April 29, 2017

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GE15

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Image of a ballot paper with an X marked next to
Yes or no?

by Daniel Yap

MUCH has been made about the role of new citizens and their effects on the recent General Election results; I have received text messages from friends, family and strangers claiming that it was new citizens who accounted for the 9.8 per cent vote swing between 2011 and 2015.

Singapore can’t survive without new citizens, so the G says, not with our current Total Fertility Rate at 1.29. But along with the naturalisation of new citizens comes tensions, especially around election season. It is assumed that all or nearly all new citizens will vote for the PAP. It is an idea that has gained some popularity here and around the world. It is true that granting citizenships or allowing immigrants in en masse has had the potential to manipulate the vote in other countries, sometimes through potential loopholes in the system as in the case of the USA, and at other times quite blatantly.

Text message about new citizens
Text message about new citizens

One category of messages on the topic makes a claim that the new citizen voting bloc was nearly entirely responsible for the shift in the PAP’s favour. The text points to the number of votes cast in 2011 (2,060,373) and 2015 (2,462,926). The difference of 402,533, the message says, cannot be accounted for by births, lesser deaths and it makes the conclusion that there were more than 300,000 new citizens between 2011 and 2015. This conclusion is erroneous.

One should have first looked at the number of electors – which went from 2,350,873 to 2,460,977, an increase of just 110,104. So why were there so few votes cast in 2011? Tanjong Pagar was not contested. That’s 139,771 voters. Also, 8,000 more people did not turn up to vote in 2015 compared to 2011, perhaps the effect of school holiday trips that were booked long before elections were announced. There were 47,315 rejected votes in 2015, about the same rejection rate as 2011 (just over 2 per cent), but this had little impact on the results.

Singaporeans born between 1991 and 1994 would have turned 21 between 2011 and 2015. During those years, there were just under 50,000 births per year. In 1990, 86 per cent of the people in Singapore were citizens, so I’ll make the assumption that we added 160,000 voters through births. There were about 18,500 deaths a year between 2011 and 2015, for a sum of 74,000, but not all of these were citizen deaths. Even if we include these, our net is about 86,000 more Singaporeans voting.

But to find out how many new citizens joined us between 2011 and now, you just have to Google.

A simple search of NPTD’s last population in brief report (page 13, for the truly lazy) from September 2014 (I hope we will get the next one soon) will show the number of new citizens for 2011, 2012 and 2013 – a total of 57,042. Extrapolating that to 2014 and 2015 (I’m being generous here by including numbers from before May 2011 and after September 2015) and you’re looking at about 100,000 new citizens and perhaps a quarter to a third of them are children, since new citizens tend to be young to middle age adult families.

Therefore, the new citizen voting bloc was at most 75,000 strong, or perhaps even as small as 50,000 (if we assume one-third children and take it at 75,000 new citizens because of the May 2011 and September 2015 cutoffs). That is at most 4 per cent of the electorate, which is not even half of the vote swing, assuming that every single new citizen voted for PAP, which might not even be the case.

I know the numbers I’m guesstimating don’t add up now. The 160,000 Singapore-born voters, less 86,000 deaths, plus 75,000 new citizens is 149,000, way more than the 110,104 additional electors. Perhaps some of the 150,000 people who didn’t vote in 2011 still had their voting rights suspended. No statistics is available for this (maybe my MP can ask in Parliament? I’m curious). There are also very spare statistics for people who gave up their citizenships. Many of my numbers here are best guesses, but the claims in the message about 300 or 400 thousand new citizens swinging the vote are as mythical as a unicorn.

Chart of number of new citizens
From NPTD’s Population Brief Report 2014, page 13

Back to an earlier point: Why would I say these new citizens didn’t all vote for the PAP? Because from 2006 and 2011, PAP lost 6 per cent of the popular vote, and we were also bringing in about 100,000 new citizens.

But as to why there is so much traction for inaccurate facts like this, I would say it is just human nature to want to explain a shocking result. Who better to blame than “foreigners”? Even when they are Singaporeans.

 

Featured image Yes in May to the Alternative Vote Ballot by CGP Grey, CC BY 2.0

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10 things you need to know about GE2015 results

by Bertha Henson

WE KNOW your newsfeeds must be filled with news about the election results. Here are the top 10 things you need to know about what went down on Polling Day, and the results:

1. The People’s Action Party “won by a landslide”. It was given a “strong mandate”, benefited from a “national swing”. Take your pick of phrases. Its vote share is 69.86 per cent of valid votes. It took Punggol East SMC back from the Workers’ Party (WP) by 1,156 votes or 3.53 per cent.

