A Brief History of Elections II: 3-way fights

Since the introduction of GRCs in 1988, only one GRC has faced a fight with more than two parties – Marine Parade GRC in the 1991 by-elections. And it is a 4-cornered fight to boot.

% of votes. Source: Elections Department

As you can see, the PAP received nearly three-quarters of the vote (72.94), while the SDP, with its name recognition coming after its recent 1991 general elections success, took under a quarter (24.5). The NSP and SJP, both relatively new and unknown parties, lost their electoral deposits. But this by-elections was special. It came a year after the general elections, as then PM Goh wanted a stronger mandate, and for JBJ to contest against him. A new candidate, Teo Chee Hean, was also introduced.


What are the lessons for the opposition parties? Don’t fight the PM himself, of course! But WP came up with roughly 33 percent of the votes in Ang Mo Kio GRC in 2006. Secondly, in a 3-cornered or 4-cornered fight, one or two parties are bound to lose their electoral deposits i.e. <12.5 percent of votes polled.

% of votes. Source: Elections Department

For example, in 1991, the WP challenged the PAP in Bukit Merah. There was an Independent candidate who threw in his hat, and of course, lost spectacularly, polling 1.63 percent. Lesson for Andrew Kuan, who might run in Joo Chiat? 😛 But he seems rich enough to lose the deposit… This example uses an Independent in a SMC. What about parties in a SMC?

% of votes. Source: Elections Department

Chua Chu Kang SMC, 1997. Unfortunately for the DPP, the Independent candidate was better than them, and the DPP guy lost his electoral deposit. Even if the Independent’s and the DPP’s votes went to the NSP candidate, he still could not beat the PAP MP. There was no such nonsense of splitting the non-PAP votes: in this SMC, the PAP held sway. Learning points? New political parties in 3-cornered fights are extremely vulnerable. By 1997, NSP was in its third elections and would have gained some name recognition. If the youngest and probably smallest Reform Party fights the more established parties NSP or SDP in some SMCs, well, history has shown the Reform Party would be at a disadvantage. And that might mark the start of the end for its embattled leader. But that said, the Reform Party is different from the DPP, and 2011 is different from 1997. Just a point they might wanna bear in mind.

I can’t find an example in recent electoral history (from 1980s) of a SMC which was contested against the PAP by two established parties. So 2011 might make history: 1) a second GRC seeing more than two contestants, 2) two well-established opposition parties entering the contest, not one strong and one weak. I’m referring to Moulmein-Kallang, and there’s no example from past elections. It seems bleak for one of the two opposition parties though – one party has a very good chance of scoring under 12.5 percent. But which party, NSP or WP? While the WP is the older and more experienced of the two, the NSP has gradually increased its popular vote share, first by itself, later by being part of the SDA, where it contributed the most candidates among the component parties. And judging from its chief Goh Meng Seng’s blogs, the NSP seems to have strengthened itself for the coming elections.

Of course, the best scenario for them is for one of them to win. There are a few subsets: 1) X wins majority, by marginally – obviously Y would poll so low to lose its electoral deposit, and 2) X wins the most, followed by Y, and PAP loses its electoral deposit, 3) X wins the most, followed by PAP or Y, and no one loses electoral deposit. Go permute the possibilities yourself.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, 3-way fights are in fact beneficial for voters to choose the party and the ideology which they can best identity with. Assuming the parties got ideologies and policies in the first place lah. But analyzing from the opposition’s perspective, 3-way fights breed uncertainty and tension for them. They might appeal to ‘fringe’ views or say something outrageous or shocking during rallies. Dunno them, if they are despo enough.

As for the SMCs, the principle I teased out from past examples is the same too. 1) One party has a good chance of losing very badly and 2) Newer and smaller parties are at a disadvantage. It seems the SDA and WP might face the PAP together in some wards. I suspect WP might come up tops, given their experiences. And the bad press surrounding SDA doesn’t help them.

Besides giving voters a greater variety of choices, these 3-cornered fights can ultimately consolidate the opposition scene in S’pore. SDA, with only two remaining component parties, seems to be on the verge of certain electoral extinction: it is losing relevance. A quick scan through the elections results shows the PKMS has been consistently beaten, and the SJP is a virtual unknown besides its name. In wards where there are 3-cornered fights, the party which polls after the PAP (assuming they lose) would have the strongest say to contesting there again. That is if the ward never vanish lah. And that would force the worst-performing parties to 1) go other wards and engage in other 3-cornered fights, or 2) improve their electability by better campaigning or better policies etc. The latter is what will benefit voters.

In the next blog, I’d touch on the popular votes and number of seats contested by the opposition parties.


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One response to “A Brief History of Elections II: 3-way fights

  1. Pingback: Predictions for the SDA « Politics

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