GE 2011: Preliminary Analysis

That the victory of Workers’ Party in Aljunied has overshadowed other electoral contests is inevitable; the stakes were high there. Before Polling Day, I predicted that the SDA would be obliterated at the polls, and in the 3-cornered fight at Punggol East, the SDA secretary-general himself lost his electoral deposit. The PAP scored 60.14 percent in the popular vote share, a 6-point drop from the previous elections. But I’d think this is a consistent trend:

PAP & WP popular vote share in %

1)

As you can see from the diagram, with the exception of the exceptional year 2001, the PAP popular vote share has been hovering in the lower 60 percentage points. I believe if not for the quality of opposition candidates in some SMCs, the PAP popular vote share would have fallen to between 55 and 60 percentage points, GE 2011 being fiercely contested. But the trend is this: the PAP vote share has been in the 60s since 1988 (except 2001), and it might continue to decline.

For the Workers’ Party, they have never breached beyond 20 percent popular vote share from 1988, but this might be because they did not field candidates in all wards. However, their share of the popular votes has been fairly consistent (again, discount 2001). Ironically, while their popular vote share has dipped from 2006, they secured a record number of 6 seats. This can be attributed to other parties competing heavily against the PAP as well, especially the NSP, which took a nearly equal amount of 12 percent in the popular share. It is clear, over the past 20 years, the WP has consistently remained the No.2 choice of voters.

2)

The PAP has been inflicted a psychological blow, in losing Aljunied GRC. The law of large numbers, however, has held up well in other GRCs, so Aljunied might be an exception. But with the loss of 3 ministers, and the lowest popular vote share since independence, the PAP would do a very deep and sombre self-reflection.

3)

PAP has lost the ability to dictate the agenda. The PAP has originally campaigned on leadership renewal, 4G leadership etc, but it was obvious during the campaigning period, other issues such as cost of living, liberal immigrant policy, and housing took the stage. The 4G leadership was overshadowed by the WP’s hammering of a “First World Parliament” – such that PAP leaders had to respond to them, rather than pound on their own 4G message.

4)

Watershed elections? Yes, in the sense that the WP made a breakthrough. No, that the PAP still dominates overwhelmingly. But as I mentioned in point 3, the PAP can’t return to its heydays of dictating the agenda – it can respond, and respond vigorously it did. MM Lee might be wishing for the good old days of the 1970s and 1980s and perhaps 1990s (when upgrading of HDB flats became a key issue/threat, depends on how you see it)…but Singapore, Singaporeans, the PAP and opposition parties have changed and will change. For good or ill, it is too early to tell.

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Over-emphasis on municipal issues

Very quietly, after Parliament was dissolved, PAP MPs who were the chairmen, vice-chairmen and members of their constituencies’ town councils also gave up their town council seats. From then to now, have our wards turned to slums?

It’s obvious that while MPs are involved in municipal issues, they are not responsible for the day-to-day running of town councils. They bring visions, directions, plans to the constituencies, but they do not micro-manage. Look at what Mr Wang listed here:

Your MP does not look after the roads in your neighbourhood (the LTA does that).
Your MP does not look after the parks (the National Parks Board does that).
Your MP does not look after your public library (the National Library Board does that).
Your MP does not look after your sports stadium or public swimming pool (the Singapore Sports Council does that).
Your MP does not build shopping malls for you (property developers such as Capitaland do that).
Your MP does not manage your MRT line (SMRT does that).
Your MP does not manage your SBS buses (SBS does that).
Your MP does not look after your electricity supply (SP Power does that).
Your MP does not look after your carpark (the URA does that).
Your MP does not investigate crimes (the Singapore Police Force does that).
Your MP does not put out fires (the SCDF and their NSmen do that).
Your MP does not ensure that top schools are near your home (whether a school is top or not depends on the students’ efforts).
Your MP doesn’t prevent mosquito breeding (the NEA does that).

OK, we’ve to give credit to the co-ordination and lobbying of the MP on behalf of residents to these multiple agencies and corporations. But from what we seem to be hearing and reading, PAP MPs take credit for many of the above items which, well, they don’t really personally do (and sometimes beyond their control).

