With the general election fast approaching, terms like GRC and SMC will become commonplace terms in news articles and even amongst conversations with family and friends.
For the uninitiated who have yet to dip your toes into Singapore politics, we break down what you need to know about constituencies and why it will matter to you when we all head to the polls.
What is a constituency?
A constituency is a specific area (think Ang Mo Kio or East Coast) that elects representatives to Parliament. In simpler terms, for Singapore, it is a marked out area that is represented by one or more people in Parliament as voted by the residents living there.
Who decides the boundaries of a constituency?
The Prime Minister appoints an Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC), which comprises senior civil servants with relevant domain knowledge, who will recommend how each constituency should be demarcated.
Also known as electoral divisions, these areas are changed according to population growth and shifts in Singapore, amongst other things.
Past committees have taken anywhere from three weeks to seven months to publicly release their recommendations.
For the 2020 general elections, the EBRC was appointed last August by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and they were tasked to create more SMCs and further reduce the average size of GRCs.
They eventually recommended the adoption of 31 electoral divisions — 14 SMCs and 17 GRCs — and their report was accepted by PM Lee on March 11, 2020.
SMC and GRC: What’s the difference?
As the name suggests, single-member constituencies or SMCs, are constituencies represented by one MP each.
Group representation constituencies or GRCs, on the other hand, are represented by a group of MPs and at least one of them must belong to a minority racial community — defined as either the Malay, Indian, or other minority communities.
The number of MPs in a GRC ranges from three to six. The exact number for each is declared when the EBRC’s report has been received and accepted by the Prime Minister.
If your residential address falls under a GRC, your vote is cast for the entire team and not the individual candidates each team comprises.
TL;DR: The key differences are being represented by a single MP versus a group of MPs, and the minority representation requirement for GRCs.
Why were GRCs introduced?
GRCs were officially introduced during the 1988 General Election, following amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore and the Parliamentary Elections Act.
The reason for their creation was because then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was afraid that the minority races might be eventually underrepresented in Parliament. Thus, the GRC was set up to ensure that Singapore’s parliament would always be multiracial in composition and representation. He first proposed the formation of GRCs in July 1982.
In 1988, there were 13 three-members GRCs and they comprised 39 out of the 81 seats in Parliament.
Other ideas to ensure minority representation were also considered alongside GRCs.
One idea was "twin constituencies" - constituencies that would be served by two MPs, one of them from a minority group.
However, the concept was canned as there were concerns that it perpetuated racial inferiority and gave the impression that minority candidates were not able to contest on their own right.
Another rejected idea, proposed by the Opposition, was for the minorities to have an extra vote — one to elect an MP and the other for a communal representative to Parliament.
How have GRCs changed over the years?
Over the years, the size and number of GRCs have grown.
The six-member GRC is the largest that we have seen thus far, but they have been downsized for the 2020 general election.
As a new EBRC is appointed with each election, the size and number of GRCs change from election to election.