The Straits Times says

Representation that fits society

The issue of political representation from a broad perspective is worth pondering as the next General Election is obviously on the cards - from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's announcement in Parliament last week that the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee had been formed two months ago. Opposition parties have criticised Mr Lee's decision to disclose the committee's formation only two months later, even though everyone knows no formal announcement of the committee is required at all. Talk of a possible election soon after Singapore's Golden Jubilee celebrations has been rife for many months, so no one can claim to be taken by surprise if and when this happens.

Of course, what matters more is what the report says and the date of its release, as that would set in motion the tactical manoeuvres for the polls. These include concentrating political resources appropriately by choosing whom to field where. The committee's remit - to consider population shifts and housing developments since the last exercise in 2011 - is theoretically broad enough to offer all parties an opportunity to harness demography to their advantage. In practice, voter cynicism could arise if the redrawing of boundaries to fix demographic anomalies seem to coincide too neatly with seats with razor-thin voting margins for the ruling party.

There are larger issues, too, like the nature of representation and the key roles of MPs. Mr Lee asked the committee to reduce the average size of a Group Representation Constituency to below five members, and to have at least 12 Single Member Constituencies. Since their introduction in 1988, GRCs have contributed to ensuring that a minimum number of representatives from the minority races is present in Parliament. However, big GRCs are not only unwieldy administratively, but they also restrict political choice potentially by obliging voters to elect a large number of candidates together. Not all of them might have enjoyed individually the vote that a GRC gives them collectively. Another argument that has been raised is the difficulty of voters in identifying with their MPs when the team is too large. Having smaller GRCs would preserve the scheme's multiracial rationale while giving voters more choice. A larger number of SMCs would reaffirm a balance between overarching national imperatives, such as multiracialism, and a keener exercise of choice.

Ultimately, elections are a means to renew a government's mandate to implement policies that fulfil national goals. No matter how a party fares, what is essential is that Singapore's interests are upheld. Multiracialism and meritocracy are inextricable parts of a national whole that includes an economy capable of underpinning the material needs of the people and a polity that can answer to their social aspirations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Representation that fits society'. Print Edition | Subscribe