EBRC not transparent about boundary changes

From ‘More detailed explanation needed to fend off gerrymandering claims’, 25 July 15, article by Siau Ming En, CNA.

Noting that the boundary changes announced on Friday (Jul 24) were not drastic, political analysts nevertheless felt the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee should explain in greater detail the rationale behind its decisions to fend off perennial accusations of gerrymandering from the Opposition.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said the generic reasons given for the redrawing of boundaries, which include taking into consideration population shifts and housing developments, still leave many questioning how they were done.

“Because sometimes voters are unable to explain or even observers are unable to explain why the boundaries were redrawn the way that they are, that fact lends itself to possible criticisms of gerrymandering,” he said.

The committee said it “reviewed all the existing electoral divisions, taking into account their current configurations, population shifts and housing developments since the last boundary delineation exercise”. It also followed guidelines by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to reduce the average size of the GRC to fewer than five members, and have at least 12 single-seat wards.

Former Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong said: “Insofar as the committee does not provide clear and detailed reasons for its changes, it will trigger speculation and conspiracy theories — which may or may not be justifiable or grounded in truth — about the reasons behind its decisions, and that is not healthy and not conducive to a resilient political culture in Singapore.”

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the changes were significant but “not exactly earth-shaking”, adding that he had expected some three-member Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs).

Gerrymandering is the carving up of electorial boundaries to benefit one political party, and is the kind of word you shouldn’t toss about willy-nilly in case you get ‘Roy Ngernged’.

In a 2009 dialogue session, the EBRC explained that they’re made up of senior civil servants such as the chief statistician and the heads of the HDB and SLA, and considers ‘population growth and movement’ when recommending changes. When quizzed whether such a committee was in fact non-partisan without being pressured by the PM himself, a member from AGC clarified that civil servants owe their allegiance not to the PAP, but the President, a ‘politically neutral institution’. Yes, we trust these people are ‘politically blind’ even if our current President was once a PAP-man himself, and all civil servants just got a SG50 $500 handout. And oh yes, even if the Chairman of the EBRC so happens to be Tan Kee Yong, Secretary to, erm, the Prime Minister.

Prior to independence, our Government set up the first ‘Electoral Boundaries Delineation Committee’. Despite being chaired by the Perm Sec of the PMO, all registered political parties were ‘invited to give their views by way of memoranda’. Today, nobody is consulted on whatever’s going on in those boardrooms, and then boom!, your Changi Village is now officially part of goddamn Siglap, though both places, for all practical purposes, are worlds apart. Which makes you wonder if the EBDC are using an actual Singapore map, or the one that Frodo uses to get to Mordor.

The population shift reasoning is shaky for certain enclaves such as Joo Chiat, which is made up almost entirely of private residences, and has a schizoid history of getting in and out of GRCs (from 1959 to 1988, then 2001-2015 according to NMP Yee Jenn Jong). The fact that PAP incumbent MP Charles Chong won over Joo Chiat with a slim 51% margin had nothing to do with it being swallowed up, I suppose. Similarly, back in 1997, PAP garnered 54.8% of votes in Cheng San GRC, and it was dissolved completely before the very next election cycle. In that same year, Braddell Heights SMC, which the PAP escaped by the skin of their teeth when SPP’s Sin Kek Tong contested in 1991 (48% votes), was engulfed by Marine Parade GRC. Chiam See Tong remarked that residents woke up one morning and realised that they were in Marine Parade, without the beaches.

To give the illusion of ‘fairness’, some sacrificial lambs from the PAP have been offered to the EBRC altar.  Lui Tuck Yew and Dr Yaacob see their beloved Moulmein-Kallang dissolved to their disappointment. One consolation is the rise of Jalan Besar GRC from the dead, which Yaacob is already staking a claim on. Only the EBRC knows why one is dropped while another is resurrected. I wonder if those guys take the MRT or are fans of social media. Opposition wards were left untouched for obvious reasons. Even the ghost of LKY can’t deal with the repercussions if the PAP were to stick their fingers into the WP Aljunied pudding.

Despite our PM’s call for smaller GRCs, the two SUPER GRCs AMK and Pasir-Ris-Punggol still remain as 6 member teams, each helmed by the PM himself and Deputy PM Teo respectively. Some of the ‘conspiracy’ theories about jumbo GRCs is that it makes it difficult for Opposition to summon the numbers to contest, that there is ‘safety in numbers’, especially if key ministers need to be ‘protected’. Another ‘benefit’ of XXL GRCs is that it allows nobodies to ride on ‘coattails’ of anchor ministers. After the last election these GRCs served as a training ground for newbies and 4 years on, we get to see the likes of Tin Peiling, formerly a latch-on to Marine Parade GRC and poster-child for everything wrong with PAP, grow up and take on Macpherson SMC. Today no one ever mentions racial diversity among MPs as a reason for humongous GRCs, which incidentally, was the original intention of setting up GRCs in the first place. Maybe the refrain ‘One People, One Nation’ is finally setting in. Or is it ‘The more the merrier’. For the ruling party that is.

If you look at our PM’s GRC, there’s still a majority of Chinese with 1 Malay and one Inderjit Singh (who decided to retire from politics altogether). Why the ERBC didn’t splinter one SMC out of each supergroup to make it a maximum of 5 across the board for all GRCs is shrouded in secrecy. They probably wouldn’t throw out Dr Intan Moktar out into the wild. Not after what happened with her and the Yang Yin saga. Pasir Ris Punggol GRC has a similar racial and gender profile, and if there’s someone who should break out and claim an SMC, my recommendation would be the guy who has a workout named after LKY, Teo Ser Luck.

Or maybe all this is an elaborate ploy to get Singaporeans passionate in politics, for what is politics without lies and deceit, rumour-mongering and hot-headed drama?

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