Certain subjects get repeated over the years. And one of them involves abolishing the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system. In this latest round of objections raised by the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), we see the same arguments rehashed and recycled; over how the scheme is rigged against the Opposition and designed to stunt their growth.
Perhaps to the PSP, the GRC is a barrier to entry. At its core is a political conviction to attract good-quality candidates to field a diverse and multiracial team that represents the community. To some, this could be a tall order.
But what good will it achieve if we abolish a system for the sake of change and do so without any feasible alternatives? More importantly, can we ensure that the interests of minorities in Singapore, in the absence of a GRC system, are not compromised?
It is a difficult question, and it is one which we have no answer to unless we dismantle the current system. But can we afford that kind of risk and the upheaval that might follow?
More than just a system
The GRC system came during a time of falling minority representation in parliament in 1988. As a result, it guarantees a minimum number of minority MPs to raise issues of specific concerns to racial minorities.
And herein lies the core of our GRC system – the philosophy that the majority must never neglect the rights and interests of minorities. In Singapore, this is also a belief that runs through our laws and constitutions.
That is why, as Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing shared in his response opposing the motion, “It is the principle of the GRC that is at stake.”
Because in doing away with the system, we risk turning our politics into a racially charged one and having a parliament that does not reflect the multiracial composition of Singapore, added the Minister.
Is there an alternative?
At a time when Singaporeans are much less likely to vote based on racial and cultural preferences, the GRC concept can feel outdated and a relic of a bygone era. After all, Singapore is one of those rare places where people of different races and faiths live closely in harmony.
However, we should be careful not to be lured into a false sense of security that Singapore has reached the nirvana of a post-racial society. That is because while we might not have the kind of racial enclaves and segregation prevalent in many other countries, would we have achieved our current state of cohesiveness without concerted design?
The opposition MPs’ proposed alternatives for an NCMP scheme for minority candidates and a mandated proportionate racial representation for Parliament would inadvertently create the impetus for election candidates and parties to play the race card. These proposals incentivise parties to build their base around a particular interest in order to win seats, rather than to appeal to a broad majority of voters. The political divide will then be along racial lines, which will be most dangerous for Singapore.
In his speech, Minister Chan asked – Are Singaporeans beyond race? And are all race issues beyond us? We know the answer to these questions, and so do members of the Opposition, who have begrudgingly accepted that the GRC system, for all its flaws and shortcomings, has fulfilled its purpose of safeguarding the interests of our minorities and ensuring their representation in the highest legislative body of the land.
Someday in the distant future, the GRC system might become obsolete. But for now, there is relevance to our fragile multicultural society. And in an increasingly fractured world, it is even more vital that we have a system that prevents any party from appealing to any specific race and religion, dividing our society and parliament along racial lines.
Abolish the GRC? That would be a bad idea.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.