Electoral boundaries committee formed
Next general election likely to be held after Budget announcement next year, says law don Eugene Tan
With a review of Singapore's electoral boundaries underway, voters are likely to be at the polls early next year in a general election that could be even more competitive than before, political observers say.
The Elections Department yesterday announced the formation of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) - the first step towards the next general election, which must be held by April 2021.
Convened last month by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the EBRC will review the boundaries of current electoral divisions, taking into consideration significant changes in the number of electors in the electoral divisions as a result of population shifts and housing developments.
Made up of senior civil servants and chaired by the secretary to the Prime Minister, Mr Tan Kee Yong, the EBRC will recommend to Mr Lee the number and boundaries of group representation constituencies (GRCs) and single-member constituencies (SMCs).
It has also been tasked with reducing the average size of GRCs further and creating more SMCs than the current 13.
There are currently 16 GRCs with an average size of 4.75 members, down from five in 2011 and 5.4 before then.
Singapore Management University (SMU) law don Eugene Tan said the committee's formation points to an election after next year's Budget announcement, which is typically held in the last week of February.
"PM Lee made significant announcements in his National Day rally three weeks ago and financial provisions will have to be made for them," he told The New Paper.
"My suspicion is that many of these policies will be part of the PAP's (People's Action Party) manifesto and it will go to the voters to ask for an unequivocally strong mandate."
The EBRC has taken between two and four months to do its work, and once it releases its report, the next steps in the lead-up to the polls are:
- Issuing the writ of election,
- Dissolving Parliament,
- Nomination Day,
- And a minimum of nine days of campaigning and Cooling-Off Day, on the eve of Polling Day.
For past elections, the interval between the announcement of the EBRC's formation and Polling Day ranged from two to seven months.
Said Education University of Hong Kong's Assistant Professor Woo Jun Jie: "Certainly, this gives the opposition a limited timeframe to work with, although several parties have shown indications that they have already been preparing."
SIM Global Education's Dr Felix Tan agreed that a March 2020 election was likely but would not be surprised if one was called in December.
"It might take the opposition by surprise," he said.
SMU's Prof Tan said SMCs and smaller GRCs allow for a closer connection between Members of Parliament and their constituents, but this might also make it easier for the opposition to not just field a team, but put out a strong one.
Said SIM's Dr Tan: "Having more SMCs, perhaps we will see more opposition figures and a more vibrant election."
Dr Woo said the loss of Aljunied GRC to the Workers' Party in 2011 has shown how GRCs can be an Achilles heel for the PAP.
"Given that the next GE is expected to be even more intensely contested, greater decentralisation can help reduce such risks."