Singapore Armchair Critic

A blog about politics and policies in Singapore and beyond

Category: Singapore’s democratization

In the Event of a Multi-Cornered Fight in Marine Parade GRC…

The biggest question many voters have in mind for the impending General Election is probably this: what will happen in the event of a multi-cornered fight in the Marine Parade GRC?

Workers’ Party (WP) has stood firm on its decision to contest the ward; the National Solidarity Party (NSP) may also contest in the same ward after failed negotiations with WP, pending further announcements after the Monday (10 August 2015) deadline it issued to WP.

Although WP had won by a substantial 11% margin in the multi-cornered contest in the 2013 Punggol-East by-election, there are grounds to believe that conditions are not as favorable this time in the Marine Parade GRC.

This is to say that more than one opposition parties contesting the ward is likely to split the votes of pro-opposition supporters to the benefit of the PAP.

We can make use of various information available on the internet to come to this conclusion.

First, let’s figure out the boundaries of the Marine Parade GRC.

The New Marine Parade GRC

Thanks to brilliant gerrymandering, we now have a Marine Parade GRC (and other constituencies) with the most befuddling boundaries. To get an idea of where the hell Marine Parade GRC is, refer to this Google map.

Now if we overlay the Marine Parade GRC on the URA planning map, we can see that the ward is comprised of either part or whole of the following planning subzones (click on the links below to see the location of individual subzones):

Residents in Marine Parade GRC

With the above information and the geospatial data provided by Statistics Singapore, we have a rough idea of the 2014 demographics of Marine Parade GRC, by age-group and by type of dwelling:



Bear in mind the above are estimates because the boundaries of the Marine Parade GRC do not exactly tally with those of the planning subzones. Nonetheless, based on the charts, we may gather that residents in Marine Parade GRC are older – 46% of them are above the age of 50.

In terms of the type of dwelling, 16% of Marine Parade GRC residents live in 1-3 room HDB flats, 24% in 4-room flats, and 60% in 5-room and executive flats and other private residential property.

Comparison to Punggol East Residents

Residents in Punggol East, in contrast, are much younger, with only 24% above 50 years old. Furthermore, there are no 3-room flats in Punggol East, where 40% of residents live in 4-room flats, and 60% in 5-room flats, executive flats and other private residential property (see report).

As housing type is tied to income level and occupation, we may infer that residents in Punggol East are of a higher socio-economic status than those of Marine Parade GRC. We may also say that Punggol East residents are predominantly of the “service class” (senior executives, professionals, technicians and supervisors), and of the “intermediate class” (clerical and service workers) instead of the “working class” (operators, semi-skilled and unskilled workers), by the classification IPS uses in its 2011 post-election survey.


According to the IPS survey,

  1. The higher the socio-economic status, the more “pluralist” the voter (simply speaking, a pluralist believes that there should be no monopoly of political power) (44, 49).
  1. PAP is more credible in the eyes of the working class and older voters aged 40 and above while opposition parties are more credible to post-independence voters, especially those between 20 to 39 years old. WP is most credible to the service class and the most highly educated (37).

Therefore, it is quite evident that the demographics – a younger and better-off electorate – that worked to the advantage of the WP in the multi-cornered contest in Punggol East, are largely absent in Marine Parade GRC.

This does not necessarily mean that the majority in Marine Parade GRC will vote for PAP.

It does mean, however, that opposition party supporters in the ward may not be astute enough to channel their votes to a single opposition party in the event of a multi-cornered fight, as what happened in the 2013 Punggol East by-election, where the vote share of WP, PAP, Reform Party and SDA breaks down to 54.5%, 43.7%, 1.2% and 0.6% respectively.

It was a relief to many opposition party supporters that the Reform Party and SDA did not do much damage to the winning chances of WP in Punggol East.

In view of the demographics of Marine Parade GRC and WP’s decision to contest the ward, however, NSP should think twice on whether it should also join the fray.

Being the weaker party of the two, if the NSP insists on contesting the Marine Parade GRC this time and, as a result, splits the votes of opposition party supporters such that PAP wins by a small margin, it will, for sure, incur the wrath of pro-opposition voters.

And that is akin to committing political suicide for the party. So think very hard, NSP.

