PM Lee Hsien Loong calls for smaller GRCs, more SMCs in next GE

PAP and Workers' Party supporters gathered on Nomination Day on Sept 1, 2015. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

SINGAPORE - The next General Election will see smaller group representation constituencies (GRCs) on average and more single member constituencies (SMCs), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech to Parliament on Wednesday (Jan 27).

That election is "a long way off", Mr Lee said, but when he appoints the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, he will instruct it to reduce the average size of GRCs further, and to create more SMCs.

There are currently 16 GRCs and 13 SMCs.

In his speech, Mr Lee said that the GRC system, introduced in 1988, has been good, and should be kept. But he stressed the need to strike the right balance between the number of big GRCs and small GRCs, and the number of GRCs and SMCs.

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There are pluses and minuses both ways, he said.

Bigger GRCs benefit from having an anchor minister taking care of issues and from the better economies of scale in programmes and activities that take place across the entire constituency.

But smaller GRCs foster a closer connection between the Members of Parliament (MPs) and residents. SMCs also give the MP direct responsibility for everything that happens in the constituency.

Mr Lee also said that the GRC system has pushed political parties to be more multi-racial in their approach.

"Opposition parties know that they have to win support from the minorities and they have to field credible Malay and Indian candidates in their teams," he said.

He added that if parties play racial politics during elections, the votes they win from one group will be at the expense of votes from the other groups.

He cited examples of candidates who have tried, including Tang Liang Hong, whom Mr Lee said made "provocative, chauvinist" speeches in the 1997 General Election to appeal to the Chinese majority vote. Mr Tang's Workers' Party team in Cheng San GRC lost the election.

The GRC scheme also makes sure that any party which aspires to form the Government first demonstrates that it can manage an estate competently and honestly, Mr Lee said.

The scheme was introduced in 1988 to ensure multi-racial representation in Parliament. Each GRC must have at least one MP from a minority community. There are currently 24 minority MPs in the 89-seat Parliament.

Changes have been made to the scheme over the years, including increases to the maximum number of MPs per GRC, which was raised to six in 1996.

But Mr Lee has 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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