Singapore, 20 April 2011
Yesterday at around 16.00 Singaporean President S. R. Nathan announced that parliament was dissolved and a general election would be held within three months. With nomination day fixed for 27 April, this paves the way for a general election to be held on 7 May. Many say that this will be the most significant election in Singapore since 1963. For the 2011 election, the government has also approved the Internet as a medium for political campaigning (albeit the comments function for their YouTube videos have been disabled). One of my favourite reactions to come out of the storm of social media surrounding the announcement of the dissolution was that it was part of a government ploy to end parliament early so MPs and their staff could leave work early to catch last night’s Justin Bieber concert.
Some statistics from Singapore Inc.’s national media outlet, Channel News Asia:
The 87 wards have been carved out into 12 Single Member Constituencies (SMCs) and 15 Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs).
The 12 SMCs are Bukit Panjang, Hong Kah North, Hougang, Joo Chiat, Mountbatten, Pioneer, Potong Pasir, Punggol East, Radin Mas, Sengkang West, Whampoa and Yuhua.
The GRCs have been carved out as four-, five- and six-member GRCs.
The four-member GRCs are Moulmein-Kallang and Holland-Bukit Timah GRC.
There are 11 five-member GRCs. They are Aljunied, Bishan-Toa Payoh, Chua Chu Kang, East Coast, Jurong, Marine Parade, Nee Soon, Sembawang, Tampines, Tanjong Pagar and West Coast.
An SMC is another term for an electorate; but a GRC is unique to Singapore in that rather than voting for an individual to represent your division as a Members of Parliament, you vote for a group. The People’s Action Party (PAP) introduced this idiosyncratic brand of electoral constituency on 1 June 1998 to enshrine minority representation in Parliament. However, critics disagree. The proportion of minority MPs per GRC has actually decreased with the advent of the GRCs, which have five- or six- members, as opposed to four-members. Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew confirmed his candidacy yesterday for the Tanjong Pagar six-member GRC.
More significantly, by fielding teams of candidates helmed by senior statesmen, GRCs have become a means a means for the PAP for introducing relatively young and inexperienced first-time candidates into Parliament. According to the New York Times, the process of finding the next-generation of PAP representatives involves, “background checks, psychological tests and rounds of what are known as ‘tea session’ get-togethers” with some “short-listed for intense, eight-hour psychological profiling.” One of the most controversial candidates to emerge from this process is 27yo Tin Pei Ling a.k.a. ‘Sarah Pei Ling’ (after Sarah Palin) or “Please Vote For Me!” (after her campaign catchphrase, despite the fact that she is fielded as part of Senior Minister Goh Chok Tang’s six-member Marine Parade GRC).
The backlash against Ms. Tin and Singapore’s electoral process through online criticism and various forms of social media, however, will unlikely translate into votes against the PAP. Not only because of the unique GRC system but also because Singaporean citizens are quite risk-averse. People tend to prefer an orderly and stable society ‘provided’ by the PAP over giving one of the opposition parties for instance, The Singapore Democratic Party or the Worker’s Party of Singapore, the chance to prove they can also do the same.