Speculation over how the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) will carve up the electoral wards has been rife, ever since the Elections Department (ELD) announced earlier this month that the EBRC was convened in August.
The formation of the EBRC marks the first firm step towards the next General Election (GE) and precedes the calling of the election. In the past three General Elections (GEs), the EBRC has taken between two to four months to complete its review.
For the next GE, the EBRC has been specifically tasked to reduce the average size of group representation constituencies (GRCs) and increase the number of single-member constituencies (SMCs). This means that the electoral map could see significant changes.
While the EBRC’s mandate to grow the number of SMCs appears to work in Potong Pasir SMC’s favour, the question of whether the ward will be absorbed into a larger GRC remains pertinent since the number of voters in the constituency falls below the minimum voter limit set for SMCs.
Of the 29 wards in the current electoral map, Potong Pasir is the only constituency that has failed to meet the minimum voter benchmark with 16,739 voters out of the minimum 20,000 voter limit set for SMCs.
Potong Pasir’s boundaries have remained the same for over 30 years, even as its voter population has continued to decrease. Perhaps one reason why the ward was not absorbed into a GRC earlier is because it was held by the opposition from 1984 to 2011 and because any electoral change to an opposition-held ward could have backfired for the ruling party.
Veteran politician Chiam See Tong won the Potong Pasir ward in 1984 and became Singapore’s second opposition politician ever to be elected to Parliament after J. B. Jeyaretnam of the Workers’ Party.
In the 2011 General Election, after 27 years of serving the Potong Pasir ward, Mr Chiam led a team to contest Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC while his wife, Lina Chiam, contested Potong Pasir. The SPP lost both wards and was not able to win either ward in the 2015 General Election – the first election since 1976 that Mr Chiam did not personally contest.
The ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Sitoh Yih Pin has been representing Potong Pasir since 2011. Mr Sitoh – who contested Potong Pasir in the 2001 and 2006 GEs and lost to Mr Chiam before his win in 2011 – was re-elected in 2015.
Pointing out that new developments in the estate will increase the number of voters, Mr Sitoh recently told the Straits Times that he hopes Potong Pasir’s electoral boundaries will not change.
Mr Sitoh added that voter numbers in Potong Pasir SMC have always fallen below the minimum limit but declined to speculate on whether the SMC might vanish during the next election. He said: “It would be nice to preserve it, albeit that we will be below 20,000.”
Political observer, Dr Tan Ern Ser – an NUS sociologist – predicted that the electoral boundaries of Potong Pasir SMC will remain since there is no compelling reason to enlarge the nearby GRCs surrounding the ward.
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.
Opposition parties will need to wait for the EBRC to release its report to find out how the electoral boundaries have been re-drawn and decide which wards to target. The opposition parties would also have to discuss which ward they wish to contest with other parties, to avoid multiple-corner fights to ensure that the opposition vote is not split. -/TISG