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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Original Rationale for Town Councils in Singapore

In PJ Thum's feature on A Short History of Elections in Singapore, he says that,

Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs), in which a slate of MPs is elected rather than individuals, were introduced. They were initially justified as enabling the creation of Town Councils, but in practice made things more difficult for small opposition parties already struggling to recruit and support candidates. When the GRCs came under fierce criticism for its obvious punitive implications for the opposition, the government switched tack and argued the GRCs were actually to ensure minority race representation in Parliament

This assertion was disputed, so I went to check the Hansard.

GRCs first appear in the record from 1988 onwards, and indeed they are justified as ensuring minority representation.

However, there are these revealing tidbits:

Sitting Date: 30-11-1987

Mr Goh Chok Tong: The reason for not holding a by-election in Anson or Geylang West has been explained to the House, and this is a serious reason. It has nothing to do with the fear of a defeat. We can lose two seats in Anson and Geylang West. Actually, it is not two seats. It is only one seat because Anson was not ours. Let us say we lose one more seat. It makes not the slightest difference to Government or to the PAP in this House. But the reason for not going ahead with the by-election this year was given by the Prime Minister in July and that was: we are contemplating introducing a Bill to form Town Councils.

When Town Councils are formed after the Bill has been passed in Parliament, we envisage that certain constituencies will be grouped together so that the Members of Parliament can have a viable Town Council of three or four MPs banding together.

This refers to the following:

Sitting Date: 28-07-1987

Mr Lee Kuan Yew: The Government has decided to establish town councils to take over the responsibility and authority of managing some aspects of public housing. Some constituencies will be grouped together and managed by town councils while others will remain as single constituencies.

Legislation for the establishment of town councils is being prepared. After that, contiguous constituencies will have to be identified for grouping as town council constituencies. This may require a redelineation of electoral boundaries. Anson and Geylang West constituencies may or may not be affected by the grouping of constituencies and changes of electoral boundaries. Until the legislation is ready and the town council constituencies finalised, no by-election will be held in Anson and Geylang West constituencies.
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