Personally, I think it’s partly the fault of S’poreans too. A MP isn’t a Superman. Painting peeling off the HDB block? MP’s responsibility arh? The MP might be chairing the town council, but it’s the town council which professionally runs the estate. Of course if the town council isn’t doing well and the MP doesn’t recognise this, then the MP is at fault.

And partly the fault of the PAP, for over-emphasizing municipal issues. All the slum talk. Have Hougang and Potong Pasir turn to slums? More importantly, if an entire GRC goes over to the opposition, can the PAP government afford to neglect more than 100,000 residents by denying funds?

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If Aljunied were Won or Lost by PAP

It’s hard to predict the outcome of this particular general elections. The most pessimistic scenario is one where PAP wins all the seats i.e. 87 vs. 0. The most realistic scenarios are either 81 vs.6 or 85 vs. 2, with the Workers Party securing Aljunied and Hougang in the former (and possibly SPP taking Potong Pasir), and SPP and WP securing two in the latter.

What happens if the outcome is 85 vs. 2 i.e. Hougang and Potong Pasir stay opposition, Aljunied stays PAP, albeit by narrow margin? I think voters in Aljunied must look at past elections before voting:

  • 1988: Eunos GRC (3-member), PAP vs. WP, 50.89 vs. 49.11
  • 1991: Eunos GRC (4-member), PAP vs. WP, 52.39 vs. 47.62
  • 1997: Gone!

I’m not sure if the expansion of Eunos GRC in 1991 contributed to the PAP’s slight increase in its margin of  victory. Or if there was any gerrymandering in 1991. Look at another example:

  • 1997: Cheng San GRC (5-member), PAP vs. WP, 54.82 vs. 45.18
  • 2001: Gone!

If the PAP wins Aljunied with a narrow margin on 7 May, in the next elections, there will be a huge possibility the GRC will be carved out. It’ll disappear on the electoral map.

What if the outcome is 81 vs. 6 (or 80 vs. 7) i.e. Hougang, Potong Pasir and Aljunied go to the opposition?

George Yeo, Lim Hwee Hua and Zainal Abidin are presently ministers. They will lose their seats and portfolios, but the PAP government doesn’t crash. And its shortage of talent problem is exaggerated.

Just take a look at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Currently, George Yeo is the minister while Zainal Abidin is the Senior Minister of State. The second minister is Raymond Lim, who is also the transport minister. If George Yeo were booted out, the PM still has a few candidates to fill his portfolio:

  • Senior Minister Goh himself. He seems to be traveling overseas frequently anyway, so might as well appoint him as Foreign Affairs minister. Still, this is an unlikely decision, because of his age, and the PAP keeps harping about its 4th generation leadership.
  • Raymond Lim to become Foreign Affairs minister, and someone else to take his transport portfolio. From the list I complied, MOE and MTI each has an extra minister of state – S Iswaran is holding double portfolios, so he could be promoted to be transport minister. Alternatively, a minister can hold dual portfolios.
  • What about minister of state in the Foreign Affairs ministry? It’s likely a minister of state among the new candidates would be appointed anyway, but he or she would have to do without a mentor.

And the Speaker of Parliament?

  • Why not Indranee Rajah, the Deputy Speaker?
  • No other candidates?

The PAP is simply scaring the electorate. Losing George Yeo is very bad, but it’s their fault anyway. But losing him does not mean the end of the world, since the PAP is likely to have more than two-thirds majority. And from among its MPs, I’m sure most of them are sufficiently capable to become a minister, and not just a mere backbencher.

So, voters in Aljunied should weigh the consequences, as advised by MM Lee. Their future voting choices, or the loss of replaceable ministers?

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If George Yeo goes, it’s the PAP’s fault

The PAP invested heavily in GRCs, believing that a GRC is their fixed deposit. But they failed to anticipate that Low and Chiam would forsake their strongholds of Hougang and Potong Pasir respectively to contest in GRCs. Now, with Low leading his A Team to contest Aljunied, there is a huge possibility the GRC might be the first to fall into opposition hands. And if it happens, Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo will lose his seat as well as his portfolio, which will really be a loss for Singapore, as unlike some ministers, he has performed well, is intellectual yet humble and likable.