2. The contest over Aljunied GRC went to the wire, with a recount which yielded a margin of just 2,612 votes in favour of the Workers’ Party (WP). The WP took 50.95 per cent of the vote, down from 54.72 per cent in GE2011.

3. The Opposition politicians looked like they did not know what had hit them. Speculation that wards such as East Coast GRC and Fengshan SMC would fall into WP hands remained speculation.

4. PM Lee Hsien Loong and two DPMs turned in performances that are in the high 70s, with DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s Jurong GRC team, taking 79.28 per cent of the vote. A new term “the Tharman effect” was coined.

6. The GE2015 results were boring. Sample counting which was introduced this year proved to be a good indicator of final results. So you could sort of go to bed before 11pm, unless you wanted to know what the recount of Aljunied GRC yielded. And could stay awake till 3.12am.

7. After three decades in Parliament, the Chiam name will disappear. Ms Lina Chiam of Singapore People’s Party did not succeed in taking it back from PAP Sitoh Yih Pin, who actually strengthened his hold further.

8. After being unable to compete in two GEs, Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) Chee Soon Juan entered the fray swinging but went out whinging. His team took 33.38 per cent of the vote in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, despite the packed crowds at his rallies. The votes were “one-off” and did not bode well for Singapore’s future, he said.

9. With six Opposition politicians elected, there are places for three Non-Constituency MPs. Going by who are the best losers, these will include WP’s Lee Li Lian and two of the four WP members on the East Coast slate. Who? That’s for the WP to decide. Another mystery: Will Ms Lee, a former full-time MP, take this up? Going by her comments after the results, seems she might not.

10. After six hours in front of the television camera, academic Gillian Koh looked like she was about to keel over from lack of sleep. A new hashtag #CanWeLetDrGillianKohSleep was created.

 

Featured image by The Middle Ground

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Crowd at the SDP rally.

by Daniel Yap 

AS THE pendulum of the popular vote swings back firmly into PAP territory, the gulfs widen between the incumbent and Opposition, but the Workers’ Party holds on to most of its seats, save one.

What’s the takeaway? Three things.

First, it is clear that most people no longer feel the need to simply vote in protest against G policies, or the PAP. This points to a higher level of satisfaction with the way the country is being run, as well as the sense that Singaporeans believe the PAP is making policy changes with an ear to the ground. It also means that emotions and frustrations aren’t as high as they were in 2011.

Second, Singaporeans are looking for credible candidates who have done real work on the ground over the last five or more years. Opposition parties and Independents need to realize that simply showing up on Nomination Day will not cut it anymore. The electorate has become much more savvy, discerning the quality of individual candidates and their ability to contribute constructively in Parliament and run their town councils, not merely to act as a “check and balance”.

The same goes for the PAP. Their decision to field more new candidates from the grassroots instead of a “parachutist”-heavy team seems to be well-received on the ground. Instead, it is the Opposition that appears to be putting “parachutists” into play this GE, and they are getting gunned down. WP incumbents held on to their seats in spite of the overall swing and lost a smaller margin compared with other parties. This could well be due to their day-to-day presence on the ground.

Third, all the bluster you hear online – it’s just online. The buzz, even from party insiders, was that there would be close fights in East Coast, Fengshan, Sengkang West. There was even talk about a potential surprise in Holland-Bukit Timah. The silent majority is very silent, very major and very potent. The polarizing effect of social media, with its algorithms and echo-chamber effects, may have resulted in a greater perception of support for anti-PAP voices. Apparently, the only way to know the people’s will for sure is to really, really get down to the ground – the real world ground.

All in, it looks like a win for common sense.


Featured photo by Najeer Yusof.

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The Art of Charles Chong You Fook

by Daniel Yap 

WHO would have thought it? The People’s Action party (PAP) has reclaimed Punggol East SMC through Mr Charles Chong, who took home 51.76 per cent of the vote. That’s a 6.26 per cent swing away from the Workers’ Party (WP) incumbent Ms Lee Li Lian.

Mr Charles Chong was a shot in the dark for the PAP. Mr Chong was their best shot for the seat, true, since he had been an MP in the area before it became an SMC and is remembered by a large number of residents. But he was still a shot in the dark. The veteran MP even seemed due for retirement at age 62. But he’s done it – one of the biggest upsets of this General Election.

