How Charles Chong “really” won back Punggol East

It is with great regret that I refer to the article entitled ‘How Charles Chong won back Punggol East’ in the online version of the Straits Times today. The article attempts to explain how Charles Chong gained the seat of Punggol East SMC back for the PAP at the 2015 General Election. The seat was won by Lee Li Lian in the by-election of January 2013 which was precipitated by the sudden resignation of then-Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer who had had an extramarital affair. Charles Chong managed to win 51.8% of valid votes while Lee Li Lian garnered 48.2%, with Chong winning a razor thin majority of 1159 votes in what was a very close fight. Insofar as the Straits Times article draws attention to the supposed merits of Chong’s own political persona and that of his campaign, it glosses over and omits certain realities that are too fundamental to ignore with regard to the manner in which his campaign was carried out and, consequently, the manner in which he won.

 

Allow me to declare, at this point, that I was very much involved in his opponent’s campaign team, including having served as her Counting Agent in that election. In doing so, I must hasten to add that the views contained herein should not be taken to be representative of any organisation, political or otherwise, of which I am a member. In any case, I have a vested interest in this issue as a constituent and elector of Punggol East SMC.

 

The article reports that Charles Chong’s Legislative Assistant (LA), Daniel Tan, highlighted two strategies undertaken by Chong and his team during the campaign – firstly, they focused on his “independence of mind”, which he presumably meant was a feature atypical of PAP MPs, and secondly, they toned down on the distinction between his seniority and the shorter time span during which Lee Li Lian had worked as a public servant in the capacity of Member of Parliament to avoid “exploiting his experience over a relatively inexperienced candidate.” While it would be unwise to underestimate the effect that the perception of this dichotomy had had on the eventual outcome, the article and Chong’s LA have made a stunning omission of the other tactics employed by the PAP that led to Chong’s win and Lee’s loss.

 

Indubitably and rather ostentatiously, the article, while at one point almost seemingly waxed lyrical about the stylistic elements of the posters the PAP campaign team put out, conveniently forgot to mention that another consequential tactic employed by Chong was to convey information to the media which misled Punggol East voters. The WP-run town council issued a media release on 8 September 2015 stating:

 

On 28 August 2015, the PAP candidate for Punggol East SMC, Mr Charles Chong, stated in LianHe ZaoBao:

“After the 2013 Punggol East By-election, Punggol East SMC was carved out of Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council and merged into Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council.  At that time, the Town Council had approximately one million dollars of surplus (emphasis mine), and Aljunied Town Council in 2011 also had over $3 million dollars in surplus.  Today, the whole of AHPETC’s financial situation has deteriorated”.

We have seen no supporting evidence for Mr Chong’s claim that there was a surplus of $1 million in the accounts of Punggol East SMC at the point of merger into AHPETC (emphasis mine).

Till date, Charles Chong has remained unaccountable for this claim and has never issued a definitive clarification on what he meant when he issued such remarks to the media. No one but Charles Chong, himself, would know how he came to have the idea that a surplus of $1 million was handed over to the WP-run town council after the Punggol East by-election. Such an astounding claim which circulated in the media would have led to the shoring up of support for the PAP at the polls, because it would have perpetuated the idea that the WP had somehow mismanaged town council funds possibly with ill intent. The doubtful veracity of these claims, when contextualised with the difficulties faced by the WP in getting its own message out to the masses due to the uneven political playing field that is manifested through the nature of the mainstream media in Singapore today, points to how voters were misled into thinking that the WP and Lee Li Lian were incompetent. While this effort may be construed to be clever campaigning on the part of Chong and his PAP team, the fact remains that this tactic was premised upon allegations which Chong has, time and again, refused to acknowledge as baseless or decisively account for, since their publication and in the wake of his victory in Punggol East. To those of us who campaigned hard on the ground in Punggol East only to see our opponent make claims about our candidate that were highly doubtful but nonetheless contributed to his narrow victory, his silence is deafening.

