The Straits Times says

What matters at coming election

The recommendations of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee demonstrate an incremental approach that balances the interests of all stakeholders. For example, the number of single seats and Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) will go up by just one each, and only 19 per cent of voters will wind up in a new constituency, compared with 30 per cent in 2011. While closely contested Joo Chiat (an anomaly that is composed of private housing) has vanished, so has Whampoa, a People's Action Party stronghold.

And while wards held by the Workers' Party were left untouched, there was also no move to downsize the representation of two jumbo six-member GRCs, helmed by top ministers.

Certainly, no redrawing of electoral boundaries can be free of contention, given its potential to tilt the balance in hotly contested areas or confer broad advantages to one side. In the polity that is Singapore, responses are also shaped by the present process of determining electoral divisions by political fiat and the past practice of calling for elections with little delay - as short as one day - after the release of the review report. Consequently, those who cynically dismiss the exercise as "gerrymandering" might ignore population shifts that form the basis for redefining wards.

It would be self-defeating if changes in the future (due to new developments like Bidadari Estate) play out to the same discordant tune and stir more such underlying resentment.

Charges of bias might linger in some quarters, along with calls for a counterbalancing opposition, till there is consensus on what constitutes fairness in the political arena. In an exposition of fair play and fair shares, commentator Willie Cheng was correct in concluding that ultimately it would be up to the electorate to judge whose yardsticks are "aligned with its own value system".

Such disputes should not outweigh substantive considerations that ought to matter more to Singaporeans. From a broad perspective, many would deem it important for the nation to negotiate the difficult path of restructuring the economy, maintaining vibrancy as a hub city amid slower growth rates, preparing for greater social spending as the population ages, and fostering both social participation and leadership renewal in the public realm. At the ground level, careful dissection is needed of issues like jobs, wages, foreign labour inputs, the cost of living, retirement, healthcare, housing, lifelong education, public transport, CPF, racial harmony and security.

The potential of elections to throw up useful debates - on the issues that should matter to all over the next five years and beyond - would be undermined if candidates choose to tap a vein of discontent over aspects of the electoral process rather than focus on the issues that the polls should rightly turn on.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2015, with the headline 'What matters at coming election'. Print Edition | Subscribe