The question is “how”?

It wasn’t the AHPETC issue. WP’s lost margin is smaller than that of most other Opposition wards, meaning that the PAP’s efforts in negative campaigning against them were a waste. The swing away from the Workers’ Party (WP) was across the board, but that isn’t enough to account for his victory in a ward as closely fought as Punggol East was.

The feedback from the ground was against him – most people thought that WP would not have a problem holding on to its seven seats from 2011. As a matter of fact, the expectation was for WP to snatch more seats away from the PAP this time around.

Mr Chong came back to the town he knew well and won voters over with his guts and winning personality from the moment he got his orders to go to Punggol East. His gutsy stunts in 2005 and 2006 with the Buangkok MRT white elephants were not easily forgotten either, showing his willingness to put residents first.

What else could I call it? It was the art of Charlie Chong.

 

The Art of Charles Chong You Fook

 

 

Featured image by Akiru.

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Mr Gary Ong, owner of a company that deals with used IT Equipment. He reconditions them to be sold to companies or other countries.
Mr Gary Ong, owner of a company that deals with used IT Equipment. He reconditions them to be sold to companies or other countries.

by Gary Ong

SO THE day that all of us have been looking forward to has finally arrived! I don’t think I have ever been this emotionally invested in the elections before and it’s probably got to do with the fact that with the introduction of social media, I get to hear what my friends have to say. In the past, the results were more or less decided, and there was no sense of a challenge, no fight to the incumbent! But things have changed and people are talking a lot more passionately about the elections.

The other day, my son showed me a map of the different constituencies in Singapore. It then dawned upon me that the current Workers’ Party (WP) wards were all situated in the East of Singapore. Additionally, the constituencies that are labelled “hotly contested” are also in the East. I wonder if there’s a reason why the WP attracts supporters in the East. On that note, even though I stay in the East too, I’ve noted that most of my friends who support the current government live in the West. While it worries me that Singapore may be separated along political and geographical lines, I remind myself that all these developments show that Singaporeans are increasingly concerned about their own country. I just hope that after the elections are over, we can all come back and focus on business as usual. If anything, the haze these few days reminds us of the susceptibility of Singapore to outside changes.

I think that the excitement I feel this season has also got to do with the fact that my eldest son finally has the chance to vote. I was reminded today how much he, and I guess Singapore, has grown when we bumped into his kindergarten teacher while we were waiting to vote. Even the polling process has become so much faster this year. In the past, my family had to walk a considerable distance to my sons’ primary school to cast our vote; the one time the children stayed at home and the parents went to school. This year, the polling station was just two blocks away.

One thing hasn’t changed, though: we still had to remind my 80 year old mother how to properly cast her vote. Then again, crossing a box only matters this much once every five years.

 

Featured image by Jeremy Chua.

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Election Board authorities about to seal ballot boxes.
Election Board authorities about to seal ballot boxes.

YOU should have cast your vote by now. If not, you are TOO LATE! The ballot boxes are being ferried to counting stations and will be tallied over the next few hours. If you are settling in front of your computer or television to watch the final day of GE2015, and getting confused about some terms and numbers, here’s a handy guide for you.

So how many votes are we talking about and what about those voting overseas?

If every registered voter did his civic duty, we should be looking at a total of 2,462,926 votes cast. It’s a lot, not just because the population has grown but also because all 89 seats are contested. in GE2011, there were 2,350,873 registered electors in all contested electoral divisions. Remember that Tanjong Pagar GRC was not contested.

As of July 31, 2015, 3,104 electors have registered to vote overseas. This is 63.76 per cent of 4,868 eligible overseas voters. There are 10 overseas Polling CentresSingapore high commissions, embassies or consulates: Canberra in Australia, London, Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dubai, Washington, San Francisco and New York. Polling stations that opened a day ahead of Singapore are those in London, Dubai, New York, Washington and San Francisco. Most of them opened at 8am on Thursday, Sept 10. 

How are our votes actually counted? What is this about a sample count that’s supposed to be new?

Yup, it’s a new thing. You’ll be hearing some statistics much earlier than in the past GEs because a sampling of the votes will be done at each of the 832 polling stations. A random bundle of 100 votes is selected, tabulated and weighted to account for the difference in number of votes cast at each polling station. They will be put together for each of the 16 GRCs and 13 SMCs as a percentage of valid votes. This means you will get a rough idea of the results from around 10pm, instead of having to wait past midnight, as in previous elections. Note that there is a margin error of 4 per cent. So if the numbers are too close, like 49 per cent and 51 per cent, don’t be too quick to declare victory or defeat. 