 

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Charles Chong, in one of his campaign outreach materials to Punggol East electors, claimed that “The town council issue has been highlighted repeatedly and I understand that it can be confusing.” As much as he labelled the whole matter as “confusing”, he only added to the confusion and did very little to clarify the circumstances in which such confusion had arisen. Had he bothered to do so, more Punggol East residents would have been aware that the lack of accountability in the WP-run town council originally stemmed from the actions of the PAP’s affiliates themselves, due to the withdrawal of the software provided by the PAP company we have come to know as AIM to the old PAP-run Aljunied Town Council, which, data-wise, left the WP-run town council in the lurch. Charles Chong, for all his supposed “independence of mind” could have run a much cleaner campaign by highlighting the institutional challenges that Opposition-run town councils have faced with regard to procuring a non-PAP affiliated and unbiased managing agent who would be willing to work for them, and by championing the need to ensure that no matter who runs a town council in whichever part of Singapore, our laws and institutions should be reformed to never again inhibit any town council and elected MP to serve residents efficiently. Ultimately, when it came to the issue of town council management, Charles Chong put his political interests before that of Punggol East residents and our nation’s institutions for the long-term good of local governance in Singapore. Insofar as Charles Chong promised during the election to “sort out the town council accounts,” he himself has been unaccountable to the people for, in the first place, this campaign promise was based on a claim he himself did not bother to properly defend after his victory.

 

Charles Chong’s campaign material in Punggol East SMC, in which he promised that “Punggol East will be extracted from…uncertainty.”

 

Perhaps the one point which the Straits Times article was right about was its mention of the Prime Minister’s quip in which he praised PAP candidates in Opposition-held wards who have proved that “no opposition constituency can consider itself ‘safe’.” Indeed, such seats ought never to be considered safe in light of such tactics employed by PAP candidates in general elections.

 

In short, Charles Chong did not win merely by way of voters’ trust affixed to his supposed “independence of mind” and seniority, or by way of purposeful campaign materials and strategies. These factors might have lent themselves to gaining for him considerable support but what brought him over the edge, to win that thin majority of 1159 votes, were the fear and uncertainty his campaign helped to instill in Punggol East voters just before the polls.

 

So much for being touted as an atypical PAP MP with veritable “independence of mind”, Charles Chong has proven his prowess in subscribing to a longstanding electoral tactic of the PAP – to put rhetoric above reason if that’s what it takes to win.

 

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Why We Shouldn’t Have 2 Houses of Parliament

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1 Parliament with 2 Houses, or bicameralism, is an idea that is most intriguing. The Mother of Parliaments has the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The world’s oldest democracy has the House of Representatives and the Senate. The world’s largest democracy has the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. Even our neighbours across the causeway have the Dewan Rakyat and the Dewan Negara. While bicameralism may be a feature of the most well-known parliamentary systems in the world today, it would do little to further democracy and strengthen our existing institutions in Singapore.

 

The potential creation of an upper chamber was viewed by the Rendel Commission in the mid-1950s as the unnecessary stratification of Singapore’s political society – an upper class of the political elite in contrast to a lower class of elected representatives. An unelected upper chamber would be symbolic of a parliamentary feature that even our former colonial masters are trying to do away with today in their own country. Reform of the unelected House of Lords in the UK has been rendered as a common-sense cause tainted with political inertia to do anything about it. As recently as 1999, the UK moved to severely limit the hereditary peerage system, where the son of a Baron or Earl could inherit not only his father’s title but also his seat in the House of Lords by right of birth. Today, hereditary peers remain a vestigial component of the House of Lords. Nonetheless, the unelected Life Peers who replaced most of the hereditary ones may be of questionable quality themselves, in terms of what they have to offer. Why should we should have a wholly or partially unelected upper chamber of people deemed to be experts on policy or some other area of public interest appointed by a committee of other politicians (or worse, bureaucrats) rather than elected by the people themselves? What often happens is people who might ordinarily be unelectable because of other attributes get a free ticket into Parliament. For instance, renowned playwright Andrew Lloyd Webber who conceivably, being a celebrity, would not have had the interest or humility to put himself before the people in an election was given a peerage to sit as ‘the noble Lord Lloyd-Webber’ in the House of Lords and could then vote on a motion on government tax credit cuts for the poor when he had no professional expertise or experience, let alone the democratic mandate, to do so. Establishing an upper chamber with people similar to Justices of the Peace, Presidential Advisers, NMPs and other professionals would unnecessarily create an elite upper class who do not deserve to sit in Parliament without having to fight for their seats through a public debate of their values and policy platforms in what are known as general elections.

