Effects of recent electoral changes

If the new electoral rules had been in effect for the General Election of 2006, what would be the composition of Parliament today? My calculations show that we would have 7 legislators from the Workers’ Party and 2 from the Singapore Democratic Alliance. There would be none from the Singapore Democratic Party.

As explained in previous articles, the new electoral rules (passed by Parliament a week ago) aim to increase opposition representation through the device of Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMP), subject to a maximum of nine. It also makes permanent the inclusion of nine Nominated Members of Parliament, who are not party-affiliated.

Based on the announced formula, had the new rules been in effect, the opposition seats after the 2006 election would have been filled thus:

1. Two outright winners from their respective Single-Member Constituencies (SMC): Low Thia Khiang (Workers Party) and Chaim See Tong (Singapore Democratic Alliance)

2. Seven more NCMPs from Group Representation Constituencies or Single-Member Constituencies with the highest percentage opposition votes, subject to a maximum of only two NCMPs from any GRC. Thus:

(a) Two Workers’ Party NCMPs from Aljunied GRC,
(b) Steve Chia (SDA) from Choa Chu Kang SMC,
(c) Two WP NCMPs from East Coast GRC,
(d) Tan Bin Seng (WP) from Joo Chiat SMC, and
(e) Lian Chin Way (WP) from Nee Soon Central SMC.

When a GRC is allotted NCMPs, it is up to the party to decide which of its slate of candidates will get those seats. That is why I cannot point to any particular names from Aljunied and East Coast GRCs.

The vote-counts and percentage results from the 2006 General Election can be seen here:

Source: http://www.elections.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary2006.html

Opposition party politicians would therefore take up about one in ten of the seats in Parliament. The NCMPs however cannot vote on budget bills, constitutional amendments and motions of confidence.

* * * * *

As regular readers would know, I have long argued for an electoral system that combines first-past-the-post with proportional representation (PR). I believe the best formula would be to have half the parliamentary seats filled through Single-Member Constituencies, complemented by an equal number of seats filled through proportional representation.

Since there are currently 84 constituencies (once we break up the GRCs), we might keep them all for simplicity’s sake. Then we add 84 more proportional-representation seats. Total: 168.

I would also keep the PR system as simple as possible. It is open to party lists, with any ten citizens able to form a party, and seats are allocated in direct proportion to the percentage of votes cast nationwide.

It would be important to give each voter two votes: One for the constituency election and another for the PR side of the election. He can vote for one party/candidate for his constituency and vote for another party with his second, PR, vote.

(Example: I can see a lot of liberal-minded people voting for Baey Yam Keng and Hri Kumar (PAP), should they stand in constituencies, even as the same voters vote against the PAP with their PR-vote. The two appear to represent the liberal wing of the party, but the party as a whole is quite unpalatable for its authoritarian, father-knows-best streak.)

What would Parliament today look like if my system had been in place in 2006? It’s hard to say without making biggish assumptions about voter behaviour. The key assumptions I would need to make are as follows:

1. That even after we had broken up all the GRCs into SMCs, all of their component constituencies would still go to the PAP under a first-past-the-post system;

2. That voters would cast their second (PR) vote for parties in the same way they had cast for GRC and SMC candidates. 66.6 percent of valid votes went to PAP candidates in 2006; we assume that even if they had been given a second vote for the PR side of the election, 66.6 percent would still be cast for the PAP.

Under these assumptions, we would still have Low and Chiam holding the constituency seats for  Hougang and Potong Pasir respectively.

However, 28 of the 84 PR seats would go to the opposition. Of these 28, the lion’s share (18) would be awarded to the Workers’ Party, 7 to the Singapore Democratic Alliance and 3 to the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

In my proposed system, there are no Nominated Members of Parliament. And all legislators get the right to participate in all parliamentary votes, including constitutional amendments and motions of confidence; there would not be first-class and second-class legislators.

The table below compares the make-up of Parliament at present (“old system”) with the hypothetical compositions (a) had the new electoral rules been in place in 2006 and (b) had my system been in effect in 2006.

Even under my system, the PAP would be able to form a stable government, with whopping majority of 82 percent. There is no need to fear deadlock and instability.

But with some 30 opposition members in Parliament, we’d probably have livelier debates and better representation of different voters’ interests.

