SINGAPORE: Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s announcement today (8 June) that he will be resigning from all his political roles to contest the upcoming Presidential Election has sparked questions on whether a by-election will be called in his Jurong GRC ward to preserve the integrity of the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system and the representation of minority communities.
Red Dot United (RDU), the opposition party that contested Jurong GRC in the 2020 General Election, is among those calling for a by-election in the ward. In a press statement released today (8 June), the party recognized Mr Tharman as a deserving candidate for the presidency given his outstanding qualities but highlighted concerns over his resignation as Jurong GRC’s designated minority MP.
Introduced in 1988 to ensure a diverse and inclusive parliamentary composition, the GRC system mandates that GRC teams include at least one member from a minority community. Jurong GRC, despite having a Malay MP, is designated by the Elections Department to require an Indian minority candidate, making Mr Tharman’s resignation particularly significant.
RDU has consistently advocated for by-elections in GRCs whenever vacancies arise. Previously, the party called for a by-election in Sengkang GRC when Raeesah Khan resigned as an MP, highlighting the importance of upholding the spirit of electing representatives of the people.
In their statement regarding Sengkang GRC, RDU emphasised the need for by-elections to maintain the essence of electoral representation. The party referenced Mr Low Thia Khiang, former secretary-general of the Workers’ Party (WP), who spoke about this in Parliament after the passing of Mr Ong Chit Chung in 2008. Mr Ong was one of the MPs of Jurong GRC.
During the discussion on the Motion of Parliamentary Elections, Mr Low voiced concerns about the absence of a specific timeframe for holding by-elections, allowing the government to postpone them. He stressed that elections are meant to enable citizens’ direct participation in politics and foster a sense of ownership in public policy discourse and national identity. Failure to hold by-elections for vacated seats goes against the spirit of electing representatives of the people, he argued.
RDU’s press statement on Mr Tharman’s resignation echoed the sentiment expressed by Mr Low, emphasising the importance of upholding the spirit of representation and electoral participation. The party believes that the GRC system should not be exploited to maximise electoral chances, as it undermines the integrity of the electoral process and diminishes the significance of general elections.
While the Apex Court ruled in 2019 that the government has no obligation to call a by-election for a single vacancy in a GRC, RDU maintains that it is crucial for the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) to abide by the rule of law and ensure a by-election is called. RDU added that this commitment to democratic principles ensures continued minority representation and prevents the abuse of the system for strategic electoral gains.
The party said: “At RDU, we remain steadfast in our commitment to upholding the integrity of our democratic processes. We firmly believe that the GRC system should not be exploited for electoral advantages, but rather serve its intended purpose of ensuring diverse representation and providing every citizen with an opportunity to actively participate in shaping our nation’s future.
“In light of this, we call upon the Prime Minister of Singapore to respect the rule of law and promptly call for a by-election whenever a vacancy arises, particularly in GRCs. It is crucial that we work together to safeguard the integrity of our democratic processes and ensure that the voices of all Singaporeans, including those from minority communities, are heard and represented.”
Read RDU’s statement in full HERE.