Look at what SM Goh said:

Speaking at a rally in Marine Parade GRC, Mr Goh in particular spoke of the potential impact should Mr Yeo lose his seat.

Mr Goh said Mr Yeo has been handling delicate negotiations with Malaysia and Indonesia on border issues.

Mr Goh also said Singapore has what he described as a “beautiful arrangement” – with an Indian as President, a Chinese as Prime Minister and a Malay, Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, as potential Speaker of Parliament.

Mr Goh said: “On the basis of merit we ended up with this, a politically balanced, beautiful picture.

“You knock out George Yeo and Zainul Abidin. Well, you’ll have to look for another Speaker on the basis of merit. Well, that person may not be Zainul Abidin once he’s out, or another Malay MP.

In the first place, it is the PAP which created the GRC system, expanded it from a 3-member-ward to a 5- or 6-member-ward, drastically reduced the number of single-member-wards, and appointed cabinet ministers to helm each GRC. For the past two decades they have benefited from the GRC system in several ways: 1) absorbing opposition-leaning wards into GRCs, 2) creating physical barriers for opposition parties to contest GRCs, 3) and parachuting first-time candidates so that they will win by walkovers or with the help of their experienced teammates.

All these have diluted the voices of opposition supporters, as well as taking away a fundamental right of citizens – that of voting. Voting is not banned, but the co-relation between the size and number of GRCs and the number of walkover constituencies results in a trend that many S’poreans are unable to vote in every elections. Maybe these S’poreans would have voted the PAP anyway, but without elections, there IS no way to know how S’poreans would vote. Maybe the opposition parties should take the blame for being unable to muster the resources, but at the same time, an unfair system is hurting them even more.

If Foreign Affairs Minister George Yeo were to contest in a single-member ward, he could have won easily. So could Zainul Abidin. But the PAP chose to create the GRC system, chose to put two heavyweights in one GRC, and did not anticipate that a veteran opposition MP would risk his political career to make an all-out bid for a GRC. To Low Thia Kiang’s shrewdness, he has made the contest in Aljunied a referendum on the type of political system which S’poreans desire – a monolithic PAP in Parliament, or a dominant PAP with about 33 percent Opposition MPs? The feeble response of the PAP team is to turn the contest into one involving municipal issues, a sign that they understand Low’s message is somewhat reasonable, and will attract some swing voters.

Surprisingly, the PAP has not trotted out the guaranteed number of 9 NCMPs seats. One reason is that Low is popular, and there are many who want to see him represent them as an elected MP, rather than a NCMP (who represents no one and is second-class). But I think S’poreans will not vote opposition just because of the guaranteed NCMPs; to them, it is very simple, a NCMP is still a loser, not a winner, in this first-past-the-post electoral system.

Personally, I’d like George Yeo to remain as Foreign Affairs minister, but like Aljunied residents, I think the Workers’ Party’s idea of a First World Parliament is beneficial for S’pore’s future. Who is at fault for creating this ’emotional dilemma’?

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GE 2011: Battleground GRCs & SMCs!

In a previous post, I mentioned what are the criteria for being battleground GRCs or SMCs:

  1. Good chance of falling into opposition hands
  2. Historic or unprecedented
  3. Candidates or issues are controversial or attention-grabbing
  4. Heightened sense of anticipation to the campaigning period and Polling Day

Nomination Day is over, and this is the updated list:

Battleground GRCs

Sizzling Hot:

  1. Aljunied GRC – it nearly fell into opposition hands in GE 2006, and the WP only needs a 8-point swing of votes to its side to capture the GRC. Furthermore, a sitting Opposition MP, Low Thia Kiang, is leading the GRC team with their ‘star catch’ Chen Show Mao. The whole Singapore awaits the results from this GRC.
  2. Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC – given that Chiam See Tong has made known his intention to contest here much earlier, there is excitement over whether he can capture the GRC. Furthermore, his team has two former government scholars, cementing his team’s credibility. More importantly, Bishan Toa-Payoh has faced walkovers since 1997, and we do not know if voters would take to the veteran Chiam or stick to the PAP team. This huge known unknown makes the contest challenging for both the PAP and SPP.

