The Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) released its report on Thursday, 24 February. The EBRC has made substantial changes to the electoral map of Singapore. In brief, there will be 87 seats up for grabs this time, compared to 84 previously. Also, seven constituencies have been erased and in their places, 11 new ones born.
As the horse trading among the (opposition) parties begin, to avoid three-cornered battles, and speculation about when exactly the elections will be called, two obvious questions remain unanswered:
Who are the members of the committee? What are the reasons for the changes to the boundaries made by the EBRC?
As in previous occasions, the EBRC is silent.
The committee is under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office, which itself has raised questions about its impartiality and objectivity, given that the Prime Minister is also the secretary-general of the ruling party which obviously has a stake in how the boundaries are drawn up.
On 30 October 2010, Channel Newsasia reported the PM as saying that the review committee “has been convened”.
The PM also revealed it is being chaired by Mr Tan Kee Yong, the Secretary to the Cabinet. No other names of the committee were disclosed. (An online search, which includes a survey of the websites of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Elections Department, provides no information on the committee or its members.)
The EBRC’s report does not explain much about the changes to the electoral boundaries. All it does is to state its recommendations to the PMO. Mr Eugene Tan, assistant professor of law at the Singapore Management University School of Law, says the EBRC report “did not delve substantively into the rationale and principles guiding its decisions other than the rule allowing a 30-per-cent variance in the ratio of electors per MP.”
Writing in the Today newspaper, Mr Tan asked: “On what basis did the EBRC decide to retain the two SMCs besides the Opposition-held Potong Pasir and Hougang?. Why did it abolish the other five SMCs? How did it decide which GRCs should become smaller? The EBRC missed a valuable opportunity to shed light on its method. Not surprisingly, this has already given rise to talk of gerrymandering, and of how the changes tend to benefit the ruling party.”
Ms Sylvia Lim, chairman of the Workers’ Party, also has some unanswered questions. According to Today, she said:
“What struck us, at first glance, is that we believe there is some gerrymandering involved in favour of the ruling party. If you look at Aljunied GRC, for example, we note very quickly there have been nine precincts given out of Aljunied GRC. Seven to Ang Mo Kio GRC and two to Punggol-Pasir Ris.
“And particularly these precincts are actually very close to Hougang SMC (Single Member Constituency), where we know there is significant WP support.”
She said in their place, six precincts, carved out from Marine Parade, had been given to Aljunied GRC.
Ms Lim added:
“The total number of electors, there’s not much difference under the new Aljunied GRC compared to the previous Aljunied GRC, so why is there a need for a change?”
One would also like to ask the EBRC the following: Why are two GRCs – Hong Kah and Jalan Besar – removed from the map? What are the EBRC’s reasons for the deletion of a substantial five Single-member Constituencies, namely Yio Chu Kang, Nee Soon Central, Nee Soon South, Chua Chu Kang, and MacPherson? What considerations went into the creation of each of the 11 new constituencies?
And about the report itself, when was it submitted to the PMO? Did the PMO readily accept all of the EBRC’s recommendations? Or did the PMO or the PM himself suggest further changes before the report was made public?
And of course, who are the members of the EBRC?
As mentioned previously, the changes to the boundaries are significant and substantial. They not only affect the political parties but more importantly the people of Singapore who will cast their votes when the election is called.
With changes made to the boundaries at each election, it is incumbent upon the EBRC to be transparent and the committee must be held accountable.
At the moment, the committee’s role is best described as that of a grim reaper, hovering over the constituencies, dealing sudden death to some as and when the committee sees fit, without having to justify or even explain to the public its decisions.
In the interests of transparency and accountability, the EBRC should hold a press conference where members of the media (and even members of the public) are invited to query its recommendations. The EBRC must be required to provide rational and logical explanations to the boundary changes it suggests.
In short, the EBRC must not hide behind the curtains of the PMO and remain silent.
Otherwise, the electoral system itself will be called into question.
Speculation and allegations of partisanship and gerrymandering – facilitated by the EBRC – does Singapore no good whatsoever.
The EBRC’s first and foremost responsibility should be towards Singaporeans and their interests – and not that of any political party, ruling or otherwise.
The next elections are not expected for some time yet. The EBRC still has time to convene a press conference and offer itself to queries.
This will go a long way in silencing critics and lay to rest speculations of its partisan role.
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