 

Proponents of an upper chamber also suggest that two chambers would be useful in allowing some parliamentarians to focus on grassroots work while others can be left to focus on political advocacy. The more pertinent issue therein is whether the vote means so little in Singapore as to suggest that its usefulness in electing policy makers pales in comparison to its importance in electing constituency managers or vice versa. MPs have always had to be competent in both policy making and the running of their town councils. In the same vein, ministers should also be experts in their own field whilst being expected to manage a constituency for they must be directly accountable to the people just as any other MP is, or arguably even more so as they are entrusted with greater responsibility than the ordinary backbencher MP. Indeed, ministers would be better off having first-hand knowledge of the experiences and grievances of their constituents.

 

We should also not underestimate the usefulness of the vote’s ability to lawfully depose ministers who lack the confidence of even their constituents let alone the nation. Suppose for a second that Dr. Manmohan Singh was truly unworthy of being the Prime Minister of India such that the people of the state of Assam would never have elected him to be their representative in a hypothetically elected Rajya Sabha – the Congress Party’s senior leadership would still have been able to keep him and other ministers with seats in the unelected Rajya Sabha in power for personal reasons rather than because these ministers had won the right to govern on their own merit through securing the confidence of the people via an election. In other words, elections have real value in establishing the merit of a politician by means of a popular vote; the will of the people should never be underestimated in a democracy to the extent that we begin to assume that technocrats must surely know best. Hence, an upper chamber might pose unseen threats to our democracy borne out of the whims of technocrats who cannot in any way be lawfully kicked out of power by the people for doing a bad job. This goes against the grain of the meritocratic pedestal that Singapore has been built on.

 

Moreover, in view of the reality that exists in the Parliament of Singapore today, an upper chamber would be practically unnecessary. One of the argued merits of an upper chamber is that its members would be able to scrutinise bills more thoroughly. To this end, upper chambers like the US Senate and the House of Lords, whether elected or not, do provide a greater scope and more time for debate on each bill that passes through these chambers. However, is there a need for this additional avenue of legislative scrutiny in Singapore when our Parliament already does so little to scrutinise bills? The Parliament of Singapore has certainly not exhausted its own means of scrutiny as far as bills are concerned and has a long way to go in improving its procedures to do so. It is extremely rare for a bill to be committed to an ad-hoc Select Committee of MPs for further deliberation, even though such calls for this to happen have been made before. Amendment motions on bills are unheard of. We have come to point where Parliament does not even need to sit as often as the UK’s House of Commons upon which it was based because bills in Singapore are rushed through the House. This is partially due to nature of the PAP supermajority as there is little political impetus for PAP MPs to publicly scrutinise Government bills in Select Committees or to seek to amend these bills even if they feel they cannot completely agree with pieces of legislation introduced by ministers while the few Opposition MPs lack the power or resources to do so. Hence, so long as the current Parliament of Singapore does not do all that it technically can to improve scrutiny, extend debates and raise more issues in the House, an upper chamber would be unneeded and would instead add nothing more than financial burden on the public purse with respect to its hypothetical members’ remuneration.

 

I recall a random afternoon in my secondary school library when I chanced upon a book on the 1953 Rendel Commission and its report which paved the way for the establishment of the Legislative Assembly of Singapore. (The Assembly would later be reconstituted to Parliament after Independence in 1965.) The book outlined the Commission’s reasons for recommending a single chamber in a unicameral system rather than two chambers in a bicameral system which included the fear of political class stratification and the overall lack of any practical need for two chambers. The truth that Singapore’s politics lacks the space for an upper chamber remains as evident today as it was back then, during the time our forefathers were on the brink of self-government.

