Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat clashed with Singapore Democratic Party chairman Paul Tambyah over the independence of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC), at the Singapore Bicentennial Conference yesterday evening.
The EBRC, which was convened sometime in August, marks the first formal step towards the next General Election (GE) and signals that an election is imminent.
The EBRC, which is in charge of revising the current electoral boundaries, has specifically been tasked to reduce the average size of group representation constituencies (GRCs) and increase the number of single-member constituencies (SMCs) for the next GE. This likely means that the electoral map will be changed significantly.
The committee reports to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and will present its recommendations to the Prime Minister through a report once it concludes the review. Opposition parties will need to wait for the report to be released to find out how the boundaries have been altered and decide which wards to target.
In the past three General Elections (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.
At the Singapore Bicentennial Conference that took place at the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine yesterday, Dr Tambyah asked Mr Heng if there was a “good reason” why the EBRC is not completely independent of the PMO.
Dr Tambyah said: “The election boundaries currently are decided by independent civil servants, but ultimately the reporting officer is somebody in the PMO.”
Asserting that the committee is independent and not politically motivated, DPM Heng responded: “As you yourself pointed out, they are independent.
“So, if you look at what they have done, the constituencies, Potong Pasir remains where it is today, Hougang remains exactly the same as it is, and Aljunied in the last election remained as it is.
“So, I hope you do not doubt the independence of this commission, that they are doing what is right.”
Mr Heng said that independent experts are necessary to review electoral boundaries since they need to examine things like population and demographic changes. He added that he is glad to have independent civil servants who work independently and “advise us on what is the best configuration”.
Dr Tambyah seemed dissatisfied with DPM Heng’s response. He said, “(They) still report to the Prime Minister.”
DPM Heng shot back: “Unless you are saying they have been politically motivated…but you yourself said they are independent!”
Mr Heng, who also serves as Finance Minister, is widely expected to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as Singapore’s fourth head of government especially after he was appointed DPM and first assistant secretary-general of the ruling party in recent months.
PM Lee has said that he plans to give up his seat to his successor sometime after the next GE. In a radio interview he gave last week, DPM Heng declined to specify when the next election will be held but revealed that the GE is “coming nearer each day.” -/TISG