Worthwhile to consider electoral college system

It is sobering to note that such a globally consequential event as Britain leaving the European Union was decided by a wafer-thin margin of less than 4 percentage points.

It is pointless to speculate if the result would have been different, had the voter turnout been higher than the recorded 72.2 per cent.

But the result does reinforce the message that every vote counts ("Time to rethink one man, one vote?"; yesterday).

Anti-establishment and populist politics are among the myriad of reasons cited for the Brexit result.

This was also borne out by reports of "Leave" voters who had "voted with their hearts", but who want to reverse their choice now that they are better informed and aware of the consequences of their vote.

As evident by our own watershed General Election in 2011, Singaporeans are not immune to the siren songs of populist and anti-establishment rhetoric.

In that election, the ruling People's Action Party had its worst electoral showing since independence, with 60.1 per cent of the vote share, and lost a group representation constituency for the first time.

Perhaps it is time to look into implementing an electoral college system in Singapore, starting with our next presidential election.

I believe Singapore's population distribution has settled sufficiently to accord us a base to determine the number of electoral votes to be awarded to a given constituency.

I did a back-of-the-envelope modelling of the 2011 Presidential Election results.

By apportioning electoral votes according to each voting district's number of voters and assuming a similar vote distribution as for General Election 2011, Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam would have won approximately 90 per cent of the electoral vote count, instead of the 35.2 per cent on record.

Thus, had we adopted an electoral college system in the 2011 Presidential Election, the result might have mitigated against the "mandate" grouses heard after that election.

I am also hopeful that an electoral college system can be an alternative to reviewing the eligibility criteria for the presidential election.

Any restriction, even if merely perceived, will only make citizens with an anti-establishment inclination more cynical.

On how to apply this system to the general election, I admit we will have our work cut out for us in reconciling it with our existing framework of electing MPs and the Government.

However, it is worth looking into the electoral college system as an additional layer to the cherished "one person, one vote" system, to mitigate against freak results which we regret the day after.

Ronnie Lee Kok Tong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2016, with the headline 'Worthwhile to consider electoral college system'. Print Edition | Subscribe