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Sunday, May 21, 2006 

General Election: I Swear This is the Last…

Yes, GE has long passed and everyone is filled to the brim with election news, information, gossips and stories in the past weeks. I swear this is the last article on it before I move on to something constructive (or destructive). After GE, it usually represents at least two years of the introduction of unpopular policies such as transport fare hikes, pay cuts and GSTs. As the laymen always say, the “Progressive Package is like a chicken drumstick”. “Enjoy the drumstick while you can before they take back the whole chicken.” The PAP also has an unusual ability to time the GE at the peak of the economy, just before the downturn. But economics aside, I’ll just add in some food for thoughts on the passing days, coming days and coming months.

Cabinet Reshuffling
Who is going where? Historically, the first Cabinet Reshuffling doesn’t have many surprises. This year will be no exceptions. I expect PM Lee to announce the new Cabinet either this coming week or early next week, with the swearing-in ceremony at the end of the month. But don’t bet your houses on my predictions.

In the coming Cabinet Reshuffling, there will be three interesting pointers to look out for. First, will there be any Ministers or who will be retiring? Dr Tony Tan has already stepped down before the elections, but I expect maybe one more Minister to step down. My guess is either Lim Boon Heng or Lee Boon Yang. After Lim Boon Heng transferred his (secretary-general) NTUC portfolio to Lim Swee Say, he is practically the Minister of nothing. In addition, he scored some spectacular "own-goals" by setting an 80% winning target for PM Lee's Ang Mo Kio GRC prior to the polling. However, he is the Chairman of the PAP Central Executive Committee (voted in by the Party cadres), which is a powerful position itself. Interestingly, Lim Boon Heng has never headed a Ministry in this entire political career and seemed to lost favour with the leadership. Dr Lee Boon Yang will be 60 years old next year. To many other countries, he is still relative young as a Minister, but not so in Singapore (with the exception of MM LKY). He has been always dubbed as the GCK men, together with Lim Boon Heng. During the Goh Chok Tong years (as the PM), Lee Boon Yang was put in-charge of several important Ministries such as Labour (now renamed as Ministry of Manpower) and Defence. Under LHL, both seemed to be less favoured. Thus, one of these two Ministers is likely to retire in the coming Cabinet reshuffle.

Secondly, who are the new Ministers of State and to which Ministry? PM Lee highlighted four names, Lee Yi Shyan, RADM Lui Teck Yew, Masagos Zulkifli and Grace Fu. Intuitively, RADM Lui will be the Senior Minister of State for Defence, Grace Fu to be the Minister of State for Transport, Lee Yi Shyan to be Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Masogos to be the Parliamentary Secretary. In addition, we might see some backbenchers to promote like Maliki Osman. Of course, nothing is certain.

Lastly, who will be promoted or is there any change in portfolios? For the first Cabinet reshuffling, we are unlikely to see major changes in Ministers and portfolios. Most of the Ministers will remain in their portfolio with the exception of the retiring Minister(s). Maybe one or two Senior Ministers of State might be promoted to Acting Ministers. Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State for MICA and MOH, is the last of the "Super Seven" (minus Cedric Foo) to be promoted. He has done a fairly good job in Ministry of Health and MICA (I'll be writing and explaining in an article on him as well as the rest of the Super Seven in the coming weeks) and might get a chance for promotion. The other Senior Minister of State is Prof Ho Peng Kee. For the recent GE, he was contesting in Nee Soon East SMC. He is the most senior member of Cabinet contesting in a single member constituency. Traditionally, if the leaders send a Minister of State or Senior Minister of State for a single ward, it might represent several things. There is always a certain level of risk in losing when contesting in single wards. Thus, if the candidate is going to be an important member of the new Cabinet, the leaders might not want to risk him in a SMC for GE. Secondly, the grassroots workload in single constituencies is usually heavier than those in the GRCs. In doubling the workload with the appointment of a full Minister in Cabinet and taking care of the SMC, it might be too much to concentrate for one person. Thus, comparing background of Prof Ho Peng Kee and Dr Balaji, it seemed like Dr Balaji stands a higher chance of promoting to an Acting Minister. But if the retiring Minister is Jayakumar, Ho Peng Kee might be promoted to take over his Law portfolio. We will have to wait around a week to know the answers. In any case, the second Cabinet reshuffle, a year or two later, will likely to see more GCK men, such as Lee Boon Yang, Lim Boon Heng and Yeo Cheow Tong, stepping down.

