Sylvia Lim asks for transparency in electoral boundaries report

The government must know that Singaporeans are skeptical about the re-drawing of electoral boundaries. It would be an improvement to have advanced notice and some transparency in this process.

This is a “cut” (a short Parliamentary speech) by Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim during the Committee of Supplies debate in Parliament yesterday on the budget allocation for the Prime Minister’s Office.

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PMO – Electoral Boundaries Review Committee Report

In countries like the UK, electoral boundary revisions are carried out by an independent Boundary Commission under the charge of a High Court Judge. Proposed boundary changes are also open to public scrutiny and objection.  In Singapore, however, the boundary revisions are done by a committee chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, reporting to the PM.  Sir, despite my belief that the PMO should not be in charge of the boundary review, the focus of my cut is how the current process may be improved for transparency and accountability.

I would like to touch on two points: first, the timing of the release of the report; second, the contents of the report.

As regards timing of the report, it is noted that in GE 2001, the revised boundaries were released about 1 week before Nomination Day.  In 2006, they were announced about 7 weeks before.

I would call for the boundary review report to be released at least 6 months to 1 year before Nomination Day.   This is especially important because of the unique situation in Singapore where there are GRCs and SMCs; GRCs can be chopped and changed and SMCs can be created and dissolved with the stroke of a pen.

For the coming elections, we are expecting some significant revisions due to expected increase in the number of SMCs from 9 to 12, and some GRCs being reduced in size.  Having good notice will give voters confidence in the boundary re-drawing process.  It will also give a reasonable time for political parties to do more focused groundwork and consider their candidate line-up.

My second point relates to the contents of the report.   In the last EBRC report in 2006, the Terms of Reference were very generally stated as recommending the new constituencies and boundaries, taking into account significant changes in distribution of voters due to population shifts and housing development.

As a basis, the 2006 report calculates the MP to voter ratio, using the total number of voters nationally divided by the number of Parliamentary seats.  This led to a conclusion of one MP for every 26,000 voters.  The report then states that a 30% variation is allowed, leading to a possible voter range of between 18,000 to 34,000 per MP.

Sir, reading the report raises more questions than it answers.  For example:

  1. How was it derived that a 30% variation was permissible?
  2. Why were Ayer Rajah SMC and Bukit Timah SMC dissolved when they still had the number of voters in the acceptable range for SMCs?
  3. How was it decided that the new replacement SMCs would be Yio Chu Kang and Bukit Panjang?

And so on.

Such changes could not have been at the whims and fancies of the EBRC.  There must have been a certain methodology employed or other factors considered.  As this is a matter of public interest, could the next EBRC report go further into the reasons for dissolving or creating SMCs, or changing the boundaries of GRCs?

The government must know that Singaporeans are skeptical about the re-drawing of boundaries.  It would be an improvement to have advanced notice and some transparency in this process.

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Excerpts from DPM Wong Kan Seng’s reply:

The (Electoral Boundaries) Committee generally takes two to four months to complete the review.
I believe he (the PM) will give all interested parties as much time as possible.
If the Prime Minister, at his own discretion, thinks it is the right time to call the election, he’ll call for an election.
I have not seen any (report), because no committee has been appointed yet.
As to why some (constituencies) are changed, and why some are not changed, depends on the configuration at that time, and that is left to the discretion of the Committee

The (Electoral Boundaries) Committee generally takes two to four months to complete the review…

I believe he (the PM) will give all interested parties as much time as possible…

If the Prime Minister, at his own discretion, thinks it is the right time to call the election, he’ll call for an election…

I have not seen any (report) yet, because no committee has been appointed yet…

As to why some (constituencies) are changed, and why some are not changed, depends on the configuration at that time, and that is left to the discretion of the Committee.

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Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.

7 thoughts on “Sylvia Lim asks for transparency in electoral boundaries report”

  1. In other words, “sit down and shut up.” Perfectly reasonable questions; the sort of thing that any reasonably authentic democracy sorts out in its first decade or two of existence. Hint to our overlords: this is at least as much because it helps the ruling party pile on potential weak points in the opposition camp as it is the reverse. Having transparent, defensibly equal boundary-setting also gives the ruling party of the day a better claim to the moral high ground: “see? we don’t have to cheat to win.”

    The unmistakable impression the status quo gives anyone not already drinking the Ruler’s purple Kool-Aid is that the Party of Absolute Power doesn’t trust its ability to hang onto that power in anything approximating a fair fight. So much for “From Third World to First;” I guess people are supposed to be content that we made it halfway.

  2. As to why some (constituencies) are changed, and why some are not changed, depends on the configuration at that time, and that is left to the discretion of the Committee.

    In other words, the process is not transparent; for all we know, there might not be a cogent set of principles and criteria but left to the whims and fancies of the PM and the Committee.

  3. Dear Gerald,

    Another point that could be brought up to Sylvia Lim is that given that some town councils have lost money in investments, town council funds differ from constituency to constituency. How is it possible to redraw electoral boundaries to take such discrepancies into account?

    It is just a thought… Maybe town councils are not correlated to GRCs, which would again beg the question of why they differ in the first place.

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