Reforming Singapore’s voting process: the Single Transferable Vote (STV)

by Blacktryst

With the recent Electoral Boundaries Review Committee carving Singapore into 27 electoral boundaries, there are now 12 Single Member Constituencies (SMCs), 2 four-member Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs), 11 five-member GRCs and 2 six-member GRCs. That means in total there are 15 multi-member GRCs, one up from the 2006 General Elections.

It is time perhaps that Singapore should introduce the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system into our General Elections. We need to reform our voting system since it is starting to be outdated and for the number of multi-member GRCs, it only makes sense to utilize the STV system of voting to minimize wasted votes.

So let me explain and define first what our current voting system in Singapore is. We use basically a very simple “First Past the Post” system. In other words, one person can only have one vote. A lot of countries including the United States adopt this system because it is simple to use and basically it means as long as you achieve the most votes, you win. There are no prizes for 2nd place or 3rd place winners.

The STV is a system in the Proportional Representation system of voting. Unlike the First Past the Post system of voting like we have in Singapore, in the STV system, a voter chooses the top 3 candidates or however many candidates that are contesting the multi-member GRCs. There will be a quota set for a candidate to win a seat and once that quota of votes is reached, any surplus votes which that candidate gets will be transferred to the next highest candidate and so on and so forth. The candidate that still has the least votes will be eliminated.

A good example is one that is given in Wikipedia under the Single Transferable Vote page.

STV has the potential of giving more choices to voters. Suddenly its no longer about you having only one vote, or that you vote for a candidate that loses, you feel that you lose as well. Now, you choose four candidates on the ballot and at least three of them will win a seat. This means that fewer votes are wasted. Because voters rank candidates, the most disliked will not win a seat, unlike in current First Past the Post system where you vote for a bloc of members and you cannot select which candidate you dislike the most and you want out of the GRC team.

Ironically enough, in 1997 the Telecommunications Authority of Singapore i.e. the Government, forced SingTel to loosen its monopoly on paging and cellular services. Now there are three cellular operators.

I will argue that such competition will be healthy for politics and good governance as well. Which brings me to another point, there are no safe seats under the STV system. This means candidates are less complacent and be more competent in their jobs. It is also because of these factors that make the candidates more inclined to be in touch with his/her constituencies and thus listen more to his/her voters' grievances.

For a more indepth comparison, you can look at this link from the Electoral Reform Society based in the United Kingdom.

India, Australia, New Zealand, Malta, Ireland and some parts of the United Kingdom are all using the STV in one form or another. In fact, the Liberal Democrats in David Cameron’s governing coalition party in the UK stipulated that it will only support Cameron on the condition that a referendum be held on reforming the voting process and introduce the STV voting system in Britain’s House of Commons.

I therefore argue my case that it is time for Singapore’s Elections Committee to think about reforming the electoral process to include the STV voting system at least for voting in multi member GRCs or perhaps hold a referendum for introducing it.