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‘More detailed explanation needed to fend off gerrymandering claims’

SINGAPORE — Noting that the boundary changes announced yesterday 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.

Voters during the 2011 GE. TODAY file photo

Voters during the 2011 GE. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — Noting that the boundary changes announced yesterday 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 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). While the Opposition parties could feel aggrieved by the changes, the People’s Action Party (PAP) could also be adversely affected, the analysts pointed out.

With some five-men GRC teams having been downsized to four, Associate Professor Eugene Tan said it may also lower the barriers to entry for Opposition parties, as it would be easier to find four high-calibre candidates to contest instead of five.

On the other hand, this could also result in more multicornered fights that are disadvantageous to the Opposition parties, he added.

He also noted that Single-Member Constituencies would attract a lot of interest because voters would be able to compare individual candidates rather than teams, as comparisons of GRC teams could be skewed when a line-up includes a heavyweight minister.

With the boundaries of Joo Chiat dissolved and East Coast GRC downsized, changes could also be afoot for The Workers’ Party’s (WP) strategy, which could be northwards or southwards from its base in Aljunied GRC.

Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Gillian Koh said that if the WP tended the ground “based on geography rather than political boundaries”, she would expect them to be undeterred by the changes and contest East Coast GRC, Fengshan SMC, and Jalan Besar GRC.

“The real choice will be whether to gun for Marine Parade GRC, but the Joo Chiat base would be too small to justify having to find a strong five-member team for it,” said Dr Koh.

She also noted that if the WP is “ambitious and wishes to gun for another area contiguous to its current stronghold”, it might also contest the six-seat Punggol-Pasir Ris GRC.

“(But) they will need to have quite a high level of talent to make serious bids for these,” she added.

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