Guest Spot

WOOL OVER EYES

This article is written by Rajiv Chaudry who is a member of the Reform Party.

PART 1

Two years ago, the government introduced a number of measures for political reform[i] in Singapore.   In his speech to parliamnet, the Prime Minister (PM) justified the changes to Singapore’s electoral system as a continued evolution of our democratic institutions. The underlying basis for the reforms was said to be the over-arching need for the electoral process to produce “strong governments” while at the same time allowing “alternative voices” to be heard in Parliament.

Has this obsession with “strong governments” been taken too far? Has it become an objective in itself, rather than a means to an end? I suggest it has. This obsession has, in my view, resulted in a weakening of the body politic in Singapore and the atrophying of our democratic institutions.

The Prime Minister prefaced his remarks by saying Singapore’s political system is based on the British model of Parliamentary democracy but “we have evolved it over time in response to changing needs and our own circumstances”.

The question is, evolved in response to whose changing needs and whose circumstances? Was “our own circumstances” a Freudian slip?  Do these circumstances refer to the ruling party (PAP)  in particular, rather than Singapore in general?

While the governments produced under the present system have undoubtedly been strong, have they, more crucially, been truly representative of the wishes and aspirations of the people? The Prime Minister in his speech introducing the changes said “the …… changes will ……. strengthen its (Parliament’s) role as the key democratic institution where important national issues are deliberated and decided”.

Let us examine whether Parliament is, indeed, democratic as the Prime Minister suggests.

Voter representation

When independent Singapore held its first General Elections (GE) in 1968 a total of 759,367[ii] voters were represented by 58 elected members in parliament. Each member represented some 13,000 voters. Over the course of the next 10 elections, the number of voters represented by each member of parliament (MP) rose steadily:

 

Table 1

Year No of voters No of MPs Voters per MP
1968 759,367 58 13,093
1972 908,382 65 13,975
1976 1,095,817 69 15,881
1980 1,290,426 75 17,206
1984 1,495,389 79 18,929
1988 1,669,013 81 20,605
1991 1,692,384 81 20,894
1997 1,881,011 83 22,663
2001 2,036,923 84 24,249
2006 2,159,721 84 25,711
2011 2,350,217 87 27,014

 

After the 2011 GE each MP will represent some 27,000 voters, an increase of over 100% since independence.

If Singapore had continued to use the same ratio of MPs to voters as in 1968, there would need to be 180 MPs in the next parliament instead of the 87 that have been proposed.

So it might be argued, firstly, that Singaporeans are under-represented in parliament.

Group Representational Constituencies

Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) were introduced for the first time in 1988 when 13 three-member GRCs were established, forming 48% of the seats in parliament. By 1997 the percentage of GRC seats had risen to 89% of the total and there they remained until the changes announced by the government last week:

 

Table 2

Year No of GRCs Average members per GRC Total GRC seats Percentage of GRC seats
1988 13 3 39 48
1991 15 4 60 74
1997 15 4.93 74 89
2001 14 5.36 75 89
2006 14 5.36 75 89
2011 15 5 75 86

 

 

In the meantime, single-member constituencies (SMCs) went down from 100% in the first five elections to 52% in 1988 and 11% in 2006:

 

Table 3

Year No of SMCs Percentage of total
1988 42 52
1991 21 26
1997 9 11
2001 9 11
2006 9 11
2011 12 14

 

The latest changes leaves the number of GRC seats unchanged at 75, although reducing their percentage slightly in an expanded house. SMC seats have been raised by three.

Minority candidates

The primary purpose of GRCs was, ostensibly, to safeguard the representation of minority races in parliament[iii]. At the time the change was made, the government did not offer any emperical evidence that minority candidates were in any way disadvantaged or had had difficulty in being elected.

 

Let us see how these candidates fared in the years since independence.

Between 1968 to 1984 minority MPs  made up between 20 and 31% of the seats in each parliament:

Table 4

Year No of minority MPs Percentage
1968 18 31
1972 16 25
1976 17 25
1980 18 24
1984 16 20
1988 15 19
1991 17 21
1997 18 22
2001 22 26

 

After 1988 they comprised between 19 and 26% of the seats showing, in fact, a slight drop.

These figures show that minority candidates made up between a fifth and a third of the total number of seats in parliament both before and after the introduction of GRCs. It might therefore be said that no special measures need have been taken to “protect” the minority candidates.

The government argues, though, that the homogenisation of the races through its public housing policies which did away with kampongs and racial enclaves would have made it difficult for minority candidates to be elected in the future. This thesis was never put to the test.  The introduction of GRCs was regarded as a pre-emptive move to preserve minority interests.

Increased barriers to entry and disenfranchised voters

The major effect of the introduction of GRCs upon the political landscape of Singapore was the increased barrier to entry for opposition candidates as can be seen from the number of uncontested seats in the GE s, other wise known as “walkovers”.