Secrecy of Votes
11 May 2006, Lynn Lee from the Straits Times wrote an interesting article on “How your vote is kept secret”. The article is quite comprehensive and accurate, but maybe just to add to her good works, I’ll add in my some of my experiences as an independent counting agent.

On the casting of votes, she wrote, “Constituencies are carved up into several polling districts. There is one polling station per district. Each station handles around 2,000 to 4,000 voters. Each voter is assigned to a specific polling lane with a ballot box at the end of it. In each lane, a voter's name and registration number are called out as he receives the ballot slip. This allows the polling agents sent there by the contesting parties to confirm that he is on the list of eligible voters. At 8pm, when polling ends, each ballot box, which can contain around 1,000 votes, is sealed. Usually, ballots from four to six districts are counted in one centre.”

How do parties gauge what kind of support they get in a constituency?

The counting procedure is a mystery to many but I’ll try to give you a better view from “inside”. After 8pm, the ballot boxes are sealed in front of both the PAP and Opposition representatives. The boxes will arrive at their respective counting stations. Each counting station (eg: St Andrew’s Secondary) has several counting tables (between 3 to 6 tables) from the district. When the boxes arrived, it will be placed on the counting tables for both PAP and the Opposition member representatives (known as the “Counting Agent”) to examine the sticker seal of the Returning Officer. If the seal is torn or tampered, an inquiry will look into it. In the presence of both parties, the boxes will be opened and the votes will be poured on the table. Each table has around 5 to 6 boxes or around 5000 to 6000 votes. The votes will then be mixed around the table (aka rojaked), then subsequently arranged into orderly stacks. From each stack, the counters will place the votes in either the PAP’s or the Opposition’s tray. Counting agents from the parties are not allowed to touch the votes. For the ambiguous or rejected votes, it will be adjudicated by the Senior Presiding Officer in the presences of the Opposition and PAP representatives.

After the votes have been separated into the trays, the counting agents from PAP and Opposition can roughly gauge the results. The votes in the trays are later bundled into stacks of 100 and tied with rubber band. After the first around of counts have been made, the counters (from the same table) will swap position to recount the votes again. Depending on the Senior Presiding Officer, the votes might be counted 3-5 times. Once the votes are verified after many rounds of counting, the result of the individual counting table will be announced to the both parties’ counting agents. Each counting table is denoted by a district code (eg: AM-21 or SB-67). These district codes are available in the Register of Electors. Each district code roughly represents 10 to 12 blocks in the constituency. Based on the information from the counting agent, the parties can gauge the support from the areas.

The results are faxed over to the Election Department. If there is confirmation of no votes recount, the boxes will be sealed in front of the PAP and Opposition’s counting agents. The votes will then be transported and stored in a vault of the High Court. Only a High Court judge can order the boxes to be opened. After six months, the parties are invited to witness the journey of the boxes to the Tuas incinerator.

Many Opposition candidates such as Steve Chia and Chia Ti Lik have spoken about their confidence in the secrecy of votes. Due to the numerous times of randomizing and mixing the votes, it is virtually impossible to pin-point an individual’s vote.

Opposition made Inroads?
Many people expressed that the Oppositions, especially the Workers' Party, have made inroads into the curbing the invincibility of the PAP. I would both agree and disagree in that statement. In most GEs, one of the GRCs will be the focus of the battle where votes tend to be close. Let us look at the voting patterns and key opposition members in those GRCs.