This is why I did not agree with the new electoral rules, increasing the number of NCMPs. Yes, they were a step in the right direction, but it was far too timid a step. It also suffered from the defect of entrenching Nominated MPs, something that I totally disagree with as a matter of principle. A bolder scheme is called for and as I have demonstrated above, can be afforded without risk.

9 Responses to “Effects of recent electoral changes”

  1. 1 matalamak 7 May 2010 at 21:02

    But I think no matter what scheme, walkovers by PAP will be a key feature in the electoral scene.

    Not to forget that there are 6o+ % of voters who, no matter what, voted for the PAP every past election.

    So statistically speaking, there will hence be a high chance this will be repeated at the next election.

    I would say a credible opposition will only emerge if there is a split within the PAP.

    But again statistically speaking, the chances of this is very, very low.

    Like MM Lee said, PAP will win big for at least 2 more elections. And may I add, hopefully if he is still around, mentally fit and not comatose or dead.

  2. 2 ExExpat 7 May 2010 at 23:35

    Hi Alex, I really like your calculations, yet your proposed new YB system severely suffers in 3 aspects:

    1 – its not representative at all, 18% seats for 33% of votes is NOT representative!
    2 – we simply have no space for 168 seats, a new parliament needs to be build (maybe can be integrated in a resort?)
    3 – walkovers, as comment 1 alluded to, so I dont see how your proposed system handles that? Missing seats? That’s complicated too, just as potential extra seats in a Germanian system.

    All 3 issues are avoided by a German-like model, despite it is slightly complex to understand, its the fairest:

    1 – It’s 100% representative – 33% votes = 33% seats.
    2 – One can theoretically have any numbers of seats, for instance 84, as the 2nd vote determines the absolute %age
    3 – The thorny walkover issue, well the affected voters would presumably have no 1st vote, but the 2nd vote is the important one, so their vote weighs as 100% as everyone else they just don’t have a direct opposition candidate they could vote for.

    As much as I appreciate your ideas, I think even the “YB system” is quite muddy and not completely fair, neither is it feasible (point 2).

    I am really curious about the next data set in 2011… ExExpat

  3. 3 Robox 8 May 2010 at 23:23

    Hi Alex, I state at the oustet that I have not read the new amendments to in the Constitution regarding the GRC nor NCMP schemes. As someone who believes in the abolishment of GRCs, I belive that one wayto accomplish it it is to fing as mant faults with it – preferably, in my opinion, law-based ones – to accomplsih that objective.

    Thus this post is not so much about the recent amendments, which I am going to assume for now have been written to have the outcome of “equality under the law” for all political parties including the PAP, but more about the current *thinking* taking root.

    Early in your article, you state that:


    Based on the announced formula, had the new rules been in effect, the opposition seats after the 2006 election would have been filled thus:


    2. Seven more NCMPs from Group Representation Constituencies or Single-Member Constituencies with the highest percentage opposition votes, subject to a maximum of only two NCMPs from any GRC. Thus…


    What then happens should a PAP GRC team be a “next highest qualifier” making two of their members eligible for NCMP seats?

    A possible scenario, one in which the parties currently in opposition do fairly poorly, might look like this:

    Seats 1 – 4: A four-member SDP team who narrowly beat a PAP team (SDP: 50.8%; PAP: 49.2%), making the defeated PAP team the “next highest qualifiers fortwo seats. Thus;

    Seats 5 and 6: Two members from the defeated PAP team;

    Seats 7: Sylvia Lim who earned 44% in the SMC she contested; and,

    Seats 8 and 9: Two members from a USD GRC team who earned 42% of the vote.

    Is there aun understanding or logical gap somewhere in my argument? Would appreciate your thoughts.

  4. 4 Robox 8 May 2010 at 23:56

    To carry over my concerns from the previous discussion regarding minority race representation/participation should there be a reversion to an only SMCs sytem (without any institutionalizing of Indian and Malay representation/participation), I have noted that all the current SMC’s are helmed by MPs who are ethnic Chinese, be they from the ruling party or opposition ones.

    To me, that should already be cause for sounding the alarm.

    How would it play out in the next elections with the number of SMCs increased to 12?

    To make matters worse, I really cannot remember too may non-Chinese as NMPs. Visva Sadasivan is one in the current batch, but I cannot remember anyone from the last batch. And I can only remember one Malay/Muslim individual – Zulkifli Baharuddin – ever occupying the position.