After the PAP’s whopping victory in the 1968 GE in which 88.8% of the electorate were in constituencies that saw no contest, the percentage of voters who did not get a chance to vote because of walkovers between the 1972 and 1984 GE s dropped to an average of 29%, or to less than a third of the electorate:

Table 5

Year No of voters in walkover constituencies Percentage Average percentage 1972 – 1984
1968 674,484 88.8  
1972 95,456 10.5  
1976 238,520 21.8  
1980 605,285 46.9  
1984 550,765 36.8 29

 

Between 1988 and 2006, the percentage of voters shut out because of walkovers increased to 46.5% or nearly half the electorate, despite the low figure of 13.1% in 1988. The average for the four GE s from 1991 to 2006 was, in fact, 55% or well over half the electorate.

Table 6

Year No of voters in walkover constituencies Percentage Average percentage 1988-2006
1988 219,175 13.1  
1991 844,668 49.9  
1997 1,115,679 59.3  
2001 1,361,617 66.8  
2006 936,279 43.4 46.5

 

The actual number of voters who did not get to vote between 1997 and 2006 averaged 1,137,858 in each of the three GE s or an average of 56% of the electorate. Well over a million voters were dienfranchised.

If such a significant percentage of the voting population did not get an opportunity to cast their vote, can it truly be said that the candidates returned from these GRCs were elected by popular mandate?

 

The actual number of votes cast for the winning party, the PAP, in the 2006 GE in the contested wards was 748,130[iv].  As a percentage of the total number of 2,159,721 registered voters in 2006, this number works out to 34.64% or slightly over one-third of the voting population.

When viewed in this light, the election results look quite different from the claims made by the winning party in its post-election press-releases. In 2006, for instance, the PAP claimed to have won 66.6% of the “valid votes”.

 

Can the PAP truly claim the mandate to rule, given that over half the voting population did not get a chance to vote in the past three elections?

 

Crucially, if the government believes its own claim that it has consistently “delivered” on its promises and helped improve the lives of Singaporeans from GE to GE, surely it should have no compunctions about putting its claim to the litmus test of elections, even in uncontested GRCs?

 

Or, can it be that the GRCs have quite another purpose, other than the one mandated in the statute books?          To be continued


[i]Prime Minister’s speech in parliament on 28 May 2009 (pm_speech270509-28may09.pdf  – part 2 pages 12 to 24); the PM announced the following changes would  be made to Singapore’s political system:

 

  • the constitution will be amended to increase the number of Non-Constituency MP s (NCMPs) allowed in parliament from 6 to 9
  • the Parliamentary Elections (PE) Act will be amended to increase the minimum number of opposition MP s plus NCMPs in parliament to 9
    • the PE Act will also be amended to set a cap of a maximum of two NCMPs from any one GRC
    • the constitution will be amended to make NMPs a permanent feature of parliament; number of NMPs to remain unchanged at 9.
      • Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) will be smaller in size in future, with fewer 6 member GRCs; the average size of GRCs desired by the PM is 5
      • the number of Single Member Constituencies (SMCs) is to be raised from 9 to twelve.

[ii]Singapore election records-5jul09.pdf

[iii] Section 8A (1) of the Parliamentary Elections Act of 1988 (the Act) stipulates the purpose of Group Representation Constituencies is to elect members of parliament on a group basis ‘so as to ensure the representation in parliament of members of the Malay, Indian and other minority communities’.

 

5 Comments »

  1. Can anyone elaborate the face of ERP, Iam was trying to understand the fundamentals behind ERP, after visiting Canada I did get a good understanding of the system there, however in Singapore, I was made to understand ERP (Electronic Road Pricing ) was meant to cut down traffic during peak hours, however when I compare the road users between 1980 ie before ERP was introduced and now , we will definitely agree it has gone up, however I dont understand the rational on how ERP solves the congestion problem, infact , I see artifical congestion that gets created along ECP, this started to happen when PIE was heavily infested with gantries. Again I also see the density starts to move linearly with the timmings. To me anyone with some statistics knowledge and the Town Planning knowledge will understand owing to our small foot print, we are going to face the congestion if nothing is done to reduce the number of road users, ERP by itself cannot solve this problem , In any Funnel one undetstands the Mouth of the Funnel is wider than the end of the Funnel. In the same way ERP is a gate to the end of the funnel, the mouth being COE, if the no of COE’s are not controlled systematically the ERP gate cannot hold the pressure. Anyone who after paying a heavy toll of owning a CAR in singapore is not going to lie down with the asset but use it. On the contrary ERP has definitely added to our Govenment’s Coffers definitely.
    In other words, one can say that we are being doubly taxed or more , just like cigarettes our govenment need to understand that Taxation cannot single handedly solve the traffic congestion.
    A more prudent way would be to offer more incentives to use public transport, In India, when one buys a Season ticket , it works out more cheaper that a single way ticket,
    But when I look at our fare system, it does not significantly offer any subsidies.
    If we now remove the whole of the Gantries , nothing significantly will happen in our traffic distribution , on the contrary it may be more naturally distributed.
    Unless ofcourse we are saying ERP is another way of collecting more tax, well if that is what it is intended for , then why are we not being told so openly , I always had high regard for our Government , but this seems a underhanded thing to do ie to collect taxes with a view to reducing congestion.
    I hope I may be wrong on the taxes part, but all sound logic still points to ERP a failure to control congestion and should be immedately removed easing the hardship’s of the public, leave along Cars, even the normal man as the moment you take a taxi you are being also charged. Should I say our commuting fares also have a hidden component of ERP in their pricing , no wonder it reasons out why the PTC needs to keep adjusting the fares.