Mapping Our Home, Mapping The House

http://tinyurl.com/lujo6lj

The Republic of Singapore – 87 Constituencies

Pulau Ujong. A name of utter unfamiliarity which would only make you think less than twice about passing it off as another one of those small offshore islands or islets that we would go to ‘war’ to protect our sovereignty over at all costs (and by ‘war’, what I really mean is the International Court of Justice). Ironically, if you’re reading this from the Republic of Singapore, chances are, you’re on it. Pulau Ujong is none other than mainland Singapore. Intrinsically, knowing about the place we inhabit informs us of what it means to be Singaporean for how can we claim to be truly Singaporean if we are unaware of our local environment? Knowing about the spaces we live, play and work in from a geopolitical perspective also affords us several practical benefits in areas such as landuse planning and electioneering.

The political map of Singapore has evolved through the ages, reflecting differences in electoral systems, population densities, infrastructure and land use. The 12th Parliament of Singapore consists of 87 elected MPs, each representing a different constituency. However, with the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) system introduced in 1988, most MPs are elected in groups and modern political maps in Singapore usually only show GRCs and a handful of single seats in the existing Single Member Constituencies (SMCs). However, from a practical perspective, knowledge of which individual ward ones lives in is important for the purpose of knowing which MP to visit should one wish to attend a Meet-the-People Session (MPS) and, indeed, for the greater purpose of keeping our elected MPs accountable for their actions (which entails knowing who they are, in the first place!). Currently, a map that shows every ward as if it were a SMC does not exist. However, using information gathered from a variety of sources, I managed to map out the 87 constituencies of Singapore so that everyone can know which district they live in.

Link to map: https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=z7C8bz0UE1gI.ksK88Xfv6Ivg

Each constituency sends 1 MP to the House, either individually (SMCs) or in groups (GRCs).

Each constituency sends 1 MP to the House, either individually (SMCs) or in groups (GRCs).

Diversity within Singapore

Knowing which district we live in affords us a sense of identity. People affix memories and experiences to places and spaces in an intangible manner. A common and easily comprehensible example of this is the sense of identity and belonging people declare when associating themselves with the neighbourhoods in which they spent their childhood, almost as if they feel they have a sense of personal ownership of those areas. From a political perspective, spatial identity is especially signficant in a representative democracy such as ours where our legislators represent constituencies that are demarcated by geographical boundaries. It is, therefore, no wonder that politicians often make it a point to draw a link between their past personal experiences with their constituencies. In the Parliamentary Election of 2011, Jeannette-Chong Aruldoss of the National Solidarity Party referenced her childhood experiences in Mountbatten SMC to highlight her view that the constituency has lost its “idyllic charm…in the seventies” and now reflects a widening socio-economic divide and that Mountbatten is, therefore, a microcosm of the rest of the country. More simplistically, in the Punggol East SMC By-Election of 2013, the People’s Action Party candidate Dr Koh Poh Koon was famously touted as being “the Son of Punggol” while perhaps carelessly forgetting that the seat he was running for was indeed in Sengkang and not actually Punggol. I reckon my map will help Dr Koh get his geography right. In any case, however, both of these examples show that cartography or, at least, the evaluation of local maps is important for our identity.

Political maps also help elucidate patterns of population density and land use. By virtue of the fact that each constituency in Singapore purposely accounts for roughly 20 000 to 30 000 electors, it is easy to infer population densities across the country. For instance, it is quite clear that Yew Tee Constituency is less densely populated than, say, the ward of Teck Ghee, judging from land area. However, this is not to say that the residential areas in Yew Tee are sparsely located as most of the land is used for military purposes. Hence, the map is useful for gauging population density on a constituency-scale in Singapore rather than on a smaller scale. Interestingly, a comparison with older political maps provides supporting evidence for the decentralisation of residences in Singapore over the years. In the 1960’s, when every seat was a SMC, the smaller constituencies were located in the urban core whilst the rural surroundings housed the larger ones (refer to map below). Furthermore, a detailed political map of Singapore also sheds some light on land use. As in the case of Yew Tee and other large cosntituencies such as Zhenghua and Siglap, the areas not used up for residential purposes serve other uses – military, environmental conservation, aviation, etc.

