Yawning Bread. 7 May 2010

Effects of recent electoral changes




If the new electoral rules had been in effect for the General Election of 2006, what would be the composition of Parliament today? My calculations show that we would have 7 legislators from the Workers' Party and 2 from the Singapore Democratic Alliance. There would be none from the Singapore Democratic Party.

As explained in previous articles, the new electoral rules (passed by Parliament a week ago) aim to increase opposition representation through the device of Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMP), subject to a maximum of nine. It also makes permanent the inclusion of nine Nominated Members of Parliament, who are not party-affiliated.

Based on the announced formula, had the new rules been in effect, the opposition seats after the 2006 election would have been filled thus:

1. Two outright winners from their respective Single-Member Constituencies (SMC): Low Thia Khiang (Workers Party) and Chaim See Tong (Singapore Democratic Alliance)

2. Seven more NCMPs from Group Representation Constituencies or Single-Member Constituencies with the highest percentage opposition votes, subject to a maximum of only two NCMPs from any GRC. Thus:

(a) Two Workers' Party NCMPs from Aljunied GRC, 
(b) Steve Chia (SDA) from Choa Chu Kang SMC, 
(c) Two WP NCMPs from East Coast GRC, 
(d) Tan Bin Seng (WP) from Joo Chiat SMC, and 
(e) Lian Chin Way (WP) from Nee Soon Central SMC.

When a GRC is allotted NCMPs, it is up to the party to decide which of its slate of candidates will get those seats. That is why I cannot point to any particular names from Aljunied and East Coast GRCs.

The vote-counts and percentage results from the 2006 General Election can be seen here:

Source: www.elections.gov.sg/elections_past_parliamentary2006.html

Opposition party politicians would therefore take up about one in ten of the seats in Parliament. The NCMPs however cannot vote on budget bills, constitutional amendments and motions of confidence.

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As regular readers would know, I have long argued for an electoral system that combines first-past-the-post with proportional representation (PR). I believe the best formula would be to have half the parliamentary seats filled through Single-Member Constituencies, complemented by an equal number of seats filled through proportional representation.

Since there are currently 84 constituencies (once we break up the GRCs), we might keep them all for simplicity's sake. Then we add 84 more proportional-representation seats. Total: 168.

I would also keep the PR system as simple as possible. It is open to party lists, with any ten citizens able to form a party, and seats are allocated in direct proportion to the percentage of votes cast nationwide.

It would be important to give each voter two votes: One for the constituency election and another for the PR side of the election. He can vote for one party/candidate for his constituency and vote for another party with his second, PR, vote.

(Example: I can see a lot of liberal-minded people voting for Baey Yam Keng and Hri Kumar (PAP), should they stand in constituencies, even as the same voters vote against the PAP with their PR-vote. The two appear to represent the liberal wing of the party, but the party as a whole is quite unpalatable for its authoritarian, father-knows-best streak.)

What would Parliament today look like if my system had been in place in 2006? It's hard to say without making biggish assumptions about voter behaviour. The key assumptions I would need to make are as follows:

1. That even after we had broken up all the GRCs into SMCs, all of their component constituencies would still go to the PAP under a first-past-the-post system;

2. That voters would cast their second (PR) vote for parties in the same way they had cast for GRC and SMC candidates. 66.6 percent of valid votes went to PAP candidates in 2006; we assume that even if they had been given a second vote for the PR side of the election, 66.6 percent would still be cast for the PAP.

Under these assumptions, we would still have Low and Chiam holding the constituency seats for  Hougang and Potong Pasir respectively. 

However, 28 of the 84 PR seats would go to the opposition. Of these 28, the lion's share (18) would be awarded to the Workers' Party, 7 to the Singapore Democratic Alliance and 3 to the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

In my proposed system, there are no Nominated Members of Parliament. And all legislators get the right to participate in all parliamentary votes, including constitutional amendments and motions of confidence; there would not be first-class and second-class legislators.

The table below compares the make-up of Parliament at present ("old system") with the hypothetical compositions (a) had the new electoral rules been in place in 2006 and (b) had my system been in effect in 2006.

Even under my system, the PAP would be able to form a stable government, with whopping majority of 82 percent. There is no need to fear deadlock and instability.

But with some 30 opposition members in Parliament, we'd probably have livelier debates and better representation of different voters' interests.

This is why I did not agree with the new electoral rules, increasing the number of NCMPs. Yes, they were a step in the right direction, but it was far too timid a step. It also suffered from the defect of entrenching Nominated MPs, something that I totally disagree with as a matter of principle. A bolder scheme is called for and as I have demonstrated above, can be afforded without risk.

Yawning Bread 



Qualifying percentage for proportional representation?

Comments to previous articles have suggested that I take a look at the systems in operation for the Scottish Parliament and the German Parliament. They too are mixed systems, but in my view, they both suffer from complexity on the PR side.

There is however, one aspect of the German system that may recommend itself, and that is to set a minimum qualifying bar of five percent.

In other words, any party that fails to get 5 percent of the PR vote is disqualified from PR seats (it can still win constituency seats). The PR seats can then be allocated among the qualifying parties in proportion to the votes they obtained.

Why does this sound reasonable? Because any political system should try to encourage parties to build broad alliances.

While it is good that a proportional representation system gives voice to minorities who might otherwise be silenced in just about every constituency under a first-past-the-post system, you really don't want a situation where even extreme fringe groups get into parliament too. There is a greater chance that they are disruptive rather than accommodative.

My mind is not made up on this question however. Perhaps 5 percent is too high a bar? Perhaps 3 percent might strike a better balance?