MPs’ Directorships and Conflict of Interest

In response to my previous blog post on our incumbent MPs’ (Members of Parliament) attendance in Parliament, some readers on The Online Citizen’s Facebook page brought up the issue of MPs’ directorships. They attribute MPs’ frequent absences in Parliament to the number of directorships they hold.

One reader, for instance, questions:

Are the MPs having too many commitments? Shouldn’t there be a line draw something like a MP can only hold 1 full time job or 5 directorships etc, if not, given one day only has 24 hours, how can they have the integrity and still managed to hold so many responsibility [sic]?

Another argues:

The problem is that MPs are part timers. The constitution must be amended to ensure all law makers are full timers. One will truly see who are the committed ones and the parasites. We as citizens should demand this type of Parliament. We want full timers to look after our interest and not part timers or even no timers to sit in Parliament as MP and yet hold multiple directorships. The ones that hold multiple directorships to me are in Parliament for self gain. Before being MP maybe no directorships but after become MP have multiple directorships. Am I the only one to smell something is not right? Which ever MP holds multiple directorship “kee chui” and please don’t stand for the next election [sic].

While it is understandable that some of us may share these concerns, there is really no necessary correlation between the number of commitments an MP has – such as a full-time job and directorships – and his or her attendance in Parliament. Continue reading…

MPs’ Disappearing Act

So it was reported that last week in Parliament, not even a quarter of our 87 elected Members of Parliament (MPs) were present to vote for the passage of two Bills. Alerted to the lack of a quorum required to pass a Bill by Nominated MP (NMP) Eugene Tan, the Deputy Speaker rang the division bell to summon the missing MPs, who then, in the words of our mainstream media, “streamed into the Chamber to take their seats after a few minutes.”

Now according to the “Rules of Prudence” issued by the Prime Minister’s Office after GE 2011, “[PAP] MPs are expected to attend all sittings of Parliament.”  PAP MPs have to seek the permission of the Party Whip and inform the Whip if they have to be absent during a sitting (see rule no. 23).

The current Party Whip is Gan Kim Yong, who is assisted by his Deputies Amy Khor and Teo Ho Pin. It is not known if the Whip had indeed been notified of the absences.

Intrigued by the whereabouts of our handsomely paid MPs, I did a bit of investigation on our Parliament website. Continue reading…

Contesting in an Uneven Playing Field

Seventeen improvement projects will be underway in Workers’ Party (WP) wards soon, announced the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCCs), one of 1,800 grassroots organizations (GROs) under the People’s Association (PA).

Such “generosity” may come as a surprise to those of us who are accustomed to the petty moves of the PA over the years.

Still fresh in our memory, for instance, was how the self-proclaimed “non-partisan” PA swiftly took control of 26 sites previously managed by the PAP-led Aljunied Town Council following WP’s 2011 electoral victory in Aljunied GRC.

The site grab was accompanied by a statement declaring unabashedly that “The PA and its GROs are non-partisan and do not allow any political party or MP to hold activities on PA premises or other facilities managed by the PA … This applies to all political parties and MPs, including the PAP.” Continue reading…

How Meritocracy Entrenches Inequality

In a move that took many industry players by surprise, American regulators recently opened a probe on the hiring practice of JPMorgan Chase in China. Ongoing investigation seeks to establish if the investment bank’s recruitment of the offspring of high-ranking and influential Chinese officials aka “princelings” – one of whom is the son of a former banking regulator, the other the daughter of a now-disgraced railway official – was a quid pro quo for coveted business deals, prohibited under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

What’s the fuss about, you may wonder. Isn’t the hiring of relatives of powerful politicians and well-connected persons of that ilk a time-tested and pervasive practice that extends far beyond China?

Going a step further, you may even, like New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin, defend such hiring decisions in a matter-of-factly manner:

… given that many of the children of the elite have some of the best educations and thriving networks of contacts, it is hard to see how businesses are supposed to not seek them out, let alone turn them away. As hard to defend as the phrase may be, it is a reality of life, “It’s not what you know, but whom you know.” Continue reading…

The Great Leap Backward

Between 1958 and 1962, 45 million people perished in the Great Famine of China (watch documentary). The death toll exceeds the total casualties of World War One, and is close to that of World War Two.

It took decades for the real magnitude of this man-made catastrophe to come to light. Prior to the arrival of an archive law that allowed access to a legion of previously classified materials, historians, extrapolating the death toll from China’s population statistics, made more conservative estimates ranging from 15 to 36 million.

