If a minority candidate leaves his group representation constituency (GRC), a by-election will not be called, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.
He was replying to the opposition Workers' Party's Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), who wanted to know what would happen if a minority member of a GRC stepped down to run for president.
Mr Singh used Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob as an example. Madam Halimah, the minority member of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, has been tipped as a potential candidate for the upcoming election, which is reserved for Malays.
What then, Mr Singh asked, would happen to "the very existence of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, which by law requires a Malay MP as one of its political representatives in Parliament"?
Mr Chan said a by-election would not be called if a member of a GRC resigns or is incapacitated in any way.
"This is totally unrelated to the Bill today but since it was raised, I will deal with it," he said.
The GRC system has been in place since 1988, and requires each team to include at least one member of a minority race.
Mr Chan said that when Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong explained the GRC system in Parliament decades back, he said its intent was to achieve two purposes.
One, to ensure enough minority members in the House. This, Mr Chan said, had been achieved over the years.
Two, to ensure no political campaign on issues of race and religion, "that we will all, regardless of party lines, campaign on the basis that we are all Singaporeans, that we will not use race, language or religion for political reasons", Mr Chan said.
Elected members are expected to serve all residents, regardless of race, language and religion as well.
These key goals would not be affected if one member of the GRC left, Mr Chan added.
He noted there are 25 minority MPs out of 89, "more than what you'd expect proportionately from adding up the percentage of Malays, Indians and other minorities".
"Even if we have one less, that is 24 out of 89, which is 27 per cent of Parliament," he said.
Near the end of the debate, Mr Chan accidentally called Madam Halimah "Madam President" instead of "Madam Speaker", to loud laughter from the House.
He did it twice, before he corrected himself.