by Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss
Under Singapore’s electoral rules, the ruling party decides:
- when to form the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC);
- who shall comprise the EBRC;
- what would be the EBRC’s terms of reference;
- when to announce the formation of the EBRC;
- when to dissolve Parliament and to call for the next general elections (GE); and
- the date of the GE.
For GE 2015, it was only in response to a question in Parliament that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 13 Jul 2015 disclosed that the 2015 EBRC had been formed – and that it had been formed 2 months ago.
On 4 Sep 2019, it was announced that the EBRC for the next GE has been formed – and that it had been formed the month before.
Now we await the EBRC to release the electoral boundaries for the next GE. PM Lee has tasked the EBRC to further reduce the average size of GRCs and to create more SMCs than the current 13. So, we may expect the new electoral map to have significant differences from the previous electoral map. Only when the electoral map is released can prospective candidates really get themselves ready to stand for elections.
However, there is no prescribed time interval between the date the EBRC releases the new electoral map and the date when elections are called.
In Parliament on 13 July 2015, PM Lee also said: “… to the maximum extent possible, we will make sure that there is enough time elapsed so that everybody can read the report, understand it and know where they stand before elections are called.”
Then just 12 days later on 25 Jul 2015, the EBRC released the new electoral map for GE 2015.
1 month later on 25 Aug 2015, general elections were called, with Nomination Day set for 1 Sep 2015 and Polling Day on 11 Sep 2015.
I suppose Prime Minister Lee was of the view that 1 month was enough time for “everybody [to] read the report, understand it and know where they stand before elections are called.”
I beg to differ.
The new electoral map for GE 2015 was significantly different from the previous electoral map. Under the new map, 1 in 5 voters found themselves in a different constituency from the previous GE without having to move house.
The 2015 EBRC report gave no explanation or reasons for why and how they drew the boundaries for GE 2015. Prospective electoral candidates were given a very short time to decide and plan for the GE.
The interval between the date when the new boundaries were released (25 July 2015) and Nomination Day (1 Sep 2015) was just 37 days.
I am struggling to understand how PM Lee deemed 37 days to be “enough time” for “everybody [to] read the report, understand it and know where they stand before elections are called.”
Singaporeans are entitled to choose their leaders by elections which are free and fair. Can elections be regarded as fair if there is but only a short time between the date when the EBRC releases the new boundaries and the date when elections are called?
We do not have any independent body to assess what is a fair and reasonable interval between the date when the EBRC releases its report and the date when elections are called. All we have is an Elections Department which is answerable to the Prime Minister’s Office. We should really think of having an independent elections commission which will be in a better position to ensure best practices in the electoral process.
Our elected representatives have tremendous power over us. Their power over us is based on them having been properly elected. Hence, it is important for the electoral process to be as fair and unbiased as possible.
In the conduct of the next GE, many decisions are in the hands of the ruling party. I wonder after the EBRC releases the new boundaries for the next GE, how much time will elapse before the ruling party calls for elections?