Singaporeans will go to the poll later today! There are many areas where the elections in Singapore can be compared to the Malaysian one-some where it compare favourably while others, un-favourably. But above all both systems do not provide for a level playing field which may explain why the same party continue to rule since Independence half a century ago. On both sides a generational electoral revolt is happening, resulting in the Mar 8th political tsunami in West Malaysia, an urban electoral tsunami in Sarawak in the just concluded state elections and all eyes are focused on how many seats ruling party in Singapore PAP will lose to the youngsters/new voters later today. There is no issue that PAP will not lose votes/seats-it is only how many they will lose! Now these are the observations/analysis on the Singapore election system:
1. Campaigning time: 9 days -very short if considering how restricted Opposition parties are to speak publicly before election. Illegal assembly start from 1 person-compared to 4 for Malaysians.
2. Deposit: S$80 000.00/head, too high even compared to Malaysian’s Rm10 000.00 for Parliament seat and Rm5000.00 for state seat; The only Group Representation Constituency spared the election this time was caused by the opposition team missing the nomination deadline by less than 1 sec! The deliberate high threshold for becoming candidate in Parliament and Presidential elections means that the right to vote (which include right to be voted) has been compromised for Singaporeans.
3. Gerrymandering: every election see the constituency boundaries changed to favour the PAP, which cause a big disproportionality in the votes share of opposition to the seats they won eg in 2006 Opposition won only 2 seats with 33% popular votes!
4. Voters power: Most seats are groups together into Group Representation Constituency (GRC) such that individual voters can’t choose any candidate of his/her choice-he/she can only choose a group of candidates in the GRC; Such bundled choice reduce voters’ power tremendously; Another way the GRCs undermine voters’ voice is : weak Opposition parties can’t find enough candidates to fight in GRCs-thus allowing the ruling parties walk overs in half the seats in past elections. But this time almost all single seat or GRC are contested; While voter registration is automatic for citizens above 21 years old and voting is compulsory the many walk-overs in Singapore elections (Parliament and presidential) means that most voters never had a chance to speak through their votes;
5. Abuse of government resources and vote-buying: PAP gave away over S$1bil to the voters every time election come around, though theoretically the incumbent party can no longer make any allocations during its care-taker role; In the past the painting of old HDB flats had been used as inducement to voters by PAP; Opposition held constituencies are openly threatened with withholding of government services -even done by so-called Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in the current elections.
6. Lack of neutrality of Election Commission: as in Malaysia the election commission in Singapore is part of the PM department; The police and its Special Branch help to keep an eye on Opposition campaign speeches to spot any so-called libelous statements; many Opposition leaders had been sued for libels and made bankrupt or made to take flight to other countries; The election commission also never allowed foreign observers to Singapore elections;
7. Mainstream media bias: all mainstream media -radio, TV and papers, are owned or otherwise controlled by the big brother ruling party; Opposition can only air their views in the cyber space, where there are also laws-loosened some what in this election, to prohibit political speeches by non-party Singaporeans; political films are also prohibited by the government; a very limited space for political speech is open at the Speaker Corner; The suppression of free speeches over the years has caused unprecedented huge crowds to turn out at this election-giving speculation that a `tsunami’ is just hours away across the Johor straits! Already a mainstream paper, the Straits Times, has been forced by the popularity of on-line media, to open a page to aggregate popular on-line media posts so as not to be left behind in the on-line media war;
8. Lack of civil liberty cultivate a culture of fear: Singapore has always been criticised for lacking in civil liberty, most notoriously reflected by the frequent use and threats to sue the Internal Security Act which allowed detention without trials. The longest detention victimising Chia Tai Poh lasted 23 years. Many noted dissidents end up leaving the country in extended exile eg Tan Wah Piow. Such fear probbably could be mitigated by the sense of empowerment from the huge turn outs at nightly rallies of the Opposition parties and also the pervasive internet/mobile phone forums used for mass-dissemination of alternative information.
From the above pre-polling observation it is not surprising that the Freedom House of USA do not consider the de-facto 1-party state in Singapore as an electoral democracy. But even fighting against all odds the Opposition parties started to win seats since 1984 and their popular votes are catching up with the ruling PAP. If the consistently huge turn out at Opposition rallies are any indication the over-staying PAP will be in for a rude shock later today! In Sarawak the huge turn out in Opposition campaign gatherings was only an urban phenomenon-thus the electoral gains were limited. However in Singapore there is no rural/interior areas-thus the urban seats are all up for grabs. If the Opposition can do well to tap their nightly huge gatherings for votes they may stand a good chance to crank up a tsunami when few expect it-just as what took place in Malaysia in 2008!
Final note: If there were a veritable political tsunami in Singapore the general elections in Malaysia may cause some trepidation on the part of the similarly over-staying ruling party in Malaysia! The BN leaders will surely keep an eye on the election results from Singapore come this evening!