General Election 1968 - Results. Credit: singapore-elections.com

General Election 1968 – Results. Credit: singapore-elections.com

Constituency-based maps also aid in tracking changes in electoral boundaries. Variations in delimitation have been a contentious issue in Singapore’s political system, given the frequent re-drawing of the boundaries of GRCs at every election by the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) which is under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office. The lack of explanatory information in the reports of the EBRC has been cited as further evidence of gerrymandering and partiality. Most recently, the constituency of Aljunied – Hougang which traditionally votes strongly in favour of the Workers’ Party, as it did in the close contest in Aljunied GRC in 2006, was shifted out into Ang Mo Kio GRC and re-named ‘Ang Mo Kio – Hougang’ in 2011. Because of the unpredictability of the electoral map in Singapore, perhaps a single-constituency map will allow political parties to view different agglomerations of wards or potential GRCs in a more accessbile and efficient manner, enabling them to possibly draw out their electoral contingency and campaigning plans more easily in the future.

Methodology and Sources

To derive the boundaries of each constituency, I used information from a variety of sources such as Town Council websites, most of which provide information on almost every individual ward albeit to different degrees. The People’s Association’s constituency tracker which uses postal codes to identify constituencies as well as Community Development Council websites also came in handy. Another crucial source of information was a map on Google Maps published as ‘The Ward Boundary Project 2012/3’, which provided me with the boundaries of many of the wards in the eastern half of Singapore. Where the boundaries were more difficult to differentiate and delineate, I used a list of revised polling districts published by the Elections Department as well as a map of each polling district within each GRC and SMC in Singapore, both of which are documents that specifically pertain to the 2011 Parliamentary Elections. (Note: A ‘polling district’ refers to a smaller group of electors within a constituency. Each ‘polling district’ accounts for one polling station.)

Maps are so much more than what most people take them at face value for. Any able Geographer knows this. It is my earnest hope that this map will be interesting and not solely useful to people who may require reference to it. This concludes yet another one of my Mapped Musings, although in a more literal sense this time.

References:

Government Gazette. Elections Department, (2011). No. 63 – Parliamentary Elections Act (Chapter 218) (Section 9(2)) – Boundaries of Altered Polling Districts. Retrieved from website: http://www.eld.gov.sg/gazette\G_RE2011\Boundaries of Altered Polling District.pdf

Lay, B. (2013, January 27). Three reasons why Dr Koh Poh Koon lost Punggol East. Yahoo! News. Retrieved from http://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/the-flipside/three-reasons-why-dr-koh-poh-koon-lost-230036743.html

National Solidarity Party. (2011). Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss. Retrieved from http://mountbatten.nsp.sg/about-jeannette/

Parliament of Singapore. (2014, February 14). List of Constituencies. Retrieved from http://www.parliament.gov.sg/list-constituencies

Teo, E. (2013, March 19). The Ward Boundary Project 2012/3. Retrieved from https://maps.google.com.sg/maps/ms?msid=201386689841976634251.0004d0404d9abf09208c8&msa=0

The Online Citizen. (2010, April 27). GRCs and Gerrymandering – The Root Causes of Problems: Sylvia Lim. Retrieved from http://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2010/04/grcs-and-gerrymandering-the-roots-causes-of-problems-sylvia-lim/

Divide and Rule

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Technically speaking, my ethnolinguistic identity is a concoction of different ancestral roots for I am mostly Tamil and partially Telugu. Although it is with slight disappointment that I admit my incompetence in what may, for lack of a better linguistic term, be called my ‘minor’ Mother Tongue at all, it was with avid interest that I read about the fate of the Telugu-speaking state in India. Andhra Pradesh is a state of 84.6 million people in the south of India, east of the Deccan plateau, famous for being a hub of cultural activity and for religious tourism at its ancient temples. However, today, due to differences in political and economic prospects, the state is set to be split into 2 new states, albeit with great resistance due to legislative gridlock.

