PM Lee Hsien Loong calls for smaller GRCs: 6 things to know about the scheme

Electoral boundaries map for GE2015 which shows 16 GRCs and 13 SMCs. ST GRAPHICS

SINGAPORE - There will be smaller group representation constituencies (GRCs) at the next general election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Parliament on Wednesday (Jan 27).

The Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, in charge of drawing up the electoral boundaries before an election, will be instructed to reduce the average size of GRCs further and create more single-member constituencies (SMCs).

There are currently 16 GRCs and 13 SMCs.

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The next General Election will see smaller GRCs, more SMCs, more opposition MPs and more rights for NCMPs, under new changes to Singapore's political system.

Here are six facts about the GRC scheme.

1. When was the GRC scheme introduced?

It was introduced at the 1988 General Election, with the Parliamentary Elections Act stipulating that at least a quarter of the total number of Members of Parliament must be GRC representatives.

The Electoral Boundaries Review Committee drew up 13 GRCs, each made up of three MPs.

Each GRC must have at least one MP from a minority community.

In the 1988 election, MPs from GRCs accounted for 39 of the 81 seats in Parliament.

Prior to that, all seats were held by MPs from SMCs.

2. What was the rationale behind it?

Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew first spoke about the need to guarantee multi-racial representation in Parliament in July 1982.

Mr Lee had initially proposed the concept of "twin constituencies", with a Chinese MP pairing with one from the minority community.

The idea of a three-member GRC was chosen as it also dovetailed with the setting up of town councils, which had aimed to give residents more authority in managing their own housing estates.

3. How has the scheme changed over the years?

In 1991, the maximum number of MPs per GRC was increased to four from three.

This number went up to six in 1996.

By the 2001 General Election, there were nine five-member GRCs and five six-member GRCs. The number of GRC seats in Parliament went up to 75 of 84 seats - or 89 per cent - with the number of SMC seats falling to a mere nine.

This configuration remained unchanged in 2006.

4. Has minority representation increased?

Between 1988 and 2006, the number of minority MPs elected to Parliament increased from 14 to 33.

The proportion of minority representation in Parliament was 27.4 per cent after the 2006 General Election - an increase from the 16 per cent in 1988.

There are currently 24 minority MPs in the 89-seat Parliament.

5. Why has it come under criticism?

The main grouse is how the GRC scheme has grown over the years.

Larger GRCs have also come under fire as rookie candidates from the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) are sometimes seen as riding on the coat-tails of heavyweight candidates in their team.

Critics argue that fewer SMCs meant fewer individuals were able to contest the elections based on merit.

Opposition parties also said that GRC requirements make it harder for them to field teams.

6. Have improvements been made to it?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pledged as early as 2009 to reduce the average number of MPs in a GRC from 5.4 to five, and to increase the number of SMCs.

In the 2011 General Election, the number of SMCs was raised from nine to 12.

In last year's Sept 11 election, the number of SMCs rose further to 13. Only two "jumbo" six-member GRCs - Ang Mo Kio and Pasir Ris-Punggol - remained.

Currently, the average number of MPs in each GRC stands at 4.75, down from an average of five in 2011.

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