    +1

    Like

  2. Guys, ERP? Objective of ERP is to REDUCE traffic right? Fine.

    Now check Public Transport Authority (PTC) website. The have enshrined minimum frequency rates for public buses.

    Unrelated information? Sounds like.

    Now are Public Buses subject to ERP? Yes.

    So ERP is to reduce traffic. Charging ERP on Public Buses is to reduce frequency of buses right? But PTC states that public buses cannot be below a certain frequency, and in fact is trying to increase the frequency in service of the people.

    So now charging ERP on Public Buses will NOT meet BOTH LTA and PTC objectives, but increase COSTS of operation without value-add. And what happens to these extra costs? Passed down to consumers? Didn’t anyone see this simple contradiction?

    Like

  3. Can anyone elaborate the face of ERP, Iam was trying to understand the fundamentals behind ERP, after visiting Canada I did get a good understanding of the system there, however in Singapore, I was made to understand ERP (Electronic Road Pricing ) was meant to cut down traffic during peak hours, however when I compare the road users between 1980 ie before ERP was introduced and now , we will definitely agree it has gone up, however I dont understand the rational on how ERP solves the congestion problem, infact , I see artifical congestion that gets created along ECP, this started to happen when PIE was heavily infested with gantries. Again I also see the density starts to move linearly with the timmings. To me anyone with some statistics knowledge and the Town Planning knowledge will understand owing to our small foot print, we are going to face the congestion if nothing is done to reduce the number of road users, ERP by itself cannot solve this problem , In any Funnel one undetstands the Mouth of the Funnel is wider than the end of the Funnel. In the same way ERP is a gate to the end of the funnel, the mouth being COE, if the no of COE’s are not controlled systematically the ERP gate cannot hold the pressure. Anyone who after paying a heavy toll of owning a CAR in singapore is not going to lie down with the asset but use it. On the contrary ERP has definitely added to our Govenment’s Coffers definitely.
    In other words, one can say that we are being doubly taxed or more , just like cigarettes our govenment need to understand that Taxation cannot single handedly solve the traffic congestion.
    A more prudent way would be to offer more incentives to use public transport, In India, when one buys a Season ticket , it works out more cheaper that a single way ticket,
    But when I look at our fare system, it does not significantly offer any subsidies.
    If we now remove the whole of the Gantries , nothing significantly will happen in our traffic distribution , on the contrary it may be more naturally distributed.
    Unless ofcourse we are saying ERP is another way of collecting more tax, well if that is what it is intended for , then why are we not being told so openly , I always had high regard for our Government , but this seems a underhanded thing to do ie to collect taxes with a view to reducing congestion.
    I hope I may be wrong on the taxes part, but all sound logic still points to ERP a failure to control congestion and should be immedately removed easing the hardship’s of the public, leave along Cars, even the normal man as the moment you take a taxi you are being also charged. Should I say our commuting fares also have a hidden component of ERP in their pricing , no wonder it reasons out why the PTC needs to keep adjusting the fares.

    Like

  4. A couple of days ago reform party visited my flat @ Jurong West St 61, although I worry about whether my wife will be granted PR status after our unsuccessful appeal. I have decided to vote for reform party and gave my word to your party members I will vote for reform party. I cannot understand why PR are given easily to foreign workers whereas as a graduate, my wife is also one and we have a baby her PR status is not granted. There are fears we will be fixed but I guess it is better for me to ask for help from opposition MPs than current MP Cedric Foo. I went to see him last year. His office proceeded to find out my case at the meet the people’s session but when I met him he only ask me a question and later thanked me. Nothing much was said or done although his team did wrote to ICA. As a citizen I feel that Singaporean citizen spouses should be given priority in PR application compared to foreign workers. We are serious in forming a family. Besides after corresponding with ICA, there was no way I could find out why our application or appeal was unsuccessful. I trust Reform Party will win a seat in my GRC as I have been impressed with Mr Kenneth Jeyaratnam since 2009 when I started reading about you in the local papers. Keep up the good work and make Singapore a priority for Singaporeans.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s