Counting of votes

Candidates and their counting agents will be present at the counting centre to see the ballot boxes being opened and emptied of the ballot papers. They will watch the counting and can register any dispute over the veracity of the ballot with the key officer on site. The Returning Officer will compile the results received from all counting centres in Singapore and declare the candidate/group of candidates to whom the greatest number of votes is given to be elected.

Who is a Returning Officer and what is his role?

Veteran civil servant Ng Wai Choong is the Returning Officer, having taken over the post from Mr Yam Ah Mee in April 2013. He or she is the civil servant overall in charge for the smooth and impartial conduct of election. He is the person who announces the results. 

What is a spoilt vote? 

Anything other than a cross marked within the boundaries of a voting box is considered a spoilt vote, and is for the Assistant Returning Officer to adjudicate unclear and ambiguous votes. 

In the ELD 2015 guide for Counting Agents, there is this grey clause under “Counting Process” that states:

“But a ballot paper on which the vote is marked elsewhere than in the proper place, otherwise than by means of a cross or by more than one marking will not be treated as void if the intention of the voter as to which candidate he/she wishes to give the vote to is clear, and the way the paper is marked does not in itself identify the voter.”

Basically, this means that the vote can be counted so long as it can be argued that the voter’s choice of party is clear.

The Returning Officer shall reject as invalid the ballot papers which does not bear the complete official mark for the authentication of ballot papers or is not initialled by the presiding officer. It is also considered invalid if votes are given for more than one candidate or group of candidates or has something on it that can identify the voter.

Read these two blog posts by blogger Yawningbread to know more about the process and to see more images showing examples of valid votes and spoilt votes.

Under what circumstances will a recount of votes occur?

Only if the difference in votes between two candidates is 2 per cent or less of the total number of valid votes cast. Only one application for a recount can be made.

In GE2011, a recount was held for Potong Pasir SMC. The People’s Action Party’s Sitoh Yih Pin beat the Singapore People’s Party’s Lina Chiam by just 114 votes, or a mere 0.7 percentage point.

What is an NCMP?

There will only be a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) if there are fewer than nine opposition MPs elected into Parliament. A parliamentary seat will then be given to the best losers of the election. The 12th Parliament had three NCMPs, Mrs Lina Chiam of Singapore People’s Party and Mr Gerald Giam and Mr Yee Jenn Jong from the Workers Party.

As the name suggests, an NCMP does not represent any constituency. He/she is entitled to vote on all matters, except Supply Bills, Money Bills, Constitutional amendments, motions of no confidence in the Government and motions on the removal of the President from office.

What was the PAP and Opposition vote share like during GE2011?

PartySeats contestedWards contestedSeats wonWalkovers% votes (in areas contested)
PAP822676560.1%
Workers’ Party (WP) 2386 (Aljunied, five seats; Hougang, one seat)046.6%
Singapore People’s Party (SPP)730041.4%
National Solidarity Party (NSP)2480039.3%
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)1140036.8%
Reform Party (RP)1120031.8%
Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA)720030.1%

Source: The Straits Times

What were the election percentages for key contested seats in 2011?

ALJUNIED GRC: The WP members Chen Show Mao, Sylvia Lim, Low Thia Kiang, Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap and Pritam Singh won 54.72 per cent of the votes or 72,289 votes out of the total 143,148.

POTONG PASIR SMC: Wife of Mr Chiam See Tong, Candidate Lina Chiam lead the SPP team to win 49.64 per cent per cent of the votes, or 7,878 votes out of the total 15,870.

PUNGGOL EAST SMC: PAP’s Michael Palmer won with 54.54 per cent, or 16,994 of the votes out of a total 31,158 valid votes in GE2011. In a by-election held two years later in 2013, WP’s Lee Li Lian won with 54.50 per cent, or 16,045 of the votes out of a total 29,441 valid votes.

lost with 41.01 per cent of the votes, with 12,777 votes out of a total 33,281 votes

HOUGANG SMC: WP’s Yaw Shin Leong won 64.80 per cent of the votes, or a total of 14,850 votes out of 24,560. In a by-election held when, WP’s Png Eng Huat….

