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Electoral boundaries report: more MPs, smaller GRCs
SEVEN months after it was formed in August, the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) has submitted its report and had its recommendations accepted by the government, in a major step towards the next General Election - which observers say could be sooner rather than later.
In its recommendations released on Friday, there will be 93 elected Members of Parliament, up from 89. This is across 31 electoral divisions: 14 Single Member Constituencies (SMCs), up from 13 before, and 17 four- and five-member Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs).
The two existing six-member GRCs, Ang Mo Kio and Pasir Ris-Punggol, will shrink in size to have five members each. This is in line with the EBRC's terms of reference, which included creating smaller GRCs.
There will be a new four-member Sengkang GRC, which combines Punggol East SMC with parts of Sengkang West SMC and Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC.
The rest of Sengkang West SMC has been absorbed into Ang Mo Kio GRC. All of Fengshan SMC is now part of East Coast GRC, which has grown from four to five members. With the changes, there will be six four-member GRCs and 11 five-member ones. Four new SMCs have been created. Kebun Baru has been carved out of Nee Soon GRC; Marymount, out of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC; Punggol West, out of Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC; and Yio Chu Kang, out of Ang Mo Kio GRC.
Responding to the report, the Workers' Party (WP) said in a statement: "As is its custom, the EBRC has not disclosed how it came to its decisions."
For instance, it did not explain "why it chose to carve out some new SMCs while dissolving Sengkang West, Fengshan and Punggol East SMCs, areas where WP has been active for many years", said the WP. "The WP will decide on the areas where it can best serve Singaporeans, and make its announcement when the elections are called," it added.
The report was submitted to the Prime Minister on March 11. On Friday, the government said it "has accepted the recommendations of the Committee and will implement them at the next General Election".
The next election must be held by April 2021. In 2015, the EBRC report was published on July 24; Parliament was dissolved in August and the election took place on Sept 11. In 2011, the report was published on Feb 24, with the election on May 7.
"Historical precedent suggests that the election would be called within a month, but the government is likely to assess and re-assess the Covid-19 situation in the coming weeks and hope to catch a window where the daily increase in cases isn't too alarming to call for the election," said Harrison Cheng, associate director at consultancy Control Risks.
He expects the government to be inclined to call it earlier rather than late this year, as there are signs that the novel coronavirus outbreak could last through the year, with the prospect of worse economic sentiment by year-end. "There is essentially no good time to do it, given the circumstances, but there may be a 'less bad' time," he said.
SIM Global Education associate lecturer Felix Tan similarly expects the election to be held "as soon as possible", given public expectations for it to be this year, and uncertainty over Covid-19. With further delays, there is the possibility that the virus situation could worsen until holding an election is untenable, he noted.
Still, since calls to avoid crowds have just been made, campaigning may not start that soon, he added. Depending on the virus situation, the election could be held in May rather than April.
The EBRC's terms of reference were to review and recommend boundaries based on the latest number of electors, taking into account changes from population shifts and housing developments; the committee was to also create smaller GRCs and to have more than the existing 13 single-seat wards.
As at April 15, 2019, there were 2,594,740 electors on the registers, up 134,256 from the 2015 registers.
Other changes recommended by the committee include the shifting of various polling districts across electoral divisions. For instance, the single-seat Potong Pasir ward has taken in two polling districts from Marine Parade GRC, and given one to Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.
Various polling-district changes have been made to most GRCs. Those unchanged are Holland-Bukit Timah, Aljunied, Jurong and Tanjong Pagar.
With the Covid-19 outbreak resulting in greater social distancing measures on Friday, it is unclear how this might affect the holding of elections.
Asked by media on Wednesday whether moves such as live-streaming rallies would be considered, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat had said they "were looking at all possibilities", but noted the need to comply with electoral rules.
Existing laws against party political videos mean that rallies are unlikely to go online, said Dr Tan. He suggested that physical rallies might continue, with precautions.
Said Mr Cheng: "It would be a massive logistical challenge to hold elections, both for the campaigning phase and on polling day."
Without rallies, parties would lose an opportunity to reach out to voters and to convey manifesto promises, he said. "Rallies play an important symbolic role in projecting popularity, which could draw voters on the fence who might vote based on the parties they think would be able to win in their constituency."