The National Solidarity Party resurfaced a previously rejected alternative to the Group Representation Constituency Scheme. Once upon a time in 1988, a Select Committee sat to debate the merits and demerits of a scheme that reserves constituency for Malays.
What the NSP is proposing, is not new – it is a rehash from a 1988 Select Committee debate helmed by a PAP team, with one Chiam See Tong on board.
The GRC was designed to guarantee Minority Race representation in Parliament, but was criticised by Opposition parties as a means of making it more difficult to win in an election. This argument has been proved wrong with the Worker’s Party take-over of Aljunied GRC in 2011.
The NSP proposed in their latest White Paper, a means of resolving problems brought about by the GRC Scheme. They offered a solution to the issue of a lack in Minority Race representation brought about by the removal of the GRC Scheme. However in this eagerness they have created a mirage of other problems with what they call a “Constituency Reserved for Minority Scheme”.
(All claims made by NSP are in Orange and are quoted directly from their white paper)
Their invalid counter-arguments to the Select Committee’s objections to the CRM proposal previously:
The Select Committee raised two objections to the CRM proposal. Both objections contain fallacious reasoning.
1st Objection: “The residents in the reserved constituency will have no choice but to accept only Malay candidates. The non-Malay residents are unlikely to like being forced to have a Malay MP.”
However, as we will elaborate at Paragraph 4.4 below, GRC residents may not be served by an MP of their choice. As this “detriment” is also being experienced by GRC residents, the GRC Scheme would not be superior to the CRM proposal in this respect.
Now firstly, there is a huge distinction between “candidates” and “MP”. A candidate is one that is contesting for an election, hence in the current GRC system, there have always been varying races for candidates across all GRCs, unlike the proposal whereby ALL candidates standing for election will be of minority race and the electorate will have no choice.
Secondly, although under the current GRC scheme, although one’s MP may be of a minority race, the constituency is still collectively represented by the GRC, which consists of majority race MPs as well who will be able to present their interests in Parliament. Under the proposed scheme, there is no collective representation but rather a single representation by one single MP.
2nd Objection: “To overcome this problem, it was suggested that such reserved constituencies be rotated after each election. In other words, a constituency reserved for Malay candidates will not remain so reserved at the next general election. Other constituencies will be given the “opportunity” to have a Malay MP. While the rotation of the reserved constituencies may overcome objections from non-Malay residents that their constituencies are permanently singled out, it will be inimical to the interests of both the Malay MP and the affected constituents. They will not be able to build any lasting relationship of trust and confidence.”
(a) It appears that the Select Committee had an in-built bias for the incumbent. By worrying that the prospect of rotation might hamper the MP’s efforts to build lasting relationship with his constituents, it seemed as if the Select Committee was concerned to protect the incumbent’s advantage. (b) Was the Select Committee worried that the prospect of rotation might affect the incumbent’s chances of being re-elected to the same constituency? If so, how would that be detrimental to voters?
(c) Once an MP is elected, his duty is to serve his constituents for the duration of his term. How would the prospect that he might not be re-elected to the same constituency affect his ability to build a relationship of trust and confidence during his term? (d) The concern of the Select Committee should have been to ensure that voters are not limited in their choice of candidates at the next election. (e) An incumbent MP of a reserved constituency would be at liberty to seek re-election to the same constituency, even after it has reverted to a non-reserved constituency. If he had served his constituents well, he should have a good chance of being re-elected.
I seriously question the logic of their rebuttal for this one.
Even if we do not look at it from the perspective of the incumbent, but from the perspective of the opposition:
There are 2 scenarios:
1. The committee releases in advance which constituency will be next to be a reserved for minority constituency. This works to the advantage of the opposition because the minority race candidate standing for the next election can start working on the ground in that constituency to prepare for the next election. But on the flipside, this may cause unhappiness in that constituency and people may start to move out before the next election so as to avoid being represented by a minority race candidate. This creates a lot of unnecessary unhappiness in our society and it may manifest a racial issue.
2. The committee does not release the constituency to be the next reserved for minority constituency until just before the elections. This hurts political parties on both sides because the opposition party candidate will be playing a guessing game trying to decide which constituency to walk the ground to gain support for the next election. Also, this opens up the possibility for criticism that the incumbent party can then decide on the next minority constituency after observing opposition activities and use it to their advantage.
From the perspective of the incumbent and the people:
The incumbent minority race MP knows that after 5 years, he/she is going to leave the constituency, as such, changes or planning for the constituency projects are restricted to 5 years because there is no chance of being re-elected into the same constituency. This severely hampers the success of such projects because there is no incentive for continuity once the MP has left the constituency 5 years later. An incumbent MP who has served the same constituency for some time will be more familiar with municipal issues in the constituency and be able to represent them and it takes time to identify these areas and work with various agencies to solve them. To have a constant change of MPs will only slow down this problem solving process.
The party has only a certain percentage of minority race candidates and this is not because of discrimination, but simply because the talent pool for minority races is smaller in absolute terms because of the small numbers of the minority race to begin with. Hence, it may not always be feasible to keep the minority race candidate in a non reserved constituency because the party may not have another minority race candidate to field in the reserved constituency. (Unless the opposition is hoping for the day to come when the entire parliament solely consists of minority MPs)
From the perspective of the people, there is little time for the MP to forge bonds with the citizens. 5 years is a short time. Trust and relationships between the MP and his constituents take time to build. When there is trust, constituents then know who to approach when they need help. Having a consistent change of MP may result in the lack of trust between the MP and residents because they are unfamiliar with him/her.
All in all, the CRM will be highly ineffective and in fact detrimental for Singaporeans. It will only cause our politics to become like the US where politicians only promise for the short term because that is the length of their term in the constituency, especially the constituencies which are reserved minority seats. It will only create more friction between people of different races when their constituency becomes a Constituency Reserved for Minority. It will only serve to dilute the democratic voting process in Singapore.
The CRM Scheme was rejected before in 1988. There is much reason to reject it again.