Where can I go if I am a supporter of a political party?

There are four assembly areas where you can gather to await the announcement of results after the polls close at 8pm on Polling Day (Sept 11).

  1. PAP: Bedok Stadium, 1 Bedok North Street 2
  2. PAP: Jurong West Stadium, 20 Jurong West Street 93
  3. PAP: Toa Payoh Stadium, 297 Lorong 6 Toa Payoh
  4. WP: Hougang Stadium, 100 Hougang Avenue 2

 

Text by Gillian Lim and Md Suhaile

Additional reporting by Shameel Suhaile, Wan Ting Koh and Ron Ma.

Featured Photo by Najeer Yusof.

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Lim Bim Bo at Fengshan Community Club.

MISS Lim Bim Bo was practising her cheerleading moves in Fengshan Community Centre when TMG caught up with her. Miss Lim, 22, who is the daughter of a hawker selling orh luak at the Fengshan market, wiped the perspiration off her brow and re-did her makeup before we sat down for the interview. We asked her if her father’s newfound fame would tilt her vote towards the People’s Action Party or the Workers’ Party.

TMG: We’re so sorry to disturb you, Miss Lim. We’re here to talk to you about your father’s orh luak business and also to get some views from a sensible, straight-talking resident about the candidates standing here. Maybe, we can start…

Miss Lim (coyly): Please! Please! Just call me Bim Bo. Yes, I have many sensible views. For example, I think it was wonderful for Ms Sylvia Lim to pick my father’s orh luak stall instead of eating bak chor mee because I am so tired of people saying that the bak chor mee is good. But the problem is that my father now has to hire a helper because his business is so good but he can’t find anyone to work for him, not even a China girl…How?

TMG: Maybe,  you can help out at the stall?

Miss Lim (sniffing): Of course not! Unless you want to take a picture of me patronising my father’s stall and I can post on Instagram?

TMG: Ahem…. Can you tell me about Fengshan? This is a new single seat ward. With about 23,400 voters. Were you surprised that it is no longer part of East Coast GRC?

Miss Lim: Actually, I don’t care about politics. This will be the first time I am voting. But my father is a bit worried. Because in the past, when he wants something, he can go to Mr Raymond Lim. Ex-minister. Still powerful. But now, he says we have two new people to choose from. He says, maybe just flip coin. Of course, I am more sensible. I will just see which party can do what for me. That Ms Cheryl Chan from the PAP. Good complexion but she looks so shy and quiet. I bumped into her at the CC before. She is some big time grassroots leader.

TMG: What about Mr Dennis Tan of the Workers’ Party? Ever seen him?

Miss Lim (wide-eyed): I didn’t see him in the CC. I don’t think he can enter, right? Or maybe he did but he probably wasn’t wearing blue colour. I hear there is something about opposition cannot use CC facilities or something. But my father says he’s been around the market these two weeks but everyone goes to the market because it’s the only one in the area. My father says the WP guy can speak Hokkien and Teochew. He even gave my father his mobile number. By the way, have you eaten my father’s orh luak?

TMG: Hmm…Not yet. But can we come back to the subject? You said you want to see which party can do what for you. So what do you want from them?

Miss Lim: Actually, in Fengshan, we have everything. Mature estate. So plenty of shops and got bus feeder service. We are not far from Bedok Central. Maybe you should ask the private estate people, those people outside Bedok housing estate, between Tampines Town Hub and Changi Business Park. A lot of PMEs and foreigners. Then all those condos along Tanah Merah Kechil Road. Even got new mall along Simpang Bedok. Sometimes they all come over to the market for supper. Very good business for my father. Some new HDB blocks also coming up soon. The place will be crowded.

TMG: So you don’t need anything? Nothing at all?

Miss Lim (thinking hard): Hmmm. Ms Chan said she wants to roll out programmes for the families, elderly residents and less-privileged children. I don’t have family, I am not old and I’m actually quite privileged because I live in an executive flat. But Ms Chan is single! So maybe we can go chiong together!  That Dennis. Lawyer right? But married with children. Sigh…

TMG: Hmmm. So you don’t know which way to cast your vote?

Miss Lim (in gossip mode): I tell you something. Privately okay? I think some people here not very happy because it’s like the PAP don’t care and so put in someone who is not well-known. Not a minister or some other MP from elsewhere. The PAP says Ms Chan is with the grassroots. So maybe grassroots people will vote for her but other people leh? Then that Workers’ Party also one kind. Why not give us somebody well-known? Single-seat got better chance right? Looks like no one really cares about us….You know the rumour right? The last time in GE2011, the residents didn’t vote for PAP? So that’s we got kicked out?

