A Brief History of Elections I

Electoral boundaries. Source: The Online Citizen


General elections take place in a context, and this context includes a bit of history. As S’pore is a city-state, in terms of geography and demography, it is highly homogeneous. There are no rural-urban, highland-lowland, coastal-inland divides, because S’pore is highly urbanized. Furthermore, the bulk of the population resides in HDB flats, so Tampines isn’t much different from Jurong, or Woodlands from Punggol. It is nearly impossible for politicians to exploit geographical differences or base politics on locations. There is no concentration of the poor or rich such that their votes can swing an election. The population is also overwhelmingly Chinese, and there is no discernible ethnic enclave, such that in each constituency, it is more or less reflective of the national average. But in some places, like Tampines, the Malays have an above-average presence. Yet there is scant evidence to suggest minority ethnic or religious groups vote as a bloc.

While S’pore has beeb criticized as a one-party state, technically such a term should have been dropped from 1981, with the Anson by-elections producing the first opposition MP since independence. Since 1981, Parliament always has at least 1 non-PAP MP. The number of political parties taking part in each elections is relatively high for a tightly-controlled country.

Number of political parties/indpts in GE. Source: Elections Department

As you can see, 2006 seems to be the exception rather than the norm of the number of political parties in the elections. Independents are lumped together as one group for convenience. In 2011, it is expected 8 parties will contest the elections (PAP, WP, SDP, SPP, SDA, NSP, DPP, Independents). Though more parties means a greater variety of choices for voters, it remains to be seen if it translates into quality. For example, the DPP contested in 1997 and 2001, and in each elections one of their candidates lost their electoral deposits i.e. vote share below 12.5 percent. Furthermore, the DPP is in reality a father-and-son team, and it is EXTREMELY surprising that according to news reports, they will be contesting Marine Parade and Tanjong Pagar GRCs. Where are they going to get 10 candidates in the first place?

At least they are lucky to be contesting against the PAP. In Moulmein-Kallang GRC, the WP and NSP might be contesting against the PAP. Most SMCs have not been settled, at least not publicly. In the next blog, I shall look at three-cornered fights in the past.


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