Parliament: Electoral boundaries committee formed 2 months ago

PM Lee Hsien Loong (front) arriving at the Chong Boon Secondary School polling station with his fellow PAP candidates for the Ang Mo Kio GRC during the General Election in 2011. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

SINGAPORE - The committee that reviews electoral boundaries was formed two months ago, an indication that the general election could be round the corner.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced this in Parliament on Monday, in response to questions from MPs.

The formation of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, which redraws constituency boundaries ahead of a general election, is the first formal step towards calling a GE.

In the run-up to the elections in 2006 and 2011, the committee had taken four months to do its work before submitting its report.

While there is no fixed date for the election to be called after the report is made public, it has in previous elections taken as short as one day and as long as one month and 26 days.

Mr Lee told the House that he had asked the Committee in its review to consider the population shifts and housing developments since the last boundary delineation exercise.

He also asked them to consider having smaller group representation constituencies, so as to reduce the average size of such constituencies to below five members, and have at least 12 single member constituencies. There are currently 15 group representation constituencies and 12 single-seat constituencies.

"As per past practice, the Committee is chaired by the Secretary to Prime Minister. It is now in the midst of its deliberations and will make its recommendations to me when it is ready," said Mr Lee.

He was responding to questions from People's Action Party MP Arthur Fong (West Coast GRC) and Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong of the Workers' Party on whether the committee had been formed.

Mr Lee added that he could not promise a minimum period between the publishing of the report and the calling of a general election, which Mr Yee had asked for.

The reason is that "it depends very much on the exigencies of the situation, and ... on when elections become necessary," said the Prime Minister.

The committee's work is to split or shrink group representation constituencies, and absorb or create more single-member constituencies, based largely on population shifts.

It is appointed by the Prime Minister and is usually made up of five civil servants.

Mr Yee had asked if the committee's members can be drawn from various political parties as well, as it was done before Singapore became independent.

Mr Lee said the committee has, for many years, comprised civil servants with experience and domain knowledge.

This allows them to make considered decisions on how to divide up the constituencies, taking into account population shifts and housing developments in Singapore, and prevents "complete upheaval" each time the boundaries are redrawn, he added.

"As for bringing political parties in, I'm not sure that's an entirely good idea," he said, adding that this is the practice in the United States.

In America, members of the House of Representatives decide on the demarcation of electoral boundaries, said Mr Lee, and "what happens is they carve it up among themselves".

"It's a political deal. I think that's not a good arrangement. I think it's best we leave this to the civil servants to work at," he added.

Furthermore, Mr Yee also asked if the committee would make public the minutes of its meetings.

To this, Mr Lee said: "As for the completeness of the report and of the minutes, I think I'll have to leave it to the committee. I don't believe that it is helpful to have every twist and turn in the minutes reported and published. I think the committee's report is the final word."

After the committee's report is published, the next stage in the lead-up to Polling Day is for Parliament to be dissolved and the writ of election issued.

The next step is Nomination Day, which must take place no earlier than five days and no later than one month after the writ is issued. Nomination Day is the start of the campaign period, which is required to be a minimum of nine days.

There is a Cooling-Off Day before voters cast their ballots on Polling Day.

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