TMG: But the PAP already said that it’s not true. Every part of the GRC cast about the same votes…

Miss Lim (folds arms): You believe them ah…

TMG: Anyway, have you thought about what will happen if Fengshan votes for Dennis Tan? Your estate will be run by the Workers’ Party.

Lim Bim Bo

Miss Lim (worried frown): Ya. I don’t think the Workers’ Party people have said very much. Cannot join the Aljunied and donno what Ah Pek town council right? It has three constituencies already. So, Fengshan must be on our own? Like Potong Pasir and Hougang the last time? Aiyoh. Scary. My father is also worried. How much S&C got to pay? Got any changes to the hawker centre cleaning fees? (She pauses.) Unless Workers’ Party also win East Coast GRC…Then maybe can combine new town council. Eh, East Coast how ah? PAP or WP?

TMG: Hmmm….we also don’t know.

Miss Lim: Don’t know. Don’t know. Everything also don’t know…. Sorry, I have to go back to my pom poms. Remember to eat my father’s orh luak!

 

Text by Bertha Henson.

Illustrations by Akiru.

Featured photo by Chong Yew Kong. 

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/notbrucelee/5139407571/in/photostream/

by Tan Chu Chze

ONLY one more evening of rallies, before Cooling-Off Day this Thursday. Then, the important day. You’ll wake up that morning, happy to realise it is a holiday. With a smile on your face, you walk five minutes to Neighbourhood View Secondary School, just across the road. The place is transformed. Instead of the usual beeline of students, you see other adults, young and old, neither uniformed nor (hopefully) un-informed, gathering at the school.

They, like you, will (hopefully) have done their homework. There’s a paper to be submitted after all. Not that there are grades at risk, although you would need a cross on that sheet. It is one of the very rare situations where a “tick” spoils the assignment.

“Teachers” will be there for your submission. They will only know if you had submitted or not. They cannot assess, neither can anyone copy your answer. Your response is strictly confidential. You submit your paper in a box and take your leave.

Class dismissed.

That is roughly the series of events that we know ‘voting’ to entail. Yet, our understanding of a ‘vote’ can also be condensed into a simple statement: “a formal indication or expression of a choice”. Some dictionaries situate this choice within an election or a meeting and specify the medium to be a ballot or the raising of hands. Still, these definitions do not do justice to the buzz and excitement of the rallies and speeches that would have come beforehand.

Another thing that the word ‘votes’ takes for granted, is the wider socio-political situation it is located in. ‘Votes’ comprise a collective decision. Communities vote in an election to choose which party or individual to represent them in parliament. People’s Action Party (PAP) or “Opposition”? Whom do you trust more? Such a decision inadvertently affects the voting community as a whole, and as such positions individuals in that community as stakeholders entitled to express their choice through voting.

This begs the question: how then do you ‘vote’? No doubt a ‘vote’ is an individual right; The nature of our Constitution entitles Singaporeans above the age of 21 to express his or her choices – that is, to vote. This is in opposition to the view that ‘voting’ is a privilege – which sees a higher institution or body of people as sovereign over the individual’s vote. As far as the G is concerned, that is not the case. Individuals have full ownership of their right to vote.

Yet being rightful voters does not mean people vote right. In fact, the view of votes being “rightful” can be myopic, in that it overemphasise the individual over his or her role as a community member. This brings us to a notion about ‘votes’ that seems easily forgotten: responsibility. This may seem very Hao Gong Min (“Good Citizen” – the name of a local Chinese textbook no longer in use), but at the very least, it is consistent with the G’s view on voting:

“Voting at Singapore’s presidential elections or parliamentary elections is compulsory for all eligible citizens. It is part of the responsibilities of being an adult Singapore citizen.”

That the G bothers to articulate this, and not so much the fact that ‘voting’ is a right, says something about how the G sees ‘voting’: as argued earlier, a ‘vote’ must be contextualised within the larger communal decision it is embedded in. This is because the outcome of that decision has a direct impact on the community as a whole and not just the individual. Thus, although it seems apparent that ‘voting’ is by the individual, we often miss that it is done for the community.

