Singapore Parliamentary Legislation

andng@singnet.com.sg
Sun, 03 Nov 1996 18:47:02 +0800


In a bid to maintain their monopoly of power in Singapore, the People's
Action Party (PAP, Lee Kuan Yew's Party) has decided to alter the
Parliamentary System in Singapore. This comes within six months of the
next General Election, and will obviously upset the election plans
for the various opposition parties.

Democracy in Singapore has often been likened more towards a
despotism or nepotism under Lee Kuan Yew's quarter-century reign, in
which he still holds considerable power. Opposition in Singapore of any
sort has been weak or controlled by the government (remember Orwell's
"1984"?), and the few opposition parties are far too small to pose a
threat to the gargantuan PAP machine.

However, in the last General Election, the opposition, by using
a 'by-election' strategy of contesting less than half the available
seats in Parliament, won an unprecedented 4 seats out of 81! There was
finally some alternative for citizens of Singapore to actually choose
from in our so-called "democracy".

The PAP has now decided to change the rules. In 1990, Group
Representation Constituencies (GRCs) were formed to better represent the
minority races in Singapore. Under the new ruling, 4 seperate seats in
approximately the same area were merged to form a group representation
in Parliament, of which one seat would go to a citizen from a minority
race. 15 such GRCs were formed, to ensure a minimum 15 MPs from
minority races.

The shortcomings of such a system were immediately obvious. The
PAP was trying to put weaker, lesser-known politicians into Parliament
hanging on to the coat-tails of more prominent members of Parliament.
For example, Lee Kuan Yew could sit in a GRC with three unknowns and win
easily against whatever the opposition might come up with, since the
people would be clamouring over in drooling ecstatic delight to have the
great man in their constituency. The PAP could thus be assured of at
least 60 of the 81 seats. Even if the opposition were to win several of
the single-seat constituencies, they would never be able to get anywhere
close to threatening the PAP's dominance.

In the following General Election, it thus came as no surprise
when the PAP took all 15 GRCs, BUT the opposition won 4 seats (all
single seats), 2 from the Singapore Democratic Party, 1 from the
Worker's Party (a fanciful name, I assure you - the "Secretary-General"
is a high-flying lawyer) and I forget where the other seat went to.

The PAP, stung by the loss of so many seats to the opposition,
has thus decided to enlarge the GRCs to 6 seats, thereby further
increasing their grip of Parliament. They have also not ruled out
merging Potong Pasir, a traditional opposition seat (since 1981, I
believe) led by Mr Chiam See Tong with 5 other seats. The minimum
number of minority members per GRC would remain at 1 person. The number
of GRCs proposed would fall to 12 GRCs to form a maximum 72 seats
out of 81! (not all GRCs would be enlarged - only in those "where it
will be more convenient to [do so]" according to PM Goh Chok Tong).

In response to criticism about the reduction in representation
of minority races, the PAP ensures the public that they will send in
more minority MPs than the stipulated minimum, even though they are
reducing the minimum number possible, and have no need to keep their
word.

The opposition's election strategies have obviously been
completely upset by the proposed changes so close to the elections.
They have absolutely no idea of where the new GRCs will be delimited,
and where they may stand. As mentioned earlier, Chiam See Tong does not
know whether or not his seat will be part of a larger GRC or remain as a
single seat. The PAP, on the other hand, with a majority in Parliament
will have all the GRCs sorted out, and have already named several new
candidates (who each received quarter-page interviews in the Straits
Times; when an opposition candidate was announced (the only one to
date), he received hardly any attention. Instead, the press asked loud
questions as to why the other oppposition candidates scheduled to
be revealed were not).

The opposition, by nature smaller and with less resources, will
also be hard-pressed to find even 6 candidates to make up an enlarged
GRC capable of contesting the likes of Lee Kuan Yew or Goh Chok Tong.

That's democracy for you.