    As an aside, I still maintain that it should have been the PAP who had thought these things through prior to making the changes because:

    1. It is they who made minority race represntation the only justification for GRCs, though I continue to maintain that minority races, not to metion scores of ethnic Chinese, have accepted it as a strong rationale albeit entrenched within a flawed system;

    (Interestingly, I recall LKY once, while rationalizing the GRC on this grounds, noting that even the PAP’s own minority race members had been faring worse generally compared to their Chinese PAP colleagues; this should be verifiable.)

    2. It is also the PAP who has crafted both the original laws as well as the latest amendments.

    But back to the main point, with your explanation that it is the party that decides who in any qualifying GRC takes up NCMP seats, then minority race representation by the opposition parties is left to a game of chance.

    If a convention develops that the leader of a GRC would get first dips to an NCMP seat, then I would have to comment that because a leader has to be explicitly named as such in an GRC team just as the minority race cadidate is, then more often than not, especially in the opposition parties, the leaders would be an ethnic Chinese.

    (Kenneth Jeyaratnam could be one minority race person who might buck the trend. However, I reject any inclusion of him or his father in these discussions. Many countries have thrown up individual politicians who figure larger-than-life in the electorate’s imagination. JB Jeyaratnam was one such person and it seems to be rubbing off on his son. As an anology, If you are Gandhi woman in India contesting elections, you never have to worry that your female sex would act to disadvante you in an electoral contest.)

    I have always suspected that the PAP is acutely aware that minority races could stand to be a rich source of the swing vote.

    I wonder if – as things stand – by entrenching minority race representation/participation only for itself but not the opposition parties, they hope to be the only side that can continue to inspire confidence in the minority races.

    More importantly though, I believe that we should be averting any possibility in which, if you from a minority race, you should not harbour any hopes to a position in any particular position of your choice.

  5. 5 Robox 9 May 2010 at 00:08

    One final thing, for now at least, that I see going wrong for the opposition parties is that with the “no more than two members from any one GRC team” stipulation, this might lead to situation in which the opposition parties might have to start gambling about the composition of their teams.

    Let me backtrack first by stating that it is my belief that while PAP candidates can coast through elections based on its party name, the opposition parties can only do so on the perceived strength of its individual members. Thus fielding the maximum number of perceived-to-be-strong candidates, whether that’s three or four, is to the opposition parties advantage.

    More and more, the opposition parties are developing this capability.

    But if one or two of the already-strong team stand the chance of being left out of consideration for NCMP seats, then the party might be tempted to split up its strong candidates into more than one GRC team, thereby diluting its perceived strength and chances of electoral success.

    The cahnces are still higher for the PAP even before the starting gun has been fired.

    (BTW, I support PR if it can allow the parties with less populist ideologies to have candidates. Perhaps more on this later.)

  6. 6 Robox 9 May 2010 at 00:23

    Just found this Alex:



    The Reform Party’s demand identifies four likely members of the team for the five-MP West Coast GRC. They are: Mr Chiam and the Reform Party’s A team: Mr Jeyaretnam, Mr Tony Tan and Ms Hazel Poa.


    If there are no longer be GRCs greater than four members, then if the above is given the green light, what we have is:

    1. Four members of a GCR team, all of whom are perceived to be strong candidates;

    2. Two of the four candidates stand the possibility of having no seats which would then only retard the opposition even more than it already has been; and,

    3. The leader of one of the component parties will also be named the minority race candidate.

  7. 7 yawningbread 9 May 2010 at 14:06

    Robox asked: “What then happens should a PAP GRC team be a “next highest qualifier” making two of their members eligible for NCMP seats?”

    The new rules are not symmetrical. Ruling party candidates are not eligible for NCMP seats.

    Section 52(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act says: “The non-constituency Member or Members to be declared elected under subsection (1) shall be determined from among the candidates of those political parties (other than the party or parties that will form the Government) contesting the general election on the basis of the percentage of the votes polled…”

    Notice the parenthesis.

  8. 8 Robox 10 May 2010 at 02:03

    Once again, thanks for the clarification, Alex.

  9. 9 Vernon Voon 11 May 2010 at 11:18

    Where will the ruling and other parties find all the candidates to contest the PR seats? Apparently they have enough difficulty finding enough candidates of sufficient quality to stand for the constituency seats.

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