Now that the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee report is out, the only two questions really worth addressing at this stage are: What will the impact be on Opposition plans, now that they know the final shape of the electoral boundaries? When will the General Election be held?
All other discussions are not quite so relevant, as far as I am concerned. “Last time the government did this or that.” “The PAP has a massive advantage (tell us something else we do not know)”. “The EBRC used to…” Singaporeans are not idiots as Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam once pointed out. They do know.
The report is out. The government has accepted its recommendations. There will be 93 parliamentary seats, four more than the current 89. These seats will come from 31 electoral divisions, comprising 14 Single Member Constituencies (SMCs) and 17 Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs), up from 13 SMCs and 16 GRCs in the 2015 GE. Three hotly contested SMCs in GE2015 where the Workers’ Party performed well – Fengshan, Punggol East and Sengkang West – have been absorbed into GRCs. Single-seat Potong Pasir, the old stronghold of Chiam See Tong, remains, with some voters hived off into Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and some coming over from Marine Parade GRC. Hougang is still around. And, yes, no more six-member GRCs. Remember the old joke that one day Singapore will end up with only three constituencies – Marine Parade, Ang Mo Kio and Tanjong Pagar.
It is not so much that suddenly, Opposition parties, especially the smaller ones, have been extended a helping hand by the generous PAP to get themselves elected. Now that, as suggested by some political observers that the elections are “more contestable” since these parties do not have the resources to fight in mega GRCs. Such GRCs actually undermine the concept of parliamentary democracy – which is that of electing a majority of representatives on a national basis to form the government – and should not be allowed to be the norm in the first place. GRCs have been tolerated so far. The Opposition and like-minded Singaporeans should not give up working towards their abolition.
Also, cynics see the move to eliminate six-member GRCS and increase SMCs as preventive and precautionary more than anything else. It would be easier for the ruling party to cope with the loss of single seats than the possibility of losing six at one go, with the Opposition breakthrough in the five-member Aljunied GRC as a precursor of possible things to come.
In response to that loss, the PAP has thrown everything including the kitchen sink at the WP in Aljunied to dislodge it and at the same time remind others that they should be prepared to face the same pressure.
Apart from the traditional Opposition strongholds of Hougang and Potong Pasir, the PAP has found it has been able to more than hold its own against strong Opposition candidates – for example, in the Bukit Batok by-election – or regain single seats like in Punggol East, Potong Pasir or the old SDP-held seats of Gombak and Nee Soon Central. Older-timer voters will probably ask now and then: Whatever happened to Anson, the seat of J B Jeyaratenam? Millennials: Whoddat?
Political altruism is not in the PAP’s DNA. The Hokiens have a phrase: Eh chia, chia (can eat, eat). At the risk of oversimplifying things, as Lee Kuan Yew put it: We are not in politics to help the Opposition get into power.
Surely not. Whiners are not winners. The Opposition should get going and step up their act.
First order of business is simply to get more organised. For everyone, the biggest question should be: When will the GE be held? It’s neither rocket science nor the art of reading tea leaves. The Straits Times has narrowed it down to three possible dates: (a) April 18, around the start of Ramadan (b) May 2, around Labour Day and (c) June 6, around the school holidays.
PM Lee Hsien Loong spoke yesterday (March 14) about two choices in deciding the date: “Either hope and pray that things will stabilise before the end of the term so that we can hold the elections under more normal circumstances – but we have no certainty of that.
“Or else call elections early, knowing that we going into a hurricane, to elect a new government with a fresh mandate and a full term ahead of it.”
The government may have already decided to bite the bullet and seek a mandate during a crisis. Unless the Covid-19 otbreak takes a dramatic turn for the worse and all bets are off, Singapore is going to the GE polls for the 13th time since independence. The ball is now in the Opposition’s court. I hope they will rise to the occasion in a defining moment in our history.
Leadership and generational transition and a life-and-death crisis are at play, no less.
Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.