Boundaries panel should be independent

For decades, Singapore's boundary reviews have been done by a committee chaired by the Cabinet secretary reporting to the prime minister. The boundaries of electoral constituencies are decided by the Elections Department, under the control of the Prime Minister's Office.

In other words, the head of government maintains full discretion in delineating constituency boundaries by appointing the review committee. The review is distilled into a report and submitted to the Cabinet for approval. This could raise questions of whether enough oversight exists to prevent arbitrary decision-making.

Singapore's democracy is based on the premise of political autonomy for accountability. Perhaps it is time for the authorities to consider having an independent committee.

To be truly independent, the members of the committee should include retired judges, because these judges have valuable legal expertise and experience in making non-partisan decisions. Citizens, except those who are members of a political party, who represent the public more directly should also be included to reflect gender and racial diversity.

The committee should be able to make the constituencies more competitive to reflect diversity, and be accountable to the electorate by making public its decision on the boundaries.

This could give the public full confidence in the fairness and openness of its procedures and transparency.

Singapore's political system has produced stability, prosperity and a good quality of life. But unlike the pioneer generation, the current younger generation is more vocal and extroverted, which means our Government has to renew its mandate through free and fair electoral boundary adjustment every five years or so.

Our political system has worked well because the Government has regularly reviewed and updated the framework in tandem with societal changes. I hope the Government will do the same by revamping the appointment of the review committee.

The governing style has also changed from autocratic to consultative. Because the electoral boundaries are a function of the electoral process, Singaporeans are keen to be engaged on this issue that affects their voting decision in a community.

The Government must find the balance to accommodate the aspirations of the younger generation in making the drawing of electoral boundaries more transparent, without interference and conflict of interest.

Francis Cheng

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