I read with interest of Mr Tan Hong Ngan’s letter to The Straits Times. In it, he called for the Government to do away with General Elections walkover because it was unfair to the opposition parties:
This is because of Singapore’s unique group representation constituency (GRC) system, which puts enormous strain on the opposition to match the People’s Action Party, owing to lack of resources and credible candidates.
He carried on to say that every Singaporean should be given a chance to vote:
Although we boast a high voter turnout in every election, the underlying picture tells only half the story. It is not very surprising if a citizen does not get to vote in his lifetime in democratic Singapore. This basic human right to choose one’s leaders is denied to some because of the GRC system.
A quick insight of GRCs. GRCs operate with a plurality voting system, voting by party slate, meaning that the party with the largest share of votes wins all seats in the GRC. This means that even with a one-vote plurality or majority, the winning team gets to win the whole GRC. All Singaporean GRCs have had a People’s Action Party (PAP) base. Some opposition parties have won seats in SMCs, but never in a GRC.
The official justification for GRCs is to allow minority representation. However, opposition parties have criticized GRCs as making it even more difficult for independent and opposition members to get elected, as a single strong candidate will find it very difficult to win and a very expensive group deposit of at least S$67,500 (S$13,500 per candidate) is required to stand for election.
The opposition has also charged the government with deliberately modifying GRC boundaries at very short notice, and “stuffing” otherwise weak GRCs with cabinet ministers. Many PAP MPs have also entered parliament by being placed in a Minister’s GRC and so have never faced a vote.
I also agree with Mr Tan on his next point:
If only one party stands in a GRC, the poll should still be carried out. The lone party must win enough votes to secure the parliamentary seat.
This will make the competition fair and give those Singaporeans who have never voted because of walkovers, a chance to let their vote do the talking.
But then, we have Mr Kong Siong Kwong, who rebutted Mr Tan with his letter, ‘Banning walkovers unfair’.
Mr Tan argued that ‘this basic human right to choose one’s leaders is denied to some because of the GRC system’. This may be a fallacy. The group representation constituency (GRC) system is not intended purposely and primarily to create walkovers. Even if it was, the incumbent does not hold sway over events on Nomination Day. Opposition parties can field their candidates, albeit with some difficulty.
The problem is simply that opposition parties have not been able, try as they may, to put up a one-party or multi-party team to contest. This sad situation has existed for many years.
But why should walkovers be banned? What about being fair to the only nominee who is also Singaporean and entitled to his rights? It is inequitable to insist that this one candidate must be voted on and secure more than 50 per cent of the votes cast in order to establish that he has the support of constituents.
We can clearly see which side Mr Kong is on. I like what Callan Tham, in his Trapper’s Swamp blog post said about Mr Kong’s comments:
That’s not how a democracy works. Nominees have to earn the votes, and a walkover, especially in a GRC with its high entry barrier, does not imply that the constituents have given their mandate to them. By holding the polls and making them earn a majority will we know the will of the voters.
That is our right, and that is how a democracy should work. It is not about being fair to those running, it is about the mandate, and holding them accountable, and making sure they have the support of the voters to represent them in Parliament.
I for one, who would be glad that we do away with walkovers. The opposition parties that are currently in Parliament are so few, they might as well as not be there.
Without walkovers, we get to see a fairer competition between the PAP and the opposition parties, which in other words, means progress for Singapore and her citizens.