“In 2009, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Parliament that there would be fewer six-member GRCs at the next election. This is because too many six-member GRCs makes it harder for voters to identify with the whole slate of Members of Parliament (MPs), Mr. Lee had said” (Election Battle-Map Unveiled: Constituencies Drawn Up, Miss Rachel Chan).
The news report “Election Battle-Map Unveiled” (February 26, 2011) by Miss Rachel Chan presents a succinct summary of the twenty-seven electoral boundaries that have been drawn up by the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee. The announcement-recommendations are largely in tandem with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s 2009 parliamentary speech calling for the lowering the barriers to entry for interested individuals or political parties wishing to contest: through the reduction in the number of group representation constituencies (GRCs), conversely increasingly single-member constituencies (SMCs) and adjusting voter to member-of-parliament (MP) ratio et cetera. Unfortunately, the continued presence of GRCs, asserted partiality of the Elections Department and Boundaries Review Committee, as well as the lack of transparency in terms of justification for the boundary changes have created an unhealthy air of suspicion, with accusations of continued and proliferated gerrymandering.
Primarily, it has been contended that the incumbent People’s Action Party (PAP) has adopted gerrymandering practices to retain significant majorities, and grant its own candidates unfair advantages. Most evidently Opposition parties have pointed to the fact that the Elections Department and Boundaries Review Committee have not been established independently, but administered as part of the executive branch under the PM. The lack of transparency – in terms of justifying the assortment of changes and providing rationales for the corresponding redrawing – would lead voters and political contenders alike to perceive that alterations were enacted for the benefit of the ruling administration.
For instance, the Worker Party (WP) has rightly pointed to questionable modifications made to the precincts in Aljunied GRC. In the 2006 General Elections (GE), the WP gained significant ground with the electorate; as evidenced by the approximate forty-four percent of the votes garnered by the team headed by WP chairman Miss Sylvia Lim. This time round after the proposed adjustments, even though the difference in the total voting population would be slight, there is no clear logic for the carving of constituencies.
Imperatively, the Elections Boundaries Review Committee has the responsibility to be more transparent in its workings, and provide tangible explanations as to why the respective GRCs and SMCs have been cut up accordingly. The ideal situation, of course, would be for the electorate to be divided into individual SMCs, or for the number or size of GRCs to be reduced extensively; though the current Government might deem it necessary to maintain its overwhelming hegemony. With the providence of more information and elucidation from the Committee, it would heighten on-the-ground comprehension, and allow more to be convinced of the constructive revisions made.
If issues of transparency and purported gerrymandering are not adequately addressed in the years to come, the propositions of manipulation would continue to haunt the PAP; and might eventually adversely affect their performance come Election Day.