Starting today, you’re likely to hear the expression “freak election result” used frequently. With all constituencies except Tanjong Pagar being contested by opposition parties, there is a mathematical possibility, even if it’s in the nano-percentage range, that the People’s Action Party (PAP) might fail to win a majority in the next parliament.
PAP candidates will try to scare voters off voting for opposition parties by raising the specter of the PAP being unable to form a government.
Don’t laugh too soon. As a friend recalled not too long ago, there are Singaporeans among us who think that if the PAP government falls, all civil servants will lose their jobs and they will not need to report for work the day after polling day. There will be people for whom beating the drum of imminent collapse will have an effect on their voting behaviour.
Of course, that’s not how things should work. As Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party has reiterated many times, the civil service is designed to remain in place even if political officers lose their jobs after an election. Things will carry on, except that with new ministers taking over, policy directions will be reviewed. But Singapore is not going to come to a stop.
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Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photographs inside the nomination centre at Jurong Junior College today; I would have loved to show Singaporeans how things are arranged. I was allowed in, past the airport-style security, because this time I was acting as one of five assentors for Teo Soh Lung, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) candidate for the Single-Member Constituency of Yuhua. Members of the public are not otherwise permitted entry.
With forms filled in, checked and double-checked several times before-hand, we arrived a few minutes before 11 a.m.
The school’s assembly hall was divided into four sections, to serve the single-member constituencies (SMC) of Pioneer and Yuhua and the group representation constituencies (GRC) of Jurong and West Coast. In each section were two head tables of elections officers, in front of which were two blocks of chairs. In the Yuhua section, the all-white PAP team led by Grace Fu was already seated in one block. The SDP group took the other block.
At 11 o’clock sharp, the Returning Officer of the nomination centre announced that they were open to receive nominations and the respective candidates and their proposers stepped up to the head tables to present their forms. Within 5 – 10 minutes, the forms had been checked by the elections officers and the candidates returned to the block of seats.
Looking around me, I was glad to see that every one of the four sections (for the 2 SMCs and 2 GRCs) had an opposition team. I didn’t know it then, but this scene would be repeated in all other nomination centres across Singapore.
At about 11:45 a.m., the elections officers came by to inform us that all forms would be pinned up on a board just outside the entrance to the hall. Candidates, proposers, seconders and assentors were invited to scrutinise all the forms and if they find errors in their opponents’ forms, they should report them promptly.
It may surprise you but the SDP’s forms were the neatest. All the data had been carefully typed in and the necessary signatures placed in the respective boxes. Apparently, the rules are such that no amendments and corrections are allowed. Some of the PAP forms were handwritten (with different handwriting in different boxes, indicating that they had been filled in by different people at different times), which poses a higher risk of error.
The National Solidarity Party’s (NSP) forms for Jurong GRC, also handwritten, did indeed contain an omission — the address box had been left blank — and it looked like their opponents, the PAP team for Jurong GRC, pointed it out to election officials. Fortunately, it did not take more than a few seconds for the NSP team, led by Christopher Neo, to fill it in, but on the wall, the form looked a little messy, with differently-coloured ink.
With the neatest forms, the SDP gave an impression of careful planning, co-ordination and checking behind the scenes.
At 12 noon, nominations closed, but there would be half an hour more for objections to be raised.
Over at the Greenridge Secondary School nomination centre catering to Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and other constituencies, a serious objection was indeed raised. The SDP team there pointed out that one of the PAP candidates, Sim Ann, had listed her occupation as “unemployed”, when strictly speaking, she had not fully served out her notice period after submitting her resignation from the civil service. Thus, technically, she was still a civil servant and should not be participating in politics.
You will hear Vincent Wijeysingha speaking about it at 1 min 49 secs in this video, recorded at Greenridge:
The Returning Officer at Greenridge overruled the SDP’s objections and accepted her nomination. I find this decision hard to understand. Most people will agree that the ordinary meaning is that if one is still receiving salary, and only clearing one’s accumulated leave, one is still in the employ of the employer.
[Update from Channel NewsAsia: In a press statement released later, the Elections Department said the Public Service Division has confirmed that PAP candidate Sim Ann is no longer with the civil service. The Elections Department said it was not apparent from the nomination paper that Ms Sim Ann was still in the civil service. Hence, the objection was disallowed. Later at a press conference, Ms Sim Ann called their claims “utterly and completely baseless”. She told reporters she had resigned from the Public Service Division on Mar 18 and her last day of work was April 3. So, she said, she was unemployed from April 4 onwards. She added she had to pay a financial penalty for falling short of the stipulated period of notice.
Dr Balakrishnan also refused to be drawn into comments made against him following his remarks on the SDP questioning whether the SDP had a gay agenda. He said given how the SDP had addressed the issue, they would leave it at that.]
Anyway, coming back to the nomination centre where I was, 12:30 p.m. passed uneventfully and no disputes were in progress. Thereafter, there was a further wait before the candidates were called out to the balcony where the Returning Officer announced to the gathered crowd and media the names of the candidates. The latter were then permitted to make short speeches.
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Outside, party supporters had waited patiently under the hot sun for more than two hours. Of course, the PAP supporters, all dressed in crisp white, outnumbered supporters of opposition parties by a ratio of about 30 to one. The PAP had organised coaches to transport them to the centre from assembly points all over.
Nonetheless, two SDP supporters were to have pleasant surprises during the wait. As told to me over lunch, a Chinese man in the PAP’s uniform sauntered over to talk to an SDP supporter, in the course of which the PAP supporter said, in Chinese, “I’m only here because I’ve been told to come.
“But nowadays, voting is quite a separate matter.”
As if one was not enough, another SDP supporter had a similar encounter too, in a different part of the school’s sports field where they were standing. A Malay gentleman drifted by and, pointing to the PAP logo on his shirt, said, “This is not an indication how I’ll vote.”
2011 is the first general election since independence in 1965 when we’ve had such a high percentage of contested seats. The nearest was in 1988 (the first election in which GRCs were in place) when 5 out of 81 seats were walkovers. The excitement should be more infectious than ever before since this time, more than 94 percent of voters (total number of voters = 2,350,873 minus those in Tanjong Pagar 139,771) will have a chance to cast a ballot.
But it also means that the result will be harder than ever to predict, especially with the rise of new media. And so, we’re likely to hear “beware freak election result” again and again till we’re sick of it.