Hot:

  1. East Coast GRC – the WP garnered 36 percent of votes here in GE 2006, the second-best performing opposition GRC. The PAP’s decision to insert two ministers and no newbies here means they treat the contest very seriously.
  2. Holland-Bukit Timah GRC – the SDP has fielded a very strong slate against a twice-walkover team. S’poreans caught a glimpse of the verbal sparring between the SDP and PAP, and can expect more as campaigning period begins.
  3. Tampines GRC – the NSP and WP have been whacking Mah Bow Tan. What would be voters’ reaction?

Warm:

  1. Chua Chu Kang GRC – again, a NSP team which has two former government scholars is competing against the PAP.
  2. Marine Parade GRC – attention seems to be on 3 candidates only, SM Goh, Tin Pei Ling and Nicole Seah
  3. Nee Soon GRC – the previous Nee Soon SMCs (east, west, central, north, south) used to swing to opposition in the 1990s. Whether the support continues is unknown.
  4. West Coast GRC – KJ from the Reform Party is making his maiden electoral bid. Success or performance here will make or break the future of his party.

Mild:

  1. Ang Mo Kio GRC
  2. Jurong GRC
  3. Moulmein-Kallang GRC
  4. Pasir-Ris Punngol GRC
  5. Sembawang GRC

Battleground SMCs

Sizzling Hot:

  1. Potong Pasir
  2. Hougang

The reasons are similar for both wards. The sitting opposition MPs are leading GRC teams, and everyone will be looking to see which way both go.

Hot:

  1. Punggol East – well, because it’s a 3-cornered fight

As of now, the rest of the SMCs don’t really look exciting. Attention is focussed on the GRCs, and if the opposition will make a breakthrough. The PAP might have thought up of the GRC system to its benefit, but they forgot if the opposition wins one GRC, even if marginally, they immediately net 5 or 4 seats. Oh well.

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PAP potential office-holders and where they might go

According to PAP Organising Secretary Dr Ng Eng Hen, the PAP slate for the general elections has a record number of office-holders. From the PAP perspective, the elections are about leadership renewal, that is, the potential leaders whom they have chosen. They have always placed minister-wannabes in junior roles for a while, before promoting them to be full ministers.

Take for example Lui Tuck Yew, minister for information, communications and the arts. After GE 2006,  he was appointed minister of state for education, a junior role. Slightly less than two years later, in April 2008, he was promoted to be senior minister of state for education and MICA. Then one year later (April 2009) he became the Acting Minister for MICA. Finally, in November 2010, he became a full minister. All within one parliamentary term.

He might be a high-flier minister, but he seems to be lacking some PR skills, according to this.

Anyway, since there are so many potential office-holders, are there sufficient offices to go around? And how is the PAP leadership going to evaluate these 4th Gen leaders? For example, what did Lui do in MICA which gave him a promotion to full minister within 5 years? Of course, he must have done something right and nothing wrong, or it would be politically costly to promote him.

Currently, there are total 15 ministries, including the Prime Minister’s Office, but there are 21 full ministers in the Cabinet:

  1. Prime Minister
    Mr LEE Hsien Loong
  2. Senior Minister
    Mr GOH Chok Tong
  3. Minister Mentor
    Mr LEE Kuan Yew
  4. Senior Minister
    Prof S. JAYAKUMAR
  5. Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for National Security
    Mr WONG Kan Seng
  6. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence
    Mr TEO Chee Hean
  7. Minister for Foreign Affairs
    Mr George Yong-Boon YEO
  8. Minister for National Development
    Mr MAH Bow Tan
  9. Minister, Prime Minister’s Office
    Mr LIM Boon Heng
  10. Minister for Trade and Industry
    Mr LIM Hng Kiang
  11. Minister, Prime Minister’s Office
    Mr LIM Swee Say
  12. Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs
    Dr YAACOB Ibrahim
  13. Minister for Health
    Mr KHAW Boon Wan
  14. Minister for Finance
    Mr Tharman SHANMUGARATNAM
  15. Minister for Education and Second Minister for Defence
    Dr NG Eng Hen
  16. Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports
    Dr Vivian BALAKRISHNAN
  17. Minister for Transport and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs
    Mr Raymond LIM Siang Keat
  18. Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law
    Mr K Shanmugam
  19. Minister for Manpower
    Mr GAN Kim Yong
  20. Minister, Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and Second Minister for Transport
    Mrs LIM Hwee Hua
  21. Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts
    Mr LUI Tuck Yew

Of the 21, two are retiring, but they do not hold any portfolios.

