Electoral boundaries committee formed: What does it mean and when will Singapore's GE be?

Voters casting their votes at the polling station in Cantonment Primary School during Singapore's general election on Sept 11, 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The countdown to the general election has officially begun, with the setting up of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC).

The committee is tasked with drawing up the electoral divisions, and sets the stage for the election.

As there is no requirement for the Prime Minister to announce the formation of the committee, MPs - particularly opposition MPs - have taken to filing parliamentary questions about it.

The most recent was in July when Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh asked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong if the committee had been set up. Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, replying on PM Lee's behalf, said the committee had not been appointed yet.

But there had been signs the committee was in the offing.

First, the voter rolls were certified in April. This usually happens before the committee is set up to ensure it has the latest population numbers when deliberating on the boundaries of the constituencies.

Second, the boundaries of polling districts were changed and gazetted in March. This was done to ensure no polling station handled too many or too few voters.

Based on the last three elections PM Lee has called in 2006, 2011 and 2015, a general election could be called from between two and seven months from the time the committee's formation is announced.

Here are some key facts on the committee and what's next:

1. What is the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee?

Its task is to review the boundaries of existing constituencies and recommend the number of group representation constituencies (GRCs) and single member constituencies (SMCs), based on population changes.

It is an ad hoc committee appointed by the Prime Minister, to whom it will submit its report.

The report then goes to Parliament, which will decide whether to accept the new boundaries.

2. Who is in the committee?

The Secretary to the Prime Minister chairs the committee which is typically made up of five public servants with expertise in urban planning and demographic statistics.

Past members include the CEOs of the Housing Board and Singapore Land Authority, chief statistician from the Statistics Department and head of the Elections Department (ELD).

Those holding these posts now are: Mr Tan Kee Yong, who is Secretary to the Prime Minister; Dr Cheong Koon Hean, HDB CEO; Mr Tan Boon Khai, SLA CEO; Ms Wong Wee Kim, chief statistician; and Mr Koh Siong Ling, head of the ELD.

3. What is significance of committee being formed?

Its formation is a clear sign that a general election is near.

In effect, it determines the definitive map of the battleground for the upcoming polls.

4. When must the committee finish its work?

The committee is not given a deadline to finish its work but past teams took from three weeks to seven months to issue its report.

In the past, a general election had been called within weeks of the report's release. Under PM Lee, the timeframe has been between two and three months.

5. What's next?

MPs and voters will watch closely for when Parliament is dissolved.

The President will announce the dissolution of Parliament on the advice of the Prime Minister, and issue the Writ of Election.

Next comes Nomination Day, when parties put up their electoral candidates. This must take place no earlier than five days and no later than one month after the writ is issued. This has typically been kept to one week.

Nomination Day marks the start of the election campaign period, which can be from nine to 55 days under the law. But it had typically been kept to nine or 10 days.

The day after campaigning ends is Cooling Off Day, when no campaigning is allowed, with a few exceptions.

Following that is Polling Day when people cast their vote. It usually happens on a Saturday and is a public holiday.

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