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Boundary report out - and early GE beckons

Electoral panel recommends S'pore be split into 29 divisions: 13 SMCs and 16 GRCs

With more smaller, four-member GRCs to come, the average size of each GRC will be reduced to 4.75. Mr Lee told Parliament on July 13 that he had asked the EBRC to reduce the average size, which presently stands at five, and to have at least 12 SMCs.


MORE Members of Parliament (MPs) and the disappearance of both a hotly contested ward and a constituency helmed by a minister: these are some of the key outcomes of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee's (EBRC) report on Friday, which also strongly suggests that Singapore voters will head to the polls soon.

The January 2017 deadline to hold the next general election in Singapore is still 18 months away, but it's looking ever more likely that the GE will be held before the year is up.

This after the EBRC - a group of five senior civil servants tasked to review the number and boundaries of constituencies - made public its much-awaited report, just 11 days after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the committee was formed in May.

One key change is that there will be 89 MPs after the next polls, two more than the current batch of 87 in Parliament.

The EBRC recommended that Singapore be split into a total of 29 divisions, comprising 13 single-member constituencies (SMCs) and 16 group representation constituencies (GRCs). This is higher than the 12 single wards and 15 GRCs in place today.

With more smaller, four-member GRCs to come, the average size of each GRC will be reduced to 4.75. Mr Lee told Parliament on July 13 that he had asked the EBRC to reduce the average size, which presently stands at five, and to have at least 12 SMCs.

There will be a total of six four-member GRCs, up from the current two, and this list includes two new GRCs: Marsiling-Yew Tee and Jalan Besar.

Moulmein-Kallang, a four-MP GRC led by Cabinet ministers Yaacob Ibrahim and Lui Tuck Yew, will soon cease to exist. The wards in this GRC will be carved off and placed in four other GRCs.

Mr Lui, the transport minister, said he was sad that his GRC would be dissolved, adding that the news would surprise and disappoint his grassroots leaders, volunteers and branch activists.

"I know (PM Lee) has given the guidelines to the boundaries committee to have smaller GRCs and . . . to create more GRCs and smaller GRCs. So, naturally, the boundaries will have to shift. In this case, Moulmein-Kallang is one of the more affected constituencies," he said.

As for the five-member GRCs, there will be eight instead of the current 11 after the EBRC downsized East Coast, Chua Chu Kang and West Coast GRCs by one MP each.

The two largest GRCs in Singapore - Ang Mo Kio (helmed by PM Lee) and Pasir Ris-Punggol (led by DPM Teo Chee Hean) - will remain six-member constituencies. But with Ang Mo Kio's Kebun Baru ward redrawn into Nee Soon GRC, the ward's MP Inderjit Singh announced that he would not be standing for re-election.

"I would like to take the opportunity to share that I will be stepping down at the coming GE. I thank the residents of Kebun Baru and Ang Mo Kio for the support they gave me during this time and for the confidence and trust they placed in me," the 55-year- old four-term MP said.

Three of the 13 SMCs proposed - Bukit Batok, Fengshan and MacPherson - are new. Two existing SMCs, Joo Chiat and Whampoa, will be absorbed into Marine Parade and Jalan Besar GRCs respectively.

The Joo Chiat seat saw one of the fiercest battles between the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and the opposition Workers' Party (WP) at the last GE in May 2011. The WP's Yee Jenn Jong pulled in 49 per cent of the votes, with the PAP's Charles Chong scraping through with a majority of just 388 votes. Mr Yee, a non-constituency MP, said there was "no clear justification" for the decision to remove Joo Chiat as an SMC.

"We have walked the ground tirelessly for four years since the last GE, in and around the SMC, week after week, sometimes even in scorching heat and drizzles.

"Residents whom I have met were looking forward to a good and gentlemanly contest again, like what we had the last time. Some 'wise men' in a small committee decided otherwise, for reasons best known to themselves," he said.

Also bidding farewell to the political landscape is Whampoa. The ward's veteran MP, Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Heng Chee How, defeated the National Solidarity Party (NSP) in 2011 by a comfortable 32 per cent margin.

Another hot single seat, Potong Pasir, made the EBRC's cut, contrary to speculation it would be absorbed into another GRC. In 2011, the PAP's Sitoh Yih Pin triumphed over the Singapore People's Party's (SPP) Lina Chiam with a wafer-thin margin of 114 votes - under one per cent of the total ballots cast.

All the three constituencies now in the hands of the WP - Aljunied GRC, and Hougang and Punggol East SMCs - remain intact.

The government has accepted all of the EBRC's recommendations and will implement them.

Mr Lee, who received the committee's report on Tuesday, said that MPs should serve their residents to the best of their ability, wherever the boundaries may be drawn. "Voters should support the candidates or teams who will best represent their interests, both in the constituency and as the government of Singapore."

With the EBRC report finally out, attention now focuses on when President Tony Tan Keng Yam will issue the writ of election on Mr Lee's advice. In previous elections, it has taken as little as one day and as long as eight weeks for Parliament to be dissolved and the writ to be issued.

Once that happens, the GE must be held within three months. In 2011, the committee's report was issued on Feb 24 and Parliament was dissolved on April 19.

There has been talk that Polling Day may be as early as September, with political analyst Eugene Tan (associate professor of law at SMU) pointing out that the relatively faster pace of the panel's work this time could mean Singaporeans going to the ballot boxes that month.

The EBRC completed its task and submitted its report in just over two months after its formation, about half the time it took for the 2006 and 2011 GEs.