Electoral Boundaries

Electoral boundaries are out, and one analyst on Channel 8 news suggested that as the ASEAN Summit takes place in May, it is likely elections have to be before then. The ASEAN Summit will be followed by a series of meetings like the ASEAN + 3, ASEAN Regional Forum etc, and all heads of states will usually attend, so PM Lee would be too busy in May. Of course, elections could be after May, but I’m betting the final date will be sometime in April.


Singapore is a democracy. Yeah, many will object to me saying this, but ironically, despite Singapore’s reputation as a one-party state, authoritarian regime etc, Singapore is the ONLY country in Southeast Asia to hold regular elections since independence. Singapore has never experienced military coups (Indonesia, Thailand), martial law (Philippines), suspension of Parliament or emergency rule (Malaysia) or disallowed multi-party elections (Vietnam, Laos).


Enough of the history lesson. Returning to the topic of electoral boundaries, in a democracy, all constituencies should ideally have an equal number of voters. This is to ensure fair representation, so one ward doesn’t have more voters, resulting in a greater amount of political influence. However, in reality geographical divisions play a huge role in the drawing of boundaries. For example, the coastal states in the US are more populous than that of the mountainous ones, so states like California have more say in choosing the President.


In Singapore, we don’t have rural-urban, mountain-lowland, jungle-grassland dunno what you can think of divisions. We are a city-state, highly urbanized and fairly distributed (i.e. no mass congregation in any part of the island). Most of us live in public flats. On the surface, Singapore can be easily split into 100 seats with equal number of voters.


However, the recent electoral boundaries are as always puzzling. All of a sudden the single-member seat of Yuhua pops out in the middle of Jurong East. I understand the need for Punggol East or Seng Kang West, because they are growing towns. But Yuhua, Pioneer, Hong Kah North, Radin Mas etc are matured neighbourhoods. These wards are also small in population size, and peanuts compared to the GRC mammoths.


With vast differences in sizes, the SMCs and GRCs exercise disproportionate influences in elections. For example, ABC ward has 20,000 voters, and two parties are in a close fight. 5000 are fence-sitters, and these 5000 will hold the fate of the outcome in this ward. On the other hand, there is a XYZ 5-member GRC of 100,000 voters with fierce competition as well. 5000 are fence sitters too. For the former, 25 percent of voters hold the fate of 1 MP; for the latter, 5 percent of voters hold the fate of 5 MPs. The principle of fair representation is eroded here, with a huge percentage of voters in small wards having the chance to decide electoral outcomes, while a small percentage of voters in large wards might cause heart attacks.


The govt has argued strongly for the past twenty years that GRCs legalize the election of minority candidates. But in the first place there are easier ways to ensure a minimum percentage of minority candidates to be fielded.


Furthermore, the govt might be playing politics in the drawing of boundaries. Districts from Aljunied GRC have been carved out and absorbed by Ang Mo Kio GRC – and Aljunied was the previous election’s ‘battleground’ GRC, creating suspicions that districts which rooted for the opposition were deliberated added to ‘safer’ wards. The argument of ‘population change’ is really bland.


Oh well, not as if I’m a newcomer in Singapore.


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