As the famine ravaged the countryside, the rest of the world and many in China who continued to consume produce forcibly procured from deprived peasants had little inkling of the scale and gravity of the unfolding tragedy: humans, reduced to bones, were dying by the droves; farmland was barren and trees were stripped bare of their barks for food; cannibalism was rife with many devouring corpses while others killed family members for their flesh. Continue reading…

Fight Internet Censorship, Free Your Mind

It seems that Internet censorship in Singapore (described by the government as a “light-touch” regulatory framework) mostly depends on a combination of access controls (such as requiring political websites to register for a license) and legal pressures (such as defamation lawsuits and the threat of imprisonment). The intention is to prevent people from posting objectionable content (source, p. 81).

Singapore’s prominent bloggers and alternative news websites have concertedly launched a petition to urge the Media Development Authority (MDA) to rescind the licensing requirement for “online news sites”; a protest is also slated to take place this Saturday, 8 June at Hong Lim Park.

Bloggers and activists have explained why we should all care about this new ruling which has taken effect from 1 June 2013, barely a few days after it was announced to the public.

However, if we go by past experience, I daresay the likelihood of our government revoking this new licensing framework is close to nil.

Just look at its response to the opposition to the controversial Population White Paper.

Despite the strong backlash from the society and reservations expressed by people in the PAP camp, our leaders did not succumb to public pressure. There was only a symbolic concession in re-pitching the 6.9 million population “target” as but a “worst case scenario,” after which paper was bulldozed ahead in the PAP-dominant parliament, resoundingly endorsed by all except 13.

So in all likelihood that the government will not backpedal on the new ruling, what else can we do besides petitioning and protesting? Continue reading…

Who’s Politicizing the Governance of Constituencies?

I was a Potong Pasirian. For more than two decades from my teenage years, my family and I lived in the small housing estate and opposition ward managed by the well-loved Mr Chiam See Tong. A recent visit to the neighborhood brought back fond memories for my family and I, who waxed lyrical about how so little had changed in the charming town.

While we can now look back on our days in Potong Pasir with nostalgia, I remember what I dreaded most about living there: the daily long walks under the scalding sun from block 118 nestled right inside the town to the main road of Upper Serangoon where we then took a bus to school and other destinations.

Potong Pasirians of my time could instantly relate to this inconvenience: in those days there was only one bus service (service 142) that plied the entire neighborhood.

There used to be two, but bus service 147 was rerouted a few months after Mr Chiam was returned in GE 1991 such that it no longer looped into the town. Continue reading…

The Bright Side of Our Electoral System

The Malaysia election results have outraged and disappointed many Pakatan Rakyat’s supporters. A Malaysian working in Singapore, who was a polling agent, gave a first-hand account of what happened at a polling station: “I’m really upset. We tried our best to stop the fake foreign voters from coming in, but when the blackout happened things got totally out of control. There weren’t enough polling and counting agents, and many stations had no agents from the opposition to supervise the process.”

In the meantime, Barisan Nasional (BN) wasted no time in blaming its vote loss on the Chinese. Said Najib of  BN’s worst-ever electoral showing, “The polarisation in this voting trend worries the government. We are afraid that if this is allowed to continue, it will create tensions.” Najib went on to say that “racial politics and extremism” must be rejected. As President of a party that has thrived on racial politics over its 56 year-rule of multi-ethnic Malaysia, Najib was remarkably oblivious to the irony in his statement.

These reactions to the election results illuminate the key differences between the electoral politics of Singapore and Malaysia that strengthen my conviction that the institutions and political culture that will gear Singapore toward a two-party system are, more or less, in place. Continue reading…

Elections without democracy? Shifting political landscapes in Singapore and Malaysia

Singapore and Malaysia, as highly developed countries that have clung on to their authoritarian regimes, have long been seen as “anomalies” by political analysts of democratization.

But now cracks are appearing in these regimes. Malaysia will see its most closely fought election ever on 5 May where there is a real, albeit slim, possibility of the ruling UMNO being replaced. In Singapore, the ruling PAP had lost more seats than ever in the 2011 General Election and two by-elections, while still holding on to an overwhelming majority of 80 out of 87 contested seats in the parliament.

The diminishing popularity of the PAP may be ascribed to the erosion of its political legitimacy in recent years. Continue reading…

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