No by-election in GRC if MP from minority race resigns to run for President

Marsiling-Yew Tee residents, you heard it from the Minister.

By Chan Cheow Pong | February 7, 2017

The Group Representation Constituency (GRC) — Marsiling-Yew Tee will not have a by-election if its Member of Parliament (MP) from the minority race — Madam Halimah Yacob resigns to run for the office of the Elected President.

This was the main takeaway from the response by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing, who was addressing a question by opposition MP Pritam Singh from the Workers’ Party in Parliament on Feb. 6.

Singh had used the example of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC to seek a response from Chan on what would happen if a minority member of a GRC team stepped down to run for President.

Halimah, the minority race member of Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, is widely seen as a potential candidate from the Malay community for the upcoming reserved election in September this year. (Chan’s inadvertent address of Halimah as “Madam President ” did nothing to dispel that perception.)

Halimah Yacob and Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee, her husband. (Source: Halimah's Facebook)
Halimah Yacob and Mohammed Abdullah Alhabshee, her husband. (Source: Halimah’s Facebook)

The GRC system

The GRC system has been in place since 1988. This is the explainer on Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) found on the Election Department website.

*A GRC is a larger electoral division, both in terms of population as well as physical area. A group of Members of Parliament (MPs) represents the interests of those residents in the constituency.

*Thus, during a general election or by-election in the GRC, the registered electors of the GRC will vote for a group of individuals to be their MPs, who must be from the same political party or are all Independents.

*The group may be made up of 3, 4, 5 or 6 individuals. The President declares the group number for each GRC by law.
At least one of the MPs in the group representing a GRC must belong to a minority racial community, either the Malay community or the Indian and other minority communities.

*By law, the President designates the GRCs for which at least one of the MPs in the constituency must belong to one of these minority racial communities [bold]. However, the number of GRCs that can be designated as those belonging to the Malay community cannot be more than three-fifths the total number of GRCs, rounded to the next higher whole number.

*The GRC system was established in 1988 to ensure that the minority racial communities in Singapore will always be represented in Parliament. To ensure this, the Parliamentary Elections Act requires that at least one-quarter of the total number of MPs must be representatives of GRCs.

Chan replied that a by-election will not be called if a member of a GRC resigns or is incapacitated in any way.

He borrowed the rationale used by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong when he explained the GRC system in Parliament decades ago. Besides ensuring minority representation, it also helps to ensure that there is no political campaigning on issues of race and religion.

Chan said that these key goals would not be affected if one member of the GRC left.

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About Chan Cheow Pong

It took Cheow Pong two decades to recover from the trauma of memorising General Paper essays before he was ready to be an English writer. In between affliction and recovery, he thoroughly enjoyed his time writing in Chinese and doing Chinese translations.

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