GRC hinders building Singaporean identity

Posted by under Editorial on 26 November 2002

Building a Singaporean identity underscores the most important foundation in nation building. This is a non-negotiable entity for the healthy progression of a harmonious and multicultural society with the different races putting a paramount premium to the loyalty to Singapore above civilisation pride. One must be proud of one's heritage and tradition but not at the expense of professing a superiority mind set that hinders building a Singaporean identity.

In harnessing a Singaporean first identity, Singaporeans will not only begin to have a sense of rootedness but also build a sustainable, mainstream multicultural bond that does not rely on multicultural 'industries' to educate or sensitise the population.

However, establishing a Singaporean identity and harmonious race relations in this country cannot move forward if entry into parliament, the house that represents the people, is based on a racial quota. The Group Representation Constituency (GRC) characterises the ambiguities of multiculturalism and race relations in this country. For a majority of Singaporeans who have developed solid friendships with all races, would find that the GRC system is not only flawed but accentuates racial consciousness that hinders the growth of a Singaporean identity.

The GRC legislation presupposes that the Chinese majority in this country are predisposed to vote based on their primordial instincts of race, culture and language. Consequently, it also means that the majority of the Chinese population are incapable of seeing the value or merit of a minority candidate if juxtaposed against a Chinese candidate. The supposition also includes that the majority Chinese population will continue to exhibit their alleged primordial instincts into the future despite Singapore having an integrated education system and workforce. Therefore, to protect minority interests and representation we force all political parties to put up certified minority candidates for GRCs.

Is this fair to the younger generation of Chinese who have lived in a more integrated multicultural society who are less inclined to belief irrational rhetoric on race, religion or language? In fact, the continuation of the GRC, perpetuates the false belief that one, the Chinese are always primordial in their outlook and two, they cannot envisage a minority representing their interests. The outcome of the GRC is in fact propagating unhealthy "essentialist" racial consciousness and stereotyping.

There are negative impacts of the GRC on the minorities' mind set. One, the minority would develop a resentment that he is dependant on the majority to enter into parliament. In turn, the perception that the majority would develop is that the minority has insufficient ability. One cannot imagine a minority giving a rational reason for the GRC in twenty years times to his children and claim that the GRC is in place because the Chinese are incapable of voting for minorities and the minorities are incapable of entering parliament by themselves. If a minority has to do that, then we have really failed as a society.

The GRC system plays on the minds of the minorities. Are the minorities in parliament there based on merit or the goodwill of the majority sanctioned legislation? The uncertainty undermines the confidence of the minority's esteem and creates an unnecessary latent tension between both the majority and minority.

In Singapore, the government exhorts us to think of equality in terms of equal opportunities and not to legislate laws to have equal outcomes in terms of racial quotas that eventually would breed mediocrity. That is why we have not enacted any legislation for work discrimination but adopted an Employment Practices Code. Any self-respecting minority worth his salt wants equal opportunities and equal treatment but not have the hurdles lowered for himself. In the long run, it creates more tension between the races as witnessed in many other societies that use the quota system. If we have no such quota laws for our workforce or schools, why institute such laws for our highest political organ? Minorities do not want to feel good because we have legislated representation, we want to feel dignified that we have men and women who have fought a good fight to enter parliament on their merits.

The dominant PAP government might argue that their minority candidates have passed their stringent tests and are more than capable to be in parliament. That may be so. The GRC can even be extolled in that it helps build teamwork among the races. Yet at the back of the minds of the minorities will be the nagging question whether they have what it takes to contest and win in a Single Member Constituency. If the government fears that minorities might not be adequately represented, then why have they not legislated that at least half of the contestants in any election should be women? Are they not an important part of society? Women, we can be sure, would prefer to enter parliament on their own merits than through legislation. Singaporeans need to ask this question at this crucial period where we are building inter-racial trust whether we want a Singaporean Singapore or a Singapore with discrete races trying their best to live together. Think Centre wants the former.

Unfortunately, Singapore continues with the GRC that would hinder the growth of a Singapore identity and perpetuate a false sense of racial consciousness and stereotypes. We must jettison the GRC system first before we can debate about inter-racial confidence.

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