Talks of an imminent General Election (GE) in Singapore has been rife for the best part of late last year and this year. There were rumours that the general elections were set for the third quarter of 2019. This was something that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong himself gave credence to when he did not rule out the possibility of an election this year. Yet despite all the speculation, it was announced earlier last month that the electoral boundaries review committee (EBRC) had not yet formed despite there being other initiatives on balloting being discussed.
Does this mean that the boundaries will remain as is or does this mean the government intends to only form an EBRC much closer to an election that is definitely going to be held within the next few months or the earlier half of the year?
If it is the latter, can it be construed that the incumbent Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) government hopes to catch the opposition parties off guard on what the boundaries will be so that they don’t have time to walk the ground?
Politicians do not only canvass the ground a month or two before elections. In reality, they start engaging the ground years before an election to really get to know their potential constituents. While canvassing might ramp up close to an election, the foundation of any meaningful engagement was set long before. This means that if boundaries change right before an election, all of the efforts put in by politicians may amount to naught if those they have been engaging are no longer within their election boundaries. Is this fair to opposition parties?
Under Singapore law, the General Election is to be called within three months of the Parliament being dissolved by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister will decide when the EBRC is formed. With the general understanding of how the President behaves, we can safely say that the Prime Minister can decide when to call an election, at any point of time before the 5-year term of the Parliament is up. This means that it is potentially possible for them to canvass the ground according to how the boundaries will change – a benefit that opposition politicians will never have. If this is indeed the case, is this a fair use of power on the part of the PAP? Is this an even playing field for the opposition candidates?
It is important to note that an EBRC was set up in two months before a general election in 2015. Two months lead time to change boundary lines is a very short time if you consider that politicians would have been working the ground long before that.
Take the case of Joo Chiat Single Member Constituency (SMC) for example, Workers’ Party candidate, Yee Jenn Jong who ran against Charles Chong from People’s Action Party in GE2011, obtained 48.98% of the total votes and lost to Mr Chong with just 2.04% of the total votes.
Following his near victory, Mr Yee walked the ground at the SMC with his volunteers over the years leading up to the GE in 2015. However, the SMC was absorbed into Marine Parade GRC for no apparent reason in 2015 as dictated by the ERBC.
How is it fair to politicians who have been hardworking over the years and sacrificing much time and effort, only to be told that their efforts have been wasted?
Secondly, the elections this time round were rumoured to be in September – does this mean that this is no longer the case because it is now less than two months? Or is the PAP going to shorten the time even more?
An election is supposed to represent the peoples’ choice. It is not supposed to be riddled with so much speculation, suspicion and doubt. We need to set down a firm timeline for when an EBRC is formed. I would say the ERBC needs to be formed at least 9 months before an election and a fixed term as to when the General Election is held!