With the Electoral Boundary Review Committee set up 2 months ago and with the increasing likelihood that the General Elections might be called in September 2015, I figured that it would be useful to take a look at the current electoral boundaries and the performance of the PAP in the 2011 elections.
When we compare the 2006 elections and the 2011 elections, there was a vote swing of 6.46% against the PAP. Of course, this comparison is not very effective as the number of contested seats in the 2006 and in 2011 differed greatly.
Popular vote in 2006: 747,860 (66.6%) based on 47 constituencies contested and 37 seats returned unopposed.
Popular vote in 2011: 1,212,154 (60.14%) based on 82 seats contested and 5 seats (Tanjong Pagar GRC) returned unopposed.
The 6.46% swing masks the larger story of many constituencies that had not been contested for 2 to 4 general elections. It is, therefore, difficult to work out a clear pattern of the nature of the swing.
Based on constituencies that were contested in both the 2006 and 2011 election (4 SMCs and 6 GRCs), the vote swing on a constituency basis was as follows:
Largest vote swing against the PAP in an SMC: Joo Chiat SMC – 14%
Largest vote swing against the PAP in a GRC: Sembawang GRC – 12.8%
Smallest vote swing against the PAP: Hougang SMC – 2.07%
The votes didn’t swing against the PAP across the board and two constituencies went against the political wind:
Potong Pasir SMC swung in favour of PAP by 6.18% and Ang Mo Kio GRC swung in favour of PAP by 3.19%
If we average out the vote swing for the 4 SMCs and 6 GRCs that were contested in both 2006 and 2011, the figure we get is a 6.54% swing against the PAP. That works out to be very similar to the swing based on the popular vote. I guess there was a consistent trend across the board in the country of disaffection with the PAP’s policies.
As PAP’s popular vote has come down to 60%, I would have reservations about expecting a large vote swing against the PAP for the upcoming general elections. 2015 has presented the PAP with the opportunity to go on a propaganda overdrive and the celebration of the nation’s 50th anniversary is often blurred over into a celebration of the PAP’s contributions. Given this fact, any vote swing is against the PAP is bound to be difficult to accomplish.
However, there is widespread evidence of discontent over public transport, overcrowding, shoddy building projects, etc and there is every likelihood that some SMCs and possibly even another GRC might fall to the opposition.
If there is a swing against the PAP which averages at 5% nationwide, which are the PAP constituencies that are vulnerable to falling into opposition hands?
Those constituencies that were won by the PAP by more than a 60% margin are quite safe and it would take some major scandal for the PAP to be ousted in those areas. The following are more vulnerable constituencies where PAP won by less than 60% of the votes in the 2011 elections:
Potong Pasir SMC – 50.36%
Joo Chiat SMC – 51%
Punggol East SMC – 54.54%
East Coast GRC (5 seats) – 54.8%
Marine Parade GRC (5 seats) – 56.6%
Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC (5 seats) – 56.93%
Tampines GRC (5 seats) – 57.2%
Nee Soon GRC (5 seats) – 58.4%
Sengkang West SMC – 58.1%
Moulmein-Kallang GRC (4 seats) – 58.55%
Mounbatten SMC – 58.62%
Punggol East SMC is now in opposition hands after the by-election in 2013 with a 12.15% swing against the PAP. By-elections in Singapore have always been non-indicative of performance in General Elections. There are many ‘middle-ground’ voters that desire to have more opposition in Parliament to act as a check on the PAP but are at the same time not prepared to have a non-PAP government. These are voters that would vote for the PAP in a General Elections for fear of the so-called “freak” result of PAP going out of power, but would not hesitate to vote for the opposition in a by-election. Punggol East should be seen from that perspective although the large percentage of the swing was probably influenced by other factors that displayed general disaffection with the PAP’s socio-economic policies.
Though PAP re-captured Potong Pasir in 2011, that constituency is vulnerable to an opposition takeover with the right candidate contesting there. The ruling party might find it prudent to absorb Potong Pasir into neighbouring constituencies. Purely from the perspective of voter representation, however, Potong Pasir has a disproportionately small voter base compared to other constituencies and so redistribution of the Potong Pasir voters on the ground of demographics is easy to justify.
Joo Chiat SMC is another vulnerable SMC but if we look at the neighbouring East Coast GRC, it is also vulnerable with only 54.8% of the vote. Marine Parade GRC that adjoins Joo Chiat is just outside the 5% margin (on the assumption of a 5%swing). In the 2011 elections, Marine Parade was probably affected by the presence of Tin Pei Ling and as the voter reaction to her was very adverse, there is every likelihood that the 56.6% reflected that. There is a good chance that some redrawing of boundaries will take place involving East Coast GRC, Marine Parade GRC, Joo Chiat and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC (which adjoins EastCoast GRC and performed well with 64.8% in the 2011 elections)
Whichever way the boundaries are redrawn in the eastern part of the island, it is quite obvious that the constituencies there are vulnerable to any swing of 5% or more against the PAP. In fact, a 10% swing (very unlikely) will be a devastating blow for the PAP. 33 seats are at stake in those regions where the PAP’s popular vote was less than 60%. These will, no doubt, be the areas where the contest will be really hot. If these 33 seats are won by the opposition and the current opposition seats remain with them, Parliament will be composed of 47 PAP MPs and 40 opposition MPs. That will still result in PAP forming the government but would deprive them of the ability to make Constitutional amendments at will. From the PAP’s standpoint, they would also be deprived of the services of some of the current Ministers. There is every possibility that the reduction of 5 member GRCs to 3 or 4 member GRCs and the release of more SMCs into the field will be capable of protecting some of the Ministerial portfolio holders from defeat whilst less ‘weighty’ MPs will be compromised in the general elections.
The more probable outcome is a swing of 5% against the PAP and the constituency gains for the opposition is likely to be more modest. Winning one more GRC at the next General Elections would, by itself, be a big gain for the opposition.
Of course, anything can happen. First, we have to wait and see what sort of boundary changes are proposed. Secondly, there is the matter of the actual election campaign itself and lastly, any sudden and unanticipated news of poor governance can affect the votes significantly.