The ruling Congress Party and its coalition, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government, have heeded the call from a sizeable number of Andhra Pradesh politicians in both the national and state governments to kick-start the process of breaking up the 3 regions of Andhra Pradesh into 2 states – Telangana and Andhra. Proponents of the separation cite the fact that an unequal distribution of economic resources within Andhra Pradesh have resulted in unfavourable prospects for the Telangana region as compared to Coastal Andhra. Historically, Coastal Andhra was more prosperous primarily because of its thriving agricultural sector which benefited more from the Green Revolution than the other parts of the state, providing a further impetus for growth. Another point worth noting is that the Telangana region has a higher percentage of people constitutionally classified under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, explaining their unfair predisposition towards being stuck on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. Hence, the first noticeable trend in the economic geography of Andhra Pradesh is its widening income and development gaps between regions that differ in the nature of their main industrial activities as well as socio-economic demography.

However, what is so uniquely fascinating about the case of Andhra Pradesh is the fact that the state capital, Hyderabad, is located within the Telangana region itself. Shouldn’t the most developed city in the state bring about positive economic influence for the region in which it lies? After all, Hyderabad is India’s 4th largest credit centre, with 90% of the urban workforce employed in the service sector. It also boasts of a wide array of transnational corporations (TNCs) in the IT sector, including big names such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook, that have set up research and development (R&D) centres there. However, the concentration of economic resources and generation of revenue in Hyderabad has been successful to the extent that peripheral districts in the Telangana region have not reaped many benefits from their geographical proximity to the core of the state. Coastal Andhra, on the other hand, has received what many argue is more than its fair share of investment from the state government despite being located further away. Hence, the case of Andhra Pradesh reflects that there is a limitation to the notion that economic resources and money flow to regions that are spatially closer to the core as government intervention comes into play, channelling these resources elsewhere instead.

The geopolitical implications of such a major division in the map of India are multi-faceted. Those who support separation have adopted the argument that Telangana will be better institutionally suited to deal with its own development problems by having its own state legislature that can have its own say in resource distribution and economic restructuring. But will this really be the case even with the Congress Party proposing an unconventional policy to make Hyderabad the capital of both the new states for 10 years (during which the newly reconstituted Andhra state will have time to establish a new capital possibly in Visakhapatnam)? In any case, the division will certainly alter the urban dynamics in present-day Andhra Pradesh and perhaps even the way we perceive solutions to the problem of uneven regional development within a country.

For now, although the Government of India has decided not to introduce the planned legislation to initiate the separation during the upcoming (and rather aptly named) Monsoon Session of the Indian Parliament, there are plans to do so within the next 6 to 8 months. When the Government of India decides to invoke the States Reorganisation Act, together with the approval of the state and national legislatures against a backdrop of public protests and political resignations the world’s largest democracy will prove, once again, that demography is dynamic.

Map%20telangana

In any case, the division will certainly alter the urban dynamics in present-day Andhra Pradesh and perhaps even the way we perceive solutions to the problem of uneven regional development within a country.

References:

Joshi, S. (2013, August 01). Telangana bill not coming in monsoon session. The Hindu. Retrieved from http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/telangana-bill-not-coming-in-monsoon-session/article4978082.ece

Reddy, A., & Bantilan, M. (2013). Regional disparities in andhra pradesh, india. Local Economy, 28(1), 123-135. Retrieved from http://oar.icrisat.org/6224/7/reddy_Bantilan-26_11_11.pdf

To all prospective Presidents of Singapore…

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Presidential Elections in Singapore are special for more than a few reasons. The infrequency with which they have been conducted, the exorbitant election deposits involved and unusually stringent eligibility criteria are amongst just a few of these reasons. However, something about Presidential Elections in Singapore distinguishes them from Parliamentary ones in that they are the only type of elections where, seemingly, the region where you live and the district where you vote do not matter – the nation votes as a single entity and the candidates with the largest number of votes wins, in the best fashion of First Past The Post. So, surely, it would make sense for candidates vying to be President to campaign on national issues rather than fighting it out in different parts of the country? After all, there is no electoral college of some sort or other as there is in the United States of America, no “red” GRCs” and “blue GRCs”, no difference between Bedok and Bishan. But is this truly the case?

