NCMP Sylvia Lim made a speech in Parliament on Wed 27 Aug on the issue of by-elections and GRCs.
She said that she was unable to support the motion tabled by Nominated MPs Thio Li-Ann and Loo Choon Yoong for amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Act because this motion sought to entrench the GRC system, which WP is opposed to.
Sylvia Lim also pointed out what she thought were flaws in the motion tabled.
Firstly, the motion proposed that the moment a Minority member left a GRC, a by-election would be called. Sylvia Lim asserted that it is unjustified for by-elections to be triggered by the departure of a single member, including a Minority member, because elections are won or lost by GRC teams not necessarily on the merits of any one member.
In this respect, Sylvia Lim’s position is in complete agreement with the stand made by PM Lee Hsien Loong.
Secondly, the motion proposed that once half or more of the members of a GRC team have departed, a by-election in the GRC should be called as well. Sylvia Lim said that this would mean that we could be left with a situation no by-election is called even if 1 or 2 members departed. The issue of the constituents being under-represented immediately arises.
Thirdly, the motion asked the House to amend the Parliamentary Elections Act such that a writ of by-election shall be called in the event that a Member of a single member constituency vacates his or her seat for any reason. Sylvia Lim pointed out that is already provided for under the Constitution and the Parliamentary Elections Act. In particular, Article 49 of the Constitution states that whenever the seat of an elected Member has become vacant for any reason, the vacancy shall be filled by election in the manner provided by law. The Parliamentary Elections Act, S 24, further provides that the President shall issue a writ of election “to supply vacancies caused by death, resignation or otherwise”.
Sylvia Lim then gave her views on what she thought was wrong with the GRC system:
- A team member’s non-co-operation could sound the political death knell for the rest, including during the period leading up to nomination day.
- The motion tabled in Parliament itself shows that the GRC system does not promote representative democracy.
- GRCs increase the bar for those who intend to contest, increasing the likelihood of walkovers.
- GRCs serve the PAP’s interest rather than the people’s interest: When Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong spoke of the PAP’s recruitment challenge in 2006, he said: “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.” Are we to infer that the PAP candidates these days are not what they used to be? It also seems that the GRC is a recruitment and training tool for the ruling party.
- GRC has weakened politicians’ mandates: Back in 1988, Dr Ahmad Mattar already hit the nail on the head. His views were quoted in Parliament, as follows: “As a Malay, I don’t think I would like to contest in any Elections where my victory is guaranteed – not because I am a ‘strong’ candidate but because I have a so-called ‘strong’ twin brother to lean on.”
On the issue of minority representation, Sylvia Lim said: “How do we ensure minority representation? Singapore’s history has shown that, in the past, minority candidates stood and won single seats. PAP MPs such as Mr Dhanabalan, Mr Rajaratnam, Mr Sidek Saniff and Mr Zulkifli Mohd have done so; so have opposition leaders like Mr Jeyaretnam in Anson, a predominantly Chinese constituency. This was so even in the 1984 GE. Are we saying that Singapore has regressed as a society? Or is the PAP now saying that they have less confidence in their current minority Ministers, MPs or new candidates winning on their own?”