Government’s interference in the Electoral boundaries is “in the mid-1990s, Dr Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) challenged the PAP’s Second Organising Secretary Matthias Yao for the ward. The then-PM, Mr Goh Chok Tong, allowed MacPherson to be carved out from his GRC for the 1997 GE. Mr Yao won with a majority of 65.1 per cent. He stepped down in 2011, and MacPherson returned to Marine Parade GRC.”  (source: the straits times 25 Jul 2015).

Another example of the fallacy of GRC occurred again on the Nomination Day 2011, a complete unknown was introduced as a last-minute substitute in Tanjong Pagar GRC, and became an MP just 24 hours later thanks to the PAP team winning by walkover. Dr Chia Shi Lu is now an official representative of the residents of Tanjong Pagar, and he was ‘elected’ before even being saying a word to the media, without a single vote being cast and and leaving no chance for the voters to scrutinise his capability and character.

“As history has shown, an opposition GRC team that is disproportionately strong relative to other opposition GRC teams would inevitably draw unwanted attention. The PAP big guns would throw everything, including the kitchen sinks, at it. “ – Political analyst Derek da Cunda expressed doubt any opposition party would put all its top guns into a single team as it would draw heavy firepower from the PAP. (The Straits Times, Apr 5 2011)

To give credit to the government, the current PM Lee Hsien Loong has taken the steps to try to reverse the trend by introducing more single ward seats and reducing the sizes of GRCs and we shall see if this will result in more opposition representations in future elections. [Update Apr’ 11: the changes are not too significant, notably many 6-member GRCs have been reduced to 5-member, SMC has been increased from 8 to 11] [Updated Jul 2015: The changes is again not significant, SMC only increased by 1 seat, only 2 four-member GRC “created, still no three-member GRC which was the original number intended.]

To end, I leave you with the exerpt from “Tin Pei Ling and the Real Reason Why Singaporeans Are Annoyed” by Gilbert Koh:

“However, Singapore is not a normal, healthy and genuine democracy. And that is why there is a public outcry. People already know that most likely, Pei Ling will not contest on her own in a single-member constituency.

Instead the PAP will field Pei Ling in a GRC team, under the protection of one or two much more experienced PAP heavyweights. Pei Ling will mostly ride on their strengths, rather than her own ability, to sail safely into Parliament.

And once she gets in, the citizens of Singapore will be forced to live with her youth and lack of inexperience, for at least the next five years.”


Other Notable Quotes:

“Under our current system, it seems to be that any opposition party which aspires to be elected in a GRC will have to build a town management team to train hundreds of staff officers first, (then) start shopping for an off-the-shelf accounting software. If an opposition party aspires to be the next government, it may need to build an army of civil servants first. This is a strange political situation for any functioning democracy to be in.” – Low Thia Khiang

“陈佩玲事件,其实不在于陈佩玲竞选不竞选,而在于集选区这个制度的无耻 — 完全没有道德的支撑。试想,大家都晓得,其实就算是一只畜牲,如果也能够算是集选区的一员。那么,不管是来自执政党反对党,那一团的集选胜利了,畜牲也可以代表人民说话。” –

 “Our unique GRC system has produced mostly run of the mill MPs and they have become a liability not just to the PAP but to our country.”

“PAP should have the intellectual and moral courage to realize the flaws in GRC, and scrap it. This will help win back the respect and support of Singaporeans.”Roger POH

One might speculate if the People’s Action Party’s deployment of candidates could have been better judged relative to the opposition’s tactical placements. One might even speculate if the Group Representation Constituency system has in-built weaknesses, whereby untested candidates can saunter into Parliament while a high-value (indeed, invaluable) asset, like (George) Yeo – or Ong Ye Kung, one of the most impressive among the newcomers – can end up as casualties, through no fault of their own or that of their team. This has been a prodigious waste of talent.” -The Straits Times Editorial,  May 10 2011

“Race and gender should not matter in how voters make their choice – if they did, it would point to the poverty of our multiracialism and meritocracy – and on this score, the PAP can take the lead in dispelling prejudices rather than reinforce stereotypesEugene K B Tan

“GRC is not only un-democratic, it has become a joke on Singapore.” -anonymous

“The recent years has exposed us to the many shortcomings of our MPs. I don’t mean this as a personal slight but more towards how neutered their effectiveness is. It is probably due to the GRC system which puts the responsibility and hence authority in a leading MP (likely to be a minister) and the rest merely have to busy themselves with superficial duties like oh I don’t know, opening a neighbourhood amenity or being on hand when some super Minister drops by for an official visit. Maybe their duties really only encompasses conducting Meet-the-People sessions and showing up for National Day, nothing more.” – Nic Lim


Related links:


NCMP Sylvia Lim proposed to abolish GRCs and to revert to a system of single-member seats:


WP chief Low Thia Kiang takes aim at the GRC system. (Yahoo! photo)

Workers’ Party chief slams GRC system

Workers’ Party (WP) chief Low Thia Kiang has attacked the government’s Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system, saying it serves the ruling party’s self-interest, and not the voters.

As the battle for the hearts and minds of Aljunied GRC voters heats up, he told an estimated-30,000 crowd at Serangoon stadium on Friday, “There’s nothing more against the spirit of democracy than the GRC.”

Calling for a “breakthrough” this election, he argued that the GRC system, introduced in 1988, “served the PAP’s self-interest and not the voters”.

“Let me tell you, if no opposition is able to break through the GRC, you will be forever shackled by the system. The PAP will continue to govern, and to bully you without having to account to you all,” he said.

Low countered the PAP’s explanation that the scheme is meant to ensure minority-race candidates make it into Parliament by citing the example of the late Joshua Benjamin Jeyaratnam.

More commonly known as JBJ, he was voted in during the 1981 Anson by-election by a Chinese majority constituency.

“No PAP minority -race candidate was voted out as a result of Singaporeans voting along racial lines,” Low said.

Referring to his own experience, he said he could have won his first election in 1988 when he contested in Anson, but when it merged to be part of a newly created three-member GRC known as Tiong Bahru GRC — which included Henderson and Tiong Bahru wards — he lost.

“Tiong Bahru delivered over 70 per cent support for the PAP… I lost the election,” he said.

Since then, he added that the GRC system is “like a rubber band”, that it could keep growing from three members in 1988, to four in 1991 , and to six by 1997.

“Like a rubber band, a GRC can stretch all the way from Marine Parade to Serangoon Central,” he said, to much laughter from the audience.

Low urged first-time voters to cast their vote “not just wisely, but bravely, intelligently, and in a heartfelt manner”.

Read the full story at yahoo news.


Here is a rare footage on the debate of the original GRC system, there were some interesting points:

  • The opposition parties disagreed with many arguments put forth by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who had rudely interrupted their arguments several times before they could finish.
  • How was the original idea of pairing a minority with a majority candidates evolved to six member GRC today?
  • One opposition member had correctly predicted that with the growing educated population, the problem of communication will go away in the long term. He proposed to use more Chinese or Indian assistants to help the Malay MPs if neccessary which are still being practiced today in a GRC system for both the minority as well as Chinese MPs.