27 July 2015

Redrawing Electoral Boundaries: The Singapore Experience

The Report of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee 2015 was released to the public last Friday. The Committee comprised five public servants.

Opacity

The first thing that struck me when I read the report was its opacity.

Two weeks ago, NCMP Yee Jenn Jong asked in Parliament[1]:

[T]he completeness of the EBRC report seems to have been shrinking from the 1960s and the early 1970s. So, will the Prime Minister direct the Committee to provide better justifications for the changes because many of these changes do not seem to make sense to political observers and to the residents? Can the minutes of meetings of the EBRC be published so that they will be open for all to understand the decisions that have been made?

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong replied[2]:

As for the completeness of the report and of the minutes, I think I have to leave it to the Committee. I do not believe that it is helpful to have every twist and turn in the minutes reported and published. I think the Committee’s report is the final word.

The Committee stated in its report[3]:

▪ There will be between 20,000 and 37,000 electors per MP.

▪ After reviewing the existing electoral divisions and taking into account their current configurations, population shifts and housing developments, there will be 13 SMCs and 16 GRCs. (Mr Lee instructions were to have at least 12 SMCs and the average size of the GRCs below 5.)

Such is the Committee's opacity. No explanation as to why Joo Chiat, Whampoa and Moulmein-Kallang GRC disappeared. Or why Jalan Besar GRC, Bukit Batok and MacPherson reappeared. Or why it was necessary that 19.2 per cent of the electors will find themselves in new constituencies.

Perhaps, it decided that we do not deserve any of the fun we would have in reading their story.

30 Percent Variation
Following past practice, the Committee decided to work on a range of 20,000 to 37,000 electors per MP — a ± 30 per cent variation, such that the maximum is almost double the minimum (or more precisely, 185 per cent).

This resulted in the following rather absurd range of electors in which, for example, a 3-MP GRC may have more electors than a 5-MP GRC:


Type of Constituency
Number of Electors
From
To
SMC
  20,000
  37,000
3-MP GRC
  60,000
111,000
4-MP GRC
  80,000
148,000
5-MP GRC
100,000
185,000
6-MP GRC
120,000
222,000


Thankfully, the actual results were generally sensible, at least in this regard.

Committee's Neutrality (Or Lack Thereof)
Singapore's Constitution calls for GRCs to comprise not fewer than three candidates and not more than six candidates.

The fact that the Committee recommended 16 GRCs with an average size of 4.75 shows that it simply followed Mr Lee's instructions.

There are no 3-MP GRCs.

Most of the GRCs will continue to have 5 MPs.

Ang Mo Kio GRC and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, helmed by Mr Lee and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, respectively, continue to be 6-MP GRCs.

Number and Size of GRCs
Some people had hoped for all GRCs to have no more than 3 MPs, or for at least some 3-MP GRCs. It was a wishful dream.

Having found the formula for its past electoral success, the PAP is unlikely to allow any 3-MP GRC.

The PAP's style is to have a cabinet minister to helm a GRC. There are currently 19 cabinet ministers. Assuming none of them retire from their jobs and each helms a GRC, the average size of a GRC is 4.0 MPs (89 MPs minus 13 SMC MPs, divided by 19). There are not enough cabinet ministers.

Another reason is the PAP needs to bring in new MPs and retire some incumbents. It probably feels insecure about putting a new candidate with two incumbents in a 3-MP GRC.

This, together with the likelihood that the prime minister and one deputy prime minister will each helm a 6-MP GRC exposes the PAP's flimsy rationale that GRCs are needed to ensure minority communities are represented in Parliament. They think, and hope, that both men are strong enough to carry their GRCs.

Furthermore, with 16 GRCs, Parliament is assured of only 16 minority-community MPs out of 89 MPs, a representation far below the actual minority communities in Singapore (approximately 25 per cent of the resident population; the breakdown of the citizen population is unknown).

PAP Leaders' Statements[4]
The changes to the electoral boundaries are fair.

It is difficult to imagine any PAP leader saying otherwise.

If we want more 4-MP GRCs, Aljunied GRC could have become one.

Aljunied GRC is held by The Workers' Party. However, Aljunied GRC with its 148,024 electors is about the same size as 5-MP GRCs such as Marine Parade, Sembawang and Tampines. Its 29,605 electors per MP are fewer than the approximately 31,200 electors per MP of the two super-size 6-MP GRCs (Ang Mo Kio and Pasir Ris-Punggol). These two 6-MP GRCs should have been dismantled.

Other 5-MP GRCs have been re-sized to 4-MP GRCs.

This is incorrect and misleading. There are eleven 5-MP GRCs now, and there will be eight 5-MP GRCs in the coming general election.

The incumbents face the most disruption because they have been working the ground.

The opposition parties face more disruption because not only have they been working the ground but also that ground may have been moved to, and combined with, the ground which another opposition party has been working on (e.g., Joo Chiat). When PAP incumbents move from one GRC to another GRC, they remain PAP incumbents.

Furthermore, much of the significant disruption stems from the use of GRCs rather than SMCs.

The coming election will be a "watershed" election as it is the first after Lee Kuan Yew's death. For the first time, it will be a general election without LKY; no LKY to tell the PAP what a better choice is, no LKY to tell the PAP or give comments on the PAP's choice. Singaporeans will have to decide on a post-LKY Singapore and whatever it is, once the vote is decided, a certain cast has been laid for Singapore.

It is bizarre that the PAP needed, or felt that it needed, Lee Kuan Yew's detailed insights and counsel more than two decades after he stepped down as prime minister and secretary-general of the PAP. Does the PAP feel fearful, now that Mr Lee is no longer around? The PAP may be able to sleep better, though, without Mr Lee telling voters that they will repent if they (or at least the majority of them in a constituency) vote for the opposition.

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Notes

1. Singapore Parliament Reports (Hansard) 13 Jul 2015.

2. Ibid.

3. The Report of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, 2015 21 Jul 2015.

4. Reports in The Straits Times and TODAY 24-26 Jul 2015.

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