Group representation constituencies

Singapore Infopedia

by Singapore. National Library Board


A group representation constituency (GRC) is a type of electoral division or constituency in Singapore that is represented by a team of multiracial candidates. At least one of these candidates has to belong to a minority racial community, which is defined as either the Malay community or the Indian and other minority communities (such as the Eurasians). The size and racial composition of each GRC is defined by the President of Singapore and can change for each election.The other type of electoral division in Singapore is the single-member constituency (SMC), which is represented by a sole candidate.1 GRCs came into effect following amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore and the Parliamentary Elections Act in 1988.2

The official reason for the setting up of GRCs was to ensure that Singapore’s parliament would always be multiracial in composition and representation.3 The constitution stipulates that teams of candidates standing for election in a GRC must include at least one member from a minority community.4

The plan to ensure minority representation in parliament was first raised in July 1982 when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew of the People’s Action Party (PAP) noted that young voters were less aware of the importance of returning a racially balanced selection of members of parliament (MPs). If this voting trend were to continue, Lee feared that the minority races would eventually be underrepresented in parliament.5

Proposals for minority representation
Lee’s first proposal to tackle the issue of ensuring sufficient minority representation in parliament was the concept of “twin constituencies”. The idea was to have a certain number of constituencies that would be served by two MPs, one of whom would be from a minority group.6 This concept was abandoned after it was argued that the scheme would undermine the self-respect and confidence of minority candidates and perpetuate their sense of inferiority.7 Indeed, Malay MPs saw the setting up of twin constituencies as an implication that Malay candidates were too weak to contest on their own right.8

Another proposal put forward by the opposition was to give minority voters an extra vote so that they could elect both an MP as well as a communal representative to parliament. Also studied was the feasibility of setting up communal-based constituencies and as well as suggestions to divide parliament along communal lines.9 In the end, the government opted for the GRC scheme as the best approach. With group representation, candidates would have to contest in elections based on their strength as a group. The requirement to field a multiracial team of candidates in GRCs would also encourage political parties to campaign along moderate, multiracial lines rather than take a communal or racially charged approach.10

Development over the years
The GRC scheme was put into practice in the 1988 general election when the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee drew up 13 three-member GRCs that represented 39 of the 81 seats in parliament.11 Over the years, the size and number of GRCs have grown. By the 2006 general election, there were 14 GRCs, of which nine were five-member GRCs and five were six-member GRCs. In terms of seats, GRCs made up 75 out of the 84 seats in parliament. As GRCs grew in size and numbers, the number of minority MPs in parliament grew as well. Between 1988 and 2006, the number of minority MPs elected to parliament increased from 14 to 33. Their proportion in parliament also went up from 16 to 27.4 percent.12

For the 2011 general election, there were 15 GRCs up for contest ranging from three to six members in size. GRCs represented 75 of the 87 seats in parliament while the remaining 12 seats were for SMCs.13 The election results saw an opposition party successfully being elected into a GRC for the first time when the Worker’s Party won the 5-member Aljunied GRC from the incumbent PAP.14

1. “Types of Electoral Divisions,” Elections Department of Singapore, accessed 8 October 2013.
2. “Team-MP Bill Gets Presidential Assent,” Straits Times, 1 June 1988, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Catherine C et al., “GRC is the Best Way of Doing It,” Straits Times, 13 January 1988, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Team MPs: The Key Features,” Straits Times, 11 May 1988, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “PM and Chok Tong First Discussed Bill in ’82,” Straits Times, 12 January 1988, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
6. “Three Alternatives, But GRC Proposal Is Still 'Way Ahead',” Straits Times, 11 March 1988, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Leslie Fong, “Team MPs: Cabinet Papers Released,” Straits Times, 22 January 1988, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Mattar Explains Why He Is Against Idea,” Straits Times, 22 January 1988, 18. (From NewspaperSG)
9. C et al., “GRC is the Best Way of Doing It.”
10. “PM and Chok Tong First Discussed Bill in ’82.”
11. “13 GRCs for Next General Election,” Straits Times, 15 June 1988, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Lydia Lim and Zakir Hussain, “GRCs: 20 Years On,” Straits Times, 2 August 2008, 69. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Chua Lee Hoong, “Polling Day on May 7,” Straits Times, 20 April 2011, 1 (From NewspaperSG); Elections Department of Singapore, “Types of Electoral Divisions.”
14. Zuraidah Ibrahim, 81-6Straits Times, 8 May 2011, 1. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as of 23 October 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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