In reality, a spatial voting pattern does indeed exist across the island. This has been elucidated only in recent elections because of the phenomenon of ‘micropolling’. In the past, the only source of results was the official one on state-controlled media. While this remains the most popular source of results, as evidenced by the elevation of a humble Returning Officer to an instant internet sensation in Mr Yam Ah Mee, the alternative platform of micropolling has given us new clues as to how Singaporeans living in different places vote. Micropolling essentially involves the use of new social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to broadcast results from each counting centre online. These results, which have never been officially published before, reflect the votes of electors in each polling district.

On the night of the 2011 Presidential Elections, it was revealed by online sources that Tan Cheng Bock had performed well in the western areas of Singapore such as Jurong West while Tony Tan won the districts in Sembawang decisively. In fact, in one counting centre in Fuhua Secondary School (in Jurong GRC), Tan Cheng Bock won a whopping 46.8% of the valid votes whilst the eventual winner of the election, Tony Tan, captured a mere 28.9% of votes. Over at Punggol East SMC which would later oust the People’s Action Party in favour of a Workers’ Party MP in the 2013 By-Election, out of 5 polling districts surveyed, 3 had given their support to Tan Cheng Bock. Admittedly, Tony Tan had purportedly bagged a considerable number of districts in affluent areas of Tanjong Pagar GRC as well. And so, the scrutiny of micropolling data certainly must be overshadowed by the observation of a number of possible trends:

  • Previous political affiliation with an area gives candidates a considerable edge through familiarity – Tan Cheng Bock used to be the Member for Ayer Rajah and Tony Tan represented Sembawang in the House.
  • Political attitudes in General Elections tend to stick during Presidential Elections – Punggol East voters rejected the government-backed candidate, Tony Tan, just as they did more apparently and vociferously in the by-election later on.
  • Socio-economic status and age may play a part too – some observers may claim that more affluent residents or, equally, more elderly residents in Tanglin-Cairnhill constituency and other areas in Tanjong Pagar GRC continued to support the government-backed candidate just as they probably have done so for years in national elections.

The significance of micropolling is also worth noting. The use of technology has given voters a certain degree of independence in finding out election results through helpful counting agents tweeting away results as they stream in, rather than from the mainstream media. Thus, micropolling has arguably helped to improve transparency in the political process, a quality that one should never take for granted even in the most politically mature of nations. So long as legislation does not get introduced to limit or prevent this practice, micropolling will be here to stay. This is especially important given that existing laws in Singapore prohibit the conduct of opinion polls during the campaign period and, unsurprisingly, exit polls during the polling period.

However, micropolling has revealed something about Presidential Elections that needs to be highlighted if future Presidential hopefuls want to campaign more effectively to reach out to voters. Whilst it is true that Presidential candidates can only go so far in campaigning on local issues given the ghastly limited authority they would have in executive issues in the first place, regional campaigning can strengthen their chances of winning as having a solid comprehension of voter preferences in different parts of Singapore would allow candidates to properly divide their resources and time in focusing on garnering more support in areas where they are predisposed to not perform as successfully as in other areas. Such predispositions are indicative of the diversity that exists in our political landscape which is easy to undermine.

Micropolling has helped propel the development of political analysis in Singapore and will continue to do so if independents running for the office of President are willing to take a closer look at the geographical aspect of local politics. In the meantime, those wishing to become MPs, too, have something to gain from this new way in which modern technology has impacted politics in our island-nation which will definitely be one step closer to becoming a more mature democracy as a result of this innovation.

