Analysts: Why keep six-member GRCs?

PM Lee Hsien Loong (waving) with his six-member Ang Mo Kio GRC team at a PAP rally during the 2011 general election.
PM Lee Hsien Loong (waving) with his six-member Ang Mo Kio GRC team at a PAP rally during the 2011 general election. PHOTO: ST FILE

The retention of two jumbo group representation constituencies is likely to attract bewilderment if not criticism, four political observers said yesterday in comments on the newly redrawn electoral map.

Political scientist Derek da Cunha said: "The Electoral Boundaries Review Committee report will not satisfy everyone. But, in my opinion, one justifiable gripe that many people will likely have is the retention of six-member GRCs."

Their presence on the electoral landscape is all the more stark in the light of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's direction to the committee to shrink GRCs to an average of below five MPs, the analysts said.

As Dr da Cunha put it: "Six-member GRCs stand out like a sore thumb and their continued existence will likely perplex many people."

But he and the others acknowledged that the review committee was within the terms of reference set out by PM Lee, as the average size of each GRC is now 4.75 MPs.

As a result of the committee's work, the number of five-man GRCs has dropped to eight from 11, and the number of four-man GRCs has risen to six from two.

There are now 13 single-member constituencies (SMCs), one more than in the 2011 General Election.

"I was expecting to see some three-member GRCs, but am glad to see an increase in four-member GRCs," said sociologist Tan Ern Ser.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said he was puzzled by the committee's recommendation to retain Ang Mo Kio GRC and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC as six-man constituencies.

"It just flies against the whole tenor and rationale for smaller GRCs, which PM Lee first spoke about in 2009 and repeated last week in Parliament," he said.

National University of Singapore political scientist Hussin Mutalib agreed, saying: "The retention of the mega GRCs anchored by PM Lee in Ang Mo Kio and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean in Pasir Ris-Punggol did not go unnoticed."

The political observers also suggested the committee could have reduced both GRCs to five-member ones, by hiving off a ward in each to form two new SMCs.


On an initial reading of the report, it appears that there are more significant changes in the eastern part of the island, even though divisions held by the Workers' Party (WP) there have remained intact.

Moulmein-Kallang GRC and Joo Chiat SMC were both high up on the WP's target list as it had done outreach efforts in both divisions since the last general election. But those divisions have now vanished.

On the other hand, fewer noteworthy changes appear to have been made in the western part of the island, where the People's Action Party has not faced any significant threat in the last few election cycles, and is not expected to face any serious threat in the next election."

- POLITICAL SCIENTIST DEREK DA CUNHA, on how electoral boundaries in the eastern and western parts of Singapore have changed


I think most people expect the election to be held in September, barring unforeseen circumstances, so no one should be surprised.

I believe a credible party would commence preparation as soon as the last election ends, but smaller parties that need to be more targeted in regard to where to contest and who to field would be more sensitive to boundary changes.

For such parties, having two months to prepare is clearly not enough time, unless ground sentiment is against the ruling party.

- NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE AND INSTITUTE OF POLICY STUDIES SOCIOLOGIST TAN ERN SER, on what the boundary changes mean for opposition parties and the timing of the General Election


I think that the Workers' Party (WP) will probably just try to keep hold of Aljunied and try to capture East Coast GRC. I don't see them doing what the National Solidarity Party did the other time - they over-extended themselves.

T he WP is the most credible opposition party. I think their goals will be quite modest... they're trying to have a credible voice in Parliament; they're not seeking to form the Government.

That being the case, they'll just focus on the east, hoping that the east will be blue... It's a long march, one GRC at a time... I think they'll be quite happy if they can capture East Coast GRC and give a very good fight in Tampines GRC.

- EAST ASIAN INSTITUTE POLITICAL SCIENCE ACADEMIC LAM PENG ER, on the Workers' Party's likely strategy for the upcoming General Election


I would've liked to have seen more articulation of why the boundaries were changed, particularly when creating new electoral divisions, or absorbing existing electoral divisions into the new ones.

When you don't explain the reasons behind changes, it gives rise to speculation that the changes are gerrymandering. But I think if you give your reasons, people will be willing to look at them and take them in good faith.

The Electoral Boundaries Review Committee offers 'population shifts and housing developments' as the generic explanation of boundary changes... but it can do a lot more to inspire confidence in the electorate.

- SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY LAW PROFESSOR EUGENE TAN, on why changes to the electoral boundaries should be explained in greater detail

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline 'Analysts: Why keep six-member GRCs?'. Print Edition | Subscribe