Democracy Group Representation Constituency Parliamentary elections

Short reflections on the 2011 General Elections

Thio Li-ann
Professor of Law
National University of Singapore

1. In the 1990s, then PM Goh Chok Tong said that the GRC scheme was “theoretically neutral,” even if the PAP had in practice won all seats. 2011 GE finally demonstrates this in practice, with the obvious repercussions for future electoral strategies. Not least, that the GRC is not a sure-fire way for PAP self-renewal, witness, Ong Ke Yung.

The late Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (Source: AP)

2. Also in the 1990s, I remember Wong Kan Seng telling NCMP JB Jeyaretnam that he was in by the grace of the government. But now that we are talking about a couple of hundred votes dividing winners and losers in Potong Pasir, Joo Chiat and East Coast, the “mandate” of NCMPs are stronger. Witness, for example, Lina Chiam’s nod to the wishes of the voters for her to take the NCMP seat.

(Source: Straits Times)
Lina Chiam at a Potong Pasir rally (Source: Straits Times)

Mrs Chiam had lost to PAP’s Sitoh Yih Pin by 114 votes or 0.7 per cent. Having secured 49.6 per cent of valid votes in Potong Pasir, she was the best performing Opposition candidate at the general election.

The attitude of the civil service in the next five years will be interesting. For example, will government departments respond to an NCMP’s letter as opposed to that of the ordinary MP’s? Should the constitution speak to this? This calls for further reflections over who the NCMP represent and the broader idea of representation are also called for.

(Source: Straits Times)
Michael Palmer campaigning (Source: Straits Times, Photo: Aziz Hussin)

3. The Palmer Victory: This shows that minorities can win SMCs. Ergo, should we discard the notion of racial representation guarantees or treat this as a one-off? The virtue of the GRC is that it does mandate multi-racial politics; the vice has always been its size and the reasons for upsizing (managing TCs, CDCs) which were unrelated to the constitutional rationale for GRC i.e. multiracial representation.

Thio Li-ann

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