“Some people still ask whether my long previous association with the PAP will stop me from acting independently. The answer is no. My loyalty is first and foremost, to the people of Singapore. It has always been so, and will always remain so”

– Ong Teng Cheong, the 1st Elected President of Singapore

Source of data:

Ngiam, S. T. (2011, August 29). Micropolling results of presidential elections 2011. Retrieved from http://stngiam.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/flash-results-micropolling-results-of-presidential-elections-2011/

Somewhere At The End Of A River

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In a way, a river’s estuary is its final definitive feature. It is a reflection of the past; its contents are a symbol of its erosive and depositional powers. Metaphorically speaking, I find myself at the end of a river – for I am a Hougang boy, and have been so for all my life.

Considering the etymology of ‘Hougang’ (which is Teochew for ‘river’s end’), I figuratively find myself at a river’s estuary because spending my most formative years in Hougang has certainly had an arguably noticeable impact on my perceptions and thoughts regarding certain issues.

Having fancied politicking for a good number of years now, life in Hougang not only involved being aware of municipal issues of the day but also the broader political significance of the area. In and by itself, Hougang is a geographically small area but due to the past actions of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) appointed by the Prime Minister, some residents have found themselves living in one constituency whilst others have found themselves living a completely different one. As of 2011, the area had been split up into at least 4 constituencies – Hougang SMC, Bedok Reservoir – Punggol (of Aljunied GRC), Ang Mo Kio – Hougang (of Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Punggol South (of Pasir Ris – Punggol GRC). The intention of such awkward delimitation has been famously attributed to gerrymandering. So when a PAP MP came knocking on my door one day asking if I had any concerns about lift upgrading in Punggol South, I felt like telling him that I did have a bone to pick with that issue not just in my constituency but all across Hougang as well. I felt that it was unfair that residents of Hougang Street 51 could enjoy priority in national residential development programmes set up by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) whilst my fellow Hougang residents just a few roads down were denied that because of whom they voted for in the political process.

Equally, I daresay constituents of Hougang SMC have developed a sense of patriotism as well as a political identity that are unique to their neck of the woods. For every General Election from 1991 to 2011, the electors there were branded as political kingmakers in deciding whether there would be any Opposition representation in Singapore’s legislature. On the one hand, the Opposition hailed the people of Hougang SMC as having a broader national duty  whilst on the other hand, the incumbent Government party told Hougang residents that they would have a special place in the hearts of policy planners if and only if the PAP candidate had been elected. With a spotlight as bright as that in such a small area (made brighter by the by-election of 2012), one can only expect the people of Hougang to have a distinct identity of their own as far as political preferences go.

Thus, the geography of place and space is rather intriguing. It is apparent in the differences between living in a younger area like Punggol 21 as opposed to an older one like Mountbatten or those between living in an area further away from the Central Business District (CBD) like Sembawang rather than a place within walking distance of it such as Tanglin-Cairnhill. Hence, the variation of Singaporeans’ spatial identity is due to many reasons such as differences in socioeconomic status of residents, the age of the estates as well as the amenities and infrastructure available. In the case of Hougang, it just so happens that this variation has manifested itself in a political nature.

In any case, however, it can be concluded that people are shaped by their surroundings. The link between urban zoning and psychological perceptions is perhaps something that warrants further research by those well-versed with the social sciences.

As for me, nostalgia hit when I had to shift from Hougang to Sengkang in early 2013, assuming that my childhood home would forever remain as a collection of mere memories somewhere in the inner recesses of my mind. Rather ironically, however, the recent election of the Workers’ Party (WP) candidate in the 2013 Punggol East by-election has meant that local affairs in my new neighbourhood will now be managed together with those in the WP stronghold of Hougang. And so, the delta has expanded and I yet again find myself in this estuary known as Hougang.

“Places matter. Their rules, their scale, their design include or exclude civil society, pedestrianism, equality, diversity (economic and otherwise), understanding of where water comes from and garbage goes, consumption or conservation. They map our lives.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics