By Jamal Ismail, Terry Xu
If you are confused about the election process, don’t worry; you are not alone. As the election season looms, here is what you can do to quickly learn the basics about the upcoming elections.
Let’s start with the election process
“Why do I even have to vote? What is in it for me? Isn’t it a waste of time?”
Think of it this way, if you were living in a communist country, you don’t have to vote; the government decides everything for you. But in a democratic system, you actually have the right to choose who represents you in the running the government. As Singapore is a democratic country, Singaporeans have the privilege of actually participating in deciding on how the country is run. The same election system is also used in the United Kingdom (UK). You have the power!
The benefit to you is wide-ranging, as your vote would decide the person who will bring up and help you resolve issues that affect other people as well. If you don’t vote for the right person, those issues that affect you will remain, or are even ignored – and that is not good.
Voting is mandatory, which means you have to vote. But the good news is that the elections will always take place on a public holiday, the voting centre is located near where you live and it takes just ten mins to cast your vote – so easy! Besides, voting is a something you do only once in 5 years.
Next let’s understand the landscape.
“What is a ‘Constituency?’ Simi ‘SMC,’ ‘GRC?’”
During the elections, Singapore is divided up into smaller sections called Constituencies. This year, there are 89 seats in parliament being contested.
13 are Single-Member Constituencies (SMC), which means if you vote for one person, and if that person gets a majority of the votes, that person becomes your Member of Parliament. That leaves 76 seats available.
But if you live in a Group Representation Constituency (GRC), you don’t vote for one person; you vote for a team. That team could have 4, 5 or 6 people depending on the size of your constituency. Every GRC team will include at least one minority representative, a Malay or an Indian. The size of the team has already been pre-decided for you, so all you need to do is choose which team you think will do a better job of representing your needs in Parliament.
About 2.5 million Singaporeans will be voting this year, and you could be one of them! To find out which constituency you belong to, or if you are eligible to vote, visit the Elections Department website at: http://www.eld.gov.sg/online
The Role of an MP
“What does an MP actually do?”
It is useful to know what the Member of Parliament (MP) actually does. All of them have to be elected, which means they are chosen by people like you and me.
The most important job of the MP is to make laws. For example, when the Good and Services Tax (GST) was raised to 7% in 2007, this was approved by Members of Parliament.
The MPs can introduce new laws, and they have to study them carefully. If they think it is a good law, then they approve it, so everyone (including you and me), will have to follow it. But if they think it is a bad law, they can debate and fight it.
Another important job of the MP is to take up a critical role to check on the actions of the governing party and the Ministries. For example, when the SMRT trains broke down frequently, the Minister of Transport, who is also a MP, has to check on the actions of the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the SMRT.
The next job of the MP is financial control.
In 2014, Singapore collected $61.4 Billion in tax revenue and spent much of it on various things. For example, in 2013 Budget, it spent $613 Million on People’s Association, which operates all the Community Centres and your neighbourhood Residents Committee.
MPs ask questions in parliament for proper accountability on such financial matters to ensure that taxes and other government revenue are being put to good use and not for personal or party gains.
In another example, the yearly increase of Minimum Sum Requirement on our CPF and the extension of the withdrawal age from 55 to 65 was passed through Parliament. Citizens would want to know how such changes or policy implementations affect their interest.
Therefore, the role of the MP is to control and check on the bills passed in parliament so that pro and cons of any policy paper can be properly examined and tweaked, before making it as law for the country.
Lastly, a smaller role of the MP is to manage the constituency through the town council, making sure for instance, that even the ceiling of hawker centres are clean.
How do I choose?
“So many parties but I only know PAP! How to choose?”
Basically it all boils down to – Voting for the PAP or the other Party.
Yes, it is that simple.
Here’s a very simple and unbiased guide on the difference between PAP and the Opposition Parties, without going too much into detail.
The People’s Action Party (PAP)
The PAP would be contesting the elections in every constituency.
The PAP has been around for a long time, and the majority of the current MPs are PAP members (93%, despite only 60% of vote casted in 2011).
The party believes that we are on the right direction for the country. So if you vote for them, you can expect more of the same thing, with perhaps some minor adjustments here and there because a key element of a PAP member is their loyalty to the party line. Once the top members of PAP decide on a particular course of action, its loyal members will follow it unquestioningly.
For instance, all PAP members who were present at the parliamentary debate over the 6.9 million Population White Paper, voted for the bill to be passed despite having reservations about the policy paper.
The Opposition Parties (Various)
There are 9 Opposition Parties contesting the elections, but only one or at the most two of them will be contesting in your constituency:
- Worker’s Party (WP),
- Singapore Democratic Party (SDP),
- National Solidarity Party (NSP),
- Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA),
- Singapore People’s Party (SPP),
- Singaporeans First Party (SFP),
- People’s Power Party (PPP),
- Reform Party (RP),
- Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
While each party has different platforms, they are similar in two ways: that they are all underdogs when compared to manpower resources and finances with the PAP. We all know how PAP utilizes the People’s Association for its outreach programs to expose its candidates while the opposition parties have none of such to rely on.
Secondly, as all opposition parties claim that they want a better Singapore through change. The only way that they can do that is to have their members in Parliament so that they can exercise the full extent of the role of an MP.
Two examples of change are:
- They want to debate and change certain laws. For instance, opposition parties generally want to reduce over-crowding in Singapore by controlling the number of PRs and new Citizens into the Singapore population.
- They want to scrutinize and check how our tax dollars are actually spent. For instance, Opposition Parties want to know in detail matters concerning CPF funds, the minimum sum and restore the withdrawal age for CPF.
Each Opposition Party has a variation of the above two platforms. We suggest you visit their Facebook page and Google their website to find out more.
In Conclusion – It is your choice, your voice.
So there you have it. All the basic information you need to know about selecting and voting. You truly have the freedom to choose. So choose wisely.
No matter what anyone says, remember the fact that no one can track who you actually vote for. No one can be forced to vote for any party, and most importantly no one can penalize you for not voting for a party.
So please consider, read from a wide variety of sources online, attend the political rallies and enjoy being part of the democratic process.
Here’s to building a democratic society, based on justice and equality.
Well, you know the rest.