Now, look at the number of political office-holders in each ministry.

  1. MCYS (3): 1 minister (M), 1 minister of state (MOS) (retiring), 1 parliamentary secretary (PS)
  2. MINDEF (3): 1 M, 1 second M, 1 MOS (retiring)
  3. MOE (4): 1 M, 2 Senior MOS, 1 MOS
  4. MOF (2): 1 M, 1 second M
  5. MFA (3): 1 M, 1 second M, 1 Senior MOS (to become Speaker of Parliament)
  6. MOH (2): 1 M, 1 Senior PS
  7. MHA (4): 1 DPM (strangely, on the website, DPM Wong still heads the list), 1 M, 1 Senior MOS (retiring), 1 MOS
  8. MICA (2): 1 M, 1 Senior PS
  9. MINLAW (2): 1 M, 1 Senior MOS (retiring)
  10. MOM (3): 1 M, 1 MOS, 1 Senior PS
  11. MND (3): 1 M, 1 Senior MOS, 1 Senior PS
  12. MEWR (2): 1 M, 1 MOS
  13. MTI (4): 1 M, 1 Senior MOS, 1 MOS, 1 Senior PS
  14. MOT (3): 1 M, 1 second M, 1 Senior PS
  15. PMO (7): 1 PM, 2 SM (one retiring), 1 MM,  2 DPMs, 2 Ms (1 retiring), 1 MOS (why the PMO needs a junior minister?)

In any case, if there are insufficient political offices, it’d be very easy for the PM to create new roles. For him to test out the PAP’s core of 4th Generation leadership, there are only a few key ministries – defence, education, trade and industry (where PM Lee himself began), foreign affairs.

If the current number of political appointees remains, no further ministry is created, then there should be sufficient places to go around. According to the media, there are 5 heavyweights with potential to be full ministers – generals Tan Chuan-Jin, Chan Chun Sing, former MAS director Heng Sweet Keat, NTUC assistant SG Ong Ye Kung, former EMA chief executive Lawrence Wong.

Where might they go, since they are heavyweights? MOE and MTI look full, but the PM can ask the Senior MOS in each ministry (who is the same person) to step down, giving space for two new MOS positions to be created for two different people. MINDEF definitely requires a new MOS and perhaps a PS, who can be picked from the rest of the 24 new candidates. MFA also has a vacancy for MOS, as the current Senior MOS is moving on to become Speaker (assuming the PAP team for Aljunied is elected la, since Aljunied is a battleground, and two ministers in Aljunied are from MFA). In MHA, the current MOS can be bumped up, freeing another space for a new MOS. MOF also looks like they need a MOS. These are the important ministries, and logically the PM would choose these as training grounds for his 4G core leadership. From my observation here, there are definitely sufficient offices for the 5 heavyweight candidates.

There are also other ministries which seem to lack MOS – MICA, MOH, MINLAW, MOT. Given the PAP preference for the Admin Service as their recruiting grounds, I think some new candidates from the Admin Service could become MOS too. They include Sim Ann and Low Yen Ling, formerly from the civil service. As there are quite a few candidates from NTUC (7, if I’m not wrong), they are probably excluded as of now from the group of potential ministers, but in future they might be given political offices.

However, how does the PM evaluate the performance of these new office-holders? Is it a one-way climb? Out of the ‘Super Seven’ in the 2001 elections, Dr Balaji Sadisvan did not make it to full minister while Cedric Foo resigned. These are signs that those who can’t make it are halted. But the decision of the PM is arbitrary and opaque. Since the PAP claims to introduce a record number of office-holders, it seems logical as well for S’poreans to ensure some checks and balances on the new leadership. And that’s how the WP insurance kicks in.

