The PAP has named Murali Pillai as its candidate for the Bukit Batok by-election. It was no surprise. He has strong ties to Bukit Batok, having served in different grassroots organisations there. In other words, Murali has many things going for him and Dr Chee will be entering this contest as a dark horse.
The only ostensible advantage that Dr Chee has is that he’s Chinese and Murali is not. According to the PAP, the reason we have a most unique elections system where many voters vote in Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) is because Singaporeans would vote along racial lines. Lee Kuan Yew himself was convinced that because Singaporeans would vote along racial lines, we would end up lacking minority representation in Parliament.
Here’s Lee Kuan Yew vigorously defending the need for GRCs:
Many people have criticised the GRC system. Some have accused the PAP of using this system to allow weaker politicians enter Parliament by riding on the coat tails of stronger, more established “anchor” MPs (who are usually Cabinet Ministers). In fact, in 2006, Goh Chok Tong came close to admitting that the GRC system had been perverted to advantage PAP: “”Without some assurance of a good chance of winning at least their first election, many able and successful young Singaporeans may not risk their careers to join politics”.
The GRC systems also reduces the accountability of weaker candidates because in a GRC the members of the team who are popular “protect” less popular members from being voted out. There are of course exceptions. Aljunied in GE2011 was one such exception. But that took a confluence of many different factors.
Even today, I think most of the opposition parties would still be against the GRC system. Instead of teams against teams, I think most opposition parties would still prefer elections to be contests amongst individuals.
Which is why Dr Chee needs to lose. His loss would show that an Indian can beat a Chinese in a straight one-to-one electoral face-off. It would show that Singaporeans would vote for whoever they perceive to to be the best candidate, regardless of race.
If Dr Chee loses, it would show that the raison d’être for having GRCs doesn’t exist. Then it would be harder for PAP to continue defending the GRC system. And if PAP continues to refuse to do away with the GRC system, then it would reinforce the argument that the PAP unfairly tilts the playing field in its favour by changing the electoral rules.
I know many people hope to see Dr Chee win the by-election. But for the greater good, in order for there to be broader electoral reforms, I think Dr Chee should lose.
[Featured image: from SDP’s Facebook page]