The notion of responsibility is further elaborated by the history of ‘vote’ itself. Hailing from the Latin word “votum“, it means “a vow, wish, solemn pledge, or dedication.” The implication of this definition shifts the weight of responsibility to the voter. It is not just the candidates who have to prove themselves worthy for office. Voters have an important obligation to decide how to exercise their votes.

Therefore, a vote is not just an expression of a choice. Neither is it simply the right to influence a communal decision. To the individual, a vote is a promise: it says to its chosen candidate, “I trust you. I elect you to represent my community, and I commit to supporting you…

At least up till the next election.”

 

Featured image Voting by Flickr user justgrimesCC BY-SA 2.0.

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Citizen timepiece with clock hands pointing at 8:30
Citizen timepiece shows 8:30

GOOD morning. It’s Tuesday September 8. We are three days away from Polling Day and including today, just two more days of rallies for the various candidates to make their case to be elected. Yesterday, the first-ever lunchtime rally was held at the UOB Plaza downtown, organised by the SDP. Here’s a first-person account of the event, comparing it to the party’s previous night-time rallies. We have pictures, too.

Later in the evening, nine more rallies were held. Excluding three which were by the PAP, the six opposition parties mostly continued to hammer the ruling party on issues ranging from cost of living to the need for more checks and balances in Parliament. We listened to all nine rallies. Here’s a summary of the issues that were raised and what was said about them.

One of the more direct clashes of the night was between the PAP and SDP, whose candidates including Vivian Balakrishnan and Chee Soon Juan continued to trade barbs about each other. The two men are leading their respective teams in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, which is shaping up to be one of the most anticipated fights in this election. If you prefer to see what the other, smaller parties were up to, here’s a photo essay on the speakers and crowds at the rallies organised by SingFirst, PPP, SDA and NSP.

Today, a second lunchtime rally will be held – this time, by the PAP. Then, in the evening, 11 more rallies, six of which will also be by the PAP.

 

Featured image by Shawn Danker.

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Screengrab of electionaire.info website
Screengrab of electionaire.info/

by Kwan Jin Yao

SEVENTY-TWO hours after its release, Electionaire – “a tool for users to find out how much they agree with [the stances of the political parties] on the relevant issues of this election” – has since been accessed by more than 140,000 users and received half a million page views. A majority of the new users are from Singapore, and the average user spends 4.5 minutes on the website.

And over Facebook, users of Electionaire – more than 4,000 of whom have shared their results – have also had discussions on their matches to the political parties, especially if they had affiliations as volunteers or members. (If only we could get the candidates to take it…)

It was designed by five third-year students from Yale-NUS College, who stressed that “being self-funded serves to inure them against allegations of being backed by any particular political party or interest group”.

“We noticed that a large portion of political discussions are based on politicians’ personalities, unsubstantiated value judgments, or name-calling,” the members said, when The Middle Ground asked what prompted the team to work on the tool. “We hope to start more conversations about policies and get people thinking deeply about their own support for their preferred parties.”

One of the students Koh Wei Jie said motivation stems from “an academic curiosity, and not to push any partisan stance.” The team has been “self-reflexive in formulating questions and performing research.”

Here is our full interview with the Electionaire team:

The Middle Ground (TMG): What prompted your team of five to release Electionaire?

Electionaire (E): There are a lot of first-time voters among us at Yale-NUS College. We realised that getting information about all the parties contesting the elections at one place is quite an arduous task. Digging into manifestos and reading speeches would be a good way for someone to decide how to vote, but simply put, it is a lot of work, not just for us, but for others as well. Of course, there are many factors that go into choosing who to vote for, but having a good understanding of each party’s policies is very important.

We also noticed that a large portion of political discussions are based on politicians’ personalities, unsubstantiated value judgments, or name-calling. People do discuss policies, but the sense that some of us got was that this was not the primary form of discussion.

A questionnaire format appealed to us because it rates parties purely on their stances and opinions. It does not engage in the mud-slinging or name-calling that is so ubiquitous in partisan politics everywhere. We were very mindful of our context and knew how easy it would be for people to dismiss us as unfair, or trying to advance a partisan position, so we decided to make all our data, algorithms, code and ratings open source for the public to see.

Rather than present the tool as a black-box, we have invited people to come and stare at its inner workings and critique our sources and questions. People on reddit, Facebook, and over email have given us very thoughtful feedback that we continue to add into the website. We also do not host any advertisements on the website. We have paid for domain names and server space out of our personal funds. We do not intend to make a profit out of our users. Being self-funded is also strong “inurement” against allegations of being backed by any particular political party or interest group.

