In interviews with the Chinese press, political analysts have predicted that Singapore’s next general election will be held after National Day this year, most likely the 12th of September.
PAP’s organising secretary Dr Ng Eng Hen has reportedly told the Sunday Times that his party is ready and its candidates are raring to go. He said, “if (PM Lee) decides to hold (the election), we should not stop. If he decides to do so, we are ready.”
Associate Professor Bilveer Singh, Department of Political Science, NUS, told Today he thinks the election will be held a few weeks after the National Day Rally, which normally takes place a fortnight after National Day. Hence the election may be held in September.
Associate Professor of Law, SMU, Tan Kheng Boon feels the election will be held in the 2nd half of the year, within a small window period. If it is in September, the likeliest date is 12th September (Saturday), as it is the last weekend before school re-opens.
“Elections are normally held on Saturdays. The 2 weekends after 12th September are too close to the secondary school and junior college examination period, and will not be suitable,” he said.
“There are pros and cons to holding the election in September. Some feel that the excitement of SG50 will still be in the air. However, it may give the other [i.e. opposition] parties no time to adjust to any changes in electoral boundaries. The people hope to see the election held in a fair manner, and doing otherwise will attract criticism,” he added.
Nevertheless Prof Tan feels that it is too rushed to hold the election in September, and the possibility is not high. October is the national examinations period, right up till mid-November, so this period is not likely either, he surmised.
“Based on the above, the election may be held in late November or early December, so that people can still go for their holidays. Nonetheless the election in 1997 was held on the 2nd of January,” he noted.
Whether to field ‘heavyweight’ candidates in Aljunied GRC – PAP in Catch-22 situation
The coming election gives PAP a chance to recapture Aljunied GRC. But whether to send in heavyweight candidates or not, is the golden question. PAP is apparently in a quandary over this.
Talking about the election strategy for Aljunied GRC, Dr Ng admitted that PAP will be cautious about fielding candidates with political portfolios there. Prof Tan nevertheless feels that the best chance to reclaim constituencies that were lost in the last election is in the coming election. In 1997, PAP successfully reclaimed Bukit Gombak and Nee Soon Central from SDP’s Ling How Doong and Cheo Chai Chen respectively 1 election cycle later.
He added, “If a whole team of newcomers are fielded, the electorate may view PAP as not being serious. Moreover, the risk of the ‘suicide squad’ losing is very high.”
He described PAP as being in a Catch-22 situation – on the one hand, fielding heavyweight candidates reflects PAP’s seriousness in trying to win back Aljunied GRC but on the other hand, it may result in the loss of potential political office appointees.
Dr Ng feels paying it safe is not an option for PAP either. He said, “Choosing a risk-free option will backfire and hand the victory to the Workers’ Party.”
MPs stepping down
Dr Ng revealed that about a quarter of (i.e. 20) PAP MPs will be vacating their seats.
Prof Tan thinks there are 3 categories of PAP MP who will be relinquishing their position, namely:
Those who do not wish to contest – regardless of the length of service, any MP who expresses his desire to step down will have his or her wish granted. That is, unless he or she is needed very badly by the party.
Incumbents for consecutive terms – those who have been backbencher MPs for 2 to 3 terms may retire from politics. If he or she is a senior minister, he or she will normally contest to stay as a backbencher MP for a term before stepping down.
Special circumstances – if a particular constituency needs candidates with a certain race or gender, then even if an incumbent is performing well, he or she may not be selected because of these special circumstances.
Prof Tan said that some MPs that have served just 1 term (i.e. first elected in 2011) may not stand for re-election. He said, “They may have found that politics does not suit them.”
Experienced MPs to stay put for stability
Political observer Associate Professor Lai Ah Keow believes that PAP MPs above 56 years old are more likely to step down. He said, “Renewal is a good thing, but experience and rapport with the electorate are also considerations. As they have a certain amount of prestige, and some of the constituencies are not as secure, if the newer generation of candidates have not yet established themselves, they will need the blessing of the experienced hands.”
Whether to field a number of newcomers in a GRC is something PAP needs to consider carefully.
Prof Tan said if a GRC has just 1 or 2 heavyweight candidates, residents might feel that their constituency is being taken for granted and not valued.
He said, “In the past, PAP has fielded a few newcomers in the same GRC, but this method cannot be overdone.”
Electoral Boundaries Review Committee
In any case, before a general election can take place, the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee has to be set up to define the boundaries of each and every constituency. The committee is chaired by the Cabinet Secretary, reporting to the Prime Minister. This committee has yet to be set up by PM Lee.
The members of the committee will have to be named and a boundary study will have to be made. The report will then have to be approved by the PM. The report recommends the size and geographical boundaries of each constituency after looking at voter population growth.
Going by past elections, the release of the Boundaries Report to Polling Day takes anywhere from 17 days to 6 months.
In the case of the previous general election, after the committee was formed, it took some 4 months for it to complete its report. The report was issued on 24 February 2011 and Parliament was dissolved 2 months later on 19 April. Nomination Day was 27 April and Polling Day 7 May 2011.
However, in the case of the 2001 GE, the report was released on 17 October 2001, a day after reaching the Prime Minister’s Office. Parliament was dissolved the very next day on 18 October. Nomination Day was 25 October and Polling Day 3 November. So, in this case, the release of the report to Polling Day took a mere 17 days.