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Why Workers’ Party might be wrong

During the Workers’ Party launch of its manifesto, Sylvia Lim claimed that one-third of Parliament should be held by the opposition, so as to block the governing party from amending the constitution at will. The PAP then responded that there is no model for First World Parliament, that bitter partisan struggles which result in inefficient government are prevalent in developed countries…criticism which S’poreans have often heard, and I think many of us believe this. A few weeks ago, a friend commented that a two-party system, with one party saying ‘yes’ and the other saying ‘no’, would lead to deadlocks in government, so it is absolutely unworkable. On the surface, perhaps.

However, while it is desirable for the opposition and some S’poreans to have a substantial check in Parliament, it might NOT be possible. Often we think of Singapore as a ‘country’, but it is nothing more than a small city, a city-state to be precise. Hence Singapore has a few characteristics:

  1. There’s no real geographical divide. There’s no lowland vs. hilltop, coastal vs. inland etc, rural vs. urban. Parties can hardly spring out from Bukit Batok or Potong Pasir and claim to represent a special group of people; there’s none.
  2. An overwhelming majority of the population lives in public housing, and there is no concentration of rich areas or slums. When parties root for support in a particular ward, this ward is not likely to diverge greatly from the national average.
  3. Even the ethnic make-up in each ward is likely to be similar to national statistics, part of it might be due to the Ethnic Integration Policy. There’s no concentration of Malays or Indians such that they can create strongholds or safe deposits.

From these characteristics, parties which represent narrow interests are likely to fail miserably. Instead, personalities are very important for political parties to win individual wards. Hence Chiam See Tong holding Potong Pasir for more than two decades, yet his parties did not expand their parliamentary presence much. These characteristics also ensure the longevity of the PAP’s dominance. It’s partly because of history, and partly because of Singapore’s city context, that the PAP has enjoyed such dominance.

Furthermore, the first-past-the-post system means the winner takes a seat even if he has a winning margin of 1 percent. The system has a tendency of throwing up strong governments with a clear majority. In Singapore, this is complicated by the existence of GRCs, which homogenizes voting patterns across a few wards – the election results of a GRC has a tendency toward the national average. And if we include gerrymandering, this means that it is more difficult for opposition parties to capture parliamentary seats.

With these conclusions, a predictable outcome is that a strong party can win more than two thirds of the seats to form a government with a supernormal majority. Of course, critics will have you believe this is because of the PAP’s engineering of the electoral system to benefit themselves, but I think geographical circumstances have been neglected.

In Singapore, a two-party system is likely to be this:

  1. Strong governing party (PAP) with supernormal majority
  2. A token representation by one or two parties
  3. A few other active parties but with no parliamentary presence

So that’s why the WP might be wrong in thinking it’s possible for one-third of seats to be occupied by opposition members.

However, since the system and context of Singapore are skewed to produce strong governments, an opposition party does not have to capture a few seats and gradually build its strength for 50 or 100 years. What it can do is simply to proclaim that it is willing and capable to form the next government, and seek to contest every single ward. Education Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen has challenged the opposition to form a new government. It is obviously impossible, because the opposition parties have no intention to take over the government.

But I think if an opposition party, or even an alliance, simply declares this intention and fields candidates in all seats, and given the right set of circumstances, this serious threat will by itself create a two-party system. A two-party system does not require one opposition party or a few of them holding a substantial number of seats. The only meaningful system which will work in Singapore is simply a threat of replacement.

For example, in 2031, the WP might have a core leadership consisting of a potential prime minister, finance minister etc. This core team can declare an early intention to field candidates in all wards, to slug it out with the PAP at the polls. If the ground is not so sweet for the PAP, then either they attack the WP or respond to the influence exerted by the (few or solo) WP opposition MPs of the day.

Obviously the limitation to the growth of opposition parties is the lack of talent, but this general elections might be the start of a trend in which highly-qualified individuals i.e. former government scholars are willing to join them. It might take years, decades before any opposition party can claim to form a new government. That’s why all the opposition parties are desperate to a win a GRC, as a sizable number of elected MPs can help them expand in terms of political influence and attraction. But I doubt one-third would be won or could be won…

In any case, if one day a non-PAP government were formed, this government is likely to have at least a two-thirds majority. And that is all which is needed to undo PAP policies or amend the constitution – perhaps to lock out the PAP for good. History shows ruling parties do not last forever, so making the system fair to give themselves a second chance will seem to be good foresight later on.

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