Minister for Trade and Industry and second assistant secretary-general of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), Chan Chun Sing, revealed in a written parliamentary reply yesterday (7 Oct) that the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) was formed on 1 Aug 2019.
This means that the EBRC – which marks the first formal step towards the next General Election (GE) – was convened more than a month before the Elections Department announced its formation on 4 Sept.
In February this year, Workers’ Party (WP) secretary-general Pritam Singh attempted to ask Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on whether the EBRC has been formed, in Parliament.
Asserting that it is “a waste of Parliament’s time, and bordering on an abuse of process” for parliamentarians to have to keep filing questions to find out whether the EBRC has been formed or not, Mr Pritam asked the Government whether the Government could announce the formation of the committee when it is convened.
He also asked whether the EBRC could provide a report explaining why it adjusts boundaries in the manner it has and provide reasons for its decisions on creating new wards, absorbing single member wards into group representation constituencies and such.
Responding on behalf of the PM, Mr Chan said then that the EBRC had yet to be formed. He added that the EBRC should be allowed to “focus on its work professionally, away from unnecessary media attention or public pressures” and promised that “there will be sufficient time” from the release of the EBRC report to polling day for parties to prepare.
In July, Mr Pritam asked PM Lee once again whether the EBRC has been formed and when the PM intends to establish the committee if it has not yet been convened.
Responding on behalf of his party leader yet again, Mr Chan said on 8 July: “The Prime Minister has not yet appointed the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee.” He did not answer Mr Pritam’s question on when the PM intends to establish the committee.
Mr Chan’s reply in July was taken by many to mean that the next election – which must be held by April 2021 – was not on the horizon and may not be called in 2019 or early 2020 like political observers speculated. TODAY, a mainstream media publication, took Mr Chan’s reply to mean that the next GE was “not imminent.”
Less than two months later, on 4 Sept, the ELD announced that the EBRC was formed sometime in August. It did not state when exactly the committee was established.
It now turns out that the committee was convened weeks after Mr Pritam’s last parliamentary question on the matter and more than a month before the Government announced the committee’s formation.
Mr Chan only announced that the committee was formed on 1 August, after Mr Singh pressed the Government to provide an update on when exactly the EBRC was formed in Parliament.
The formation of the EBRC precedes the calling of the next election and has been taken to mean that the next GE is imminent. For the next GE, the EBRC has particularly been tasked to reduce the average size of group representation constituencies and increase the number of single-member wards. This likely means that the electoral map will be altered significantly.
Opposition parties will need to wait for the EBRC to release its report to find out how the boundaries have changed and decide which wards to target.
In the past three GEs, the EBRC has taken between two to four months to complete the review. The time between the release of the EBRC’s report and polling day has ranged from as little as 17 days to as long as six months, in Singapore history.
Days before the EBRC was convened, on 25 July, WP politician Yee Jenn Jong asserted that “the more insecure the ruling party is, the shorter the notice period” opposition party politicians receive to prepare for the GE.
He added on Facebook: “Boundaries can be changed at will and informed just weeks before elections are called… Elections have been called just a couple of days after boundaries were changed.
“No one will know if the Elections Boundaries Review Committee has been formed unless you keep asking in parliament every month, a rather ridiculous situation for a democracy.” / TISG