20 January 2013

Why Punggol East By-Election Couldn't Wait

Many people thought that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong would take his time before calling a by-election for Punggol East following the resignation of Mr Michael Palmer on 12 December 2012.

After all, he had pointed out that the Government was focused on several national issues and preparing for Budget 2013.

Whilst acknowledging that the Constitution did not require a by-election to be called within any fixed time frame, he said that he would make his decision based on what was best for the constituents of Punggol East and the country.

Many people were therefore surprised when the writ of election for Punggol East was issued on 9 January 2013.

Some commentators praised PM Lee's political astuteness as a snap by-election gave the opposition parties little time to discuss how to avoid a multi-cornered contest that could favour the ruling People's Action Party and to prepare for the contest.

But were there other reasons for the timing of the by-election?

I believe there were two other plausible factors.

First, individuals may be disappointed with Budget 2013, which is scheduled to be delivered in mid-February.

Second, National Population and Talent Division's white paper on Singapore's population policies is scheduled to be released soon.  Some analysts expect that the population planning parameter will be raised from 6.5 million to 7.0 million[1].

7.0 million?

Already, many people feel that the country is bursting at the seams with a population of 5.3 million (in June 2012), and foreigners are taking away their jobs and/or suppressing their salaries.

The Government will of course try to assure the people that it is only a planning parameter that will form the basis of Singapore's development plans for housing, recreation, health care and land transport.  But few governments will invest billions of dollars in infrastructure unless they envisage the population reaching (or, in the case of Singapore, allow the population to reach) the planning parameter in the foreseeable future, i.e., the next decade or two.

The writing is on the wall.

First, Minister for Transport Lui Tuck Yew announced plans to double the rail network from the current 178 km to 360 km by 2030 after a “fundamental review” of the 2008 Land Transport Master Plan[2].

Second, Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan wrote that about 200,000 housing units — 80,000 private properties, 10,000 executive condominium units and 110,000 public housing units, collectively equivalent to four new Ang Mo Kio towns — will come on-stream by 2016, and "we are still building more”[3].

The planning parameter of 5.5 million, set in 2001, has long been forgotten, having been replaced by the planning parameter of 6.5 million that was set in 2007.

Given the simmering unhappiness with the size of the present population, of which 2 in 5 are non-citizens, and the present planning parameter of 6.5 million, it is not hard to imagine what would happen when an upwardly revised planning parameter is announced.

The Punggol East by-election simply could not wait.


1. Population White Paper DBS Group Research - Equity 17 Jan 2013.

2. Rail Network To Be Doubled, With 2 New MRT Lines By 2030 TODAY 18 Jan 2013.

3. 200,000 New Homes By 2016 To Meet Pent-Up Demand: Khaw TODAY 19 Jan 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Some more cogent reasons for this indecent haste:

    1) Both the trials of Peter Lim and Ng Boon Gay had been pushed to this year, not knowing that Palmer-Gate was about to explode. Can't push it further.

    2) Khong Hee of City Harvest is still pending.