TMG: How does Electionaire contribute to the present political discourse, particularly in the context of the general elections?

E: Since the quiz is very easy to take, it very effectively gets users to think about policies and what their own beliefs are. We hope that when someone takes our quiz and gets a result, they’d head over to our “About” page and dig deeper into why they were matched with the party they received, and perhaps do some research for more information.

To our pleasant surprise, this has happened! Some people took the quiz assuming they were going to get Party X but end up with a completely different one. This prompted them to find out why, which is exactly what we want them to do. For people whose favourite party is ranked at the top, we hope that they look at the rest of the list and get curious about their second, third, and even their last match. We hope to start more conversations about policies and get people thinking deeply about their own support for their preferred parties.

TMG: What was the most challenging component of the research process?

E: Deciding on a methodology that was uncompromising and principled was very challenging. We began by choosing issues common across multiple parties’ manifestos and mentioned in recent public speeches. Then, the research team dug up party statements on these issues which were finally rated by a group of raters (we are continuously requesting people to rate the issues, and we keep updating our site according to the changes in the average). Of course, like any system that might be deployed for such a task, this system has its flaws.

TMG: When the team scanned through the manifestos and public statements by the political parties – particularly for the latter – did it detect significant disparities within the parties? Or whether there might be contradictory messages or policies proposed?

E: This is generally untrue. Most parties hold consistent views about an issue. And when they don’t, they explicitly declare that their party members are free to stand for their personal views. NSP about 377A is a good example. It explicitly declares that it’s candidates can hold whatever views they like, but the party does not have an official stance.

TMG: The PAP is rated as 0.5 for “companies and organisations should be required to search for a Singaporean before hiring a foreigner”, based on statements by the Prime Minister. Would a policy like the Fair Consideration Framework affect that rating?

E: Yes, this particular policy would affect the rating. Making the tool and its data freely available online lets people reach out to us with things we might have missed. A user of our site pointed out to us how we missed including the Fair Consideration Framework in our research. We immediately realised the significance of this omission and have contacted our raters to redo that particular question for all the parties. Similarly, a user noticed that the Workers’ Party’s (WP) stance on 377A had been inaccurately represented and wrote to us – we rechecked our rating system and realised an error had been made and updated the site immediately.

TMG: Along this tangent, have there been changes within the parties over time? Was there a time-frame for the manifestos and public statements considered? For instance, the WP position on 377A was inferred primarily from 2007 and 2011.

E: We haven’t studied change across time. We have limited our research and concerns to the present. If there have been no significant recent updates or statements made about the issue, we have fallen back on previous manifestos and old statements on record. Otherwise, we have tried our best to collect the latest sources.

TMG: Did the team compare the averaged ratings among the parties? If so, which were the parties which shared the closest policy positions?

E: We haven’t made this comparison yet. However, from the graphs on the site, it is clear that the Opposition tends to cluster on issues about immigration and economic policy. Certain issues like the abolition of 377A are very divisive.

TMG: Focusing on the methodology, what is the biggest limitation of Electionaire at the moment?

E: Some parties do not take a direct stance on the issue at hand that other parties have made very strong statements about. They have, however, made statements around the issue, or indirectly referred to it in some way. When we include these statements as sources for our ratings, we compromise on accuracy.

For instance, while all Opposition parties speak strongly about the costs of unfettered economic growth – economic inequality, dropping wages for the low-income strata, we couldn’t find a direct statement from the PAP juxtaposing income inequality and growth.

However, we found an official statement emphasising the central and primary role of economic growth as the essential cog in solving the problems Singapore had, and in creating new jobs and opportunities. [“Growth is not the be-all and end-all, but it is the only way for us to create good jobs for all and earn a good living”]. Marking the PAP for this issue as a “no mention” would be sacrificing an opportunity of comparison and including this indirect source would compromise accuracy.

TMG: What is the biggest misconception users have about Electionaire?

E: Electionaire should not be used as a tool to decide who you want to vote for. It is meant to be something that starts conversations and deeper thought about politics and policies. Unfortunately, some users treat this tool as a way to affirm their own support for their party of choice. Nevertheless, we still hope that the discussions that they start can be helpful in building a more politically conscious electorate.

 

Featured image a screengrab of  www.electionaire.info website.

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