1988 Eunos GRC, PAP vs WP (Francis Seow, Lee Siew Choh), PAP won 50.89%
1991 Eunos GRC, PAP vs WP (Lee Siew Choh, Mohd Jufrie), PAP won 52.38%
1997 Cheng San GRC, PAP vs WP (JB Jeyaratnam, Tang Liang Hong), PAP won 54.82%
2001 Jurong GRC, PAP vs SDP (Dr Chee Soon Juan) PAP won 79.75%
2006 Aljunied GRC, PAP vs WP (Sylvia Lim, James Gomez), PAP won 56.09%

With the exception of the 2001 GE, which took place under extraordinary circumstances in 9/11 terrorist attack (which might have resulted in a 15-20% vote swing), the "main GRC battle field" tide seemed to turn in favour of the PAP. One should not benchmark against the GE 2001 as the average PAP votes but across the many GEs.

However, I do think the WP made some inroads, maybe not via GE results, but in the qualities of the candidates. In the 2006 GE, WP introduced several candidates with impressive background such as Chia Ti Lik, Perry Tong and Sylvia Lim. By past history, WP never had difficulties introducing candidates with professional backgrounds but seldom have they discovered a "public-charmer", who can win votes with tacful handling of media and issues thrown by the PAP. I guess you know by now, who I am referring to: Sylvia Lim. A friend of mine once mentioned this thoughtful comment, that Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim made a perfect combination. Low Thia Khiang with his grit and fighting spirit is a perfect foil for Sylvia Lim's charisma, charming character and tactful handling of tricky legal issues such as Gomez saga. Perhaps, by next GE, Sylvia can be the next Chiam See Tong in parliament.

The Bitter Aftertaste
Many have voiced their dissatisfaction over the recent elections but could not really point to a single factor that made them felt this way. With all the hype of this election, it is quite an anti-climax when it never really lived up to its expectations. No real key issues were discussed. Oppositions failed to conquer a GRC. Gomez shot himself at his foot. PAP shot both of their feet. MM was up in his old provoking style. SM Goh failed big time at getting Potong Pasir and Hougang back. LHL is ever so elusive when commenting on key issues. Oppositions’ rallies are ever so crowded. PAP rallies are a snore. Amazingly, I’ve just described the whole 9 days of General Election with 9 sentences. To think that we have waited 5 years to listen to these 9 sentences, this is an event not worth waiting for.


But behind the scenes, it does matters a lot of LKY. Just to add your thoughts, I will provide more questions than answers. Many felt that LKY is a liability to LHL and his rule. But why did LKY do the (petty) things such as provoking Gomez to sue him and is so insistent on staying the Cabinet? Is there someone else in the Cabinet that LKY is warily about? Is this person capable of challenging LHL in the coming future, or might have enough clout to cause a party spilt? Will LKY remove this person before he retires (or pass on) from Cabinet?

Yo thrasy,

Another insightful article from u.

But your last paragraph is intriguing to say the least.

Is there really such a person around? lolz

Thank you for the insight on the vote counting mechanics. Since the votes are "rojaked" on the tables before sorting out, why are the voters assigned to specific voting lines? And what is the purpose of the omnimous serial number? I saw the clerk recording surrepticiously the serial number of my voting card - why didn't she simply write it openly in front of me in an open record book? Is it possible, say, for a group of citizens to demand to see their voting slips, to confirm that their votes were indeed recorded as per their choice? Under what circumstances does the High Court Judge actually request the sealed ballot boxes to be reopen? Finally, wouldn't it be simpler and cheaper to mark the voters with indelible ink chop as is done in other countries if the intent is to prevent ballot box stuffing?

Hi at82

I guess my last words in the article might have caused some thoughts to you in the middle of the night....lol

Well, this person may or may not exist. But "Old Lee" is not taking his chances. He came from an era where there was a power struggle after Mao Tze-Tung, fall of Suharto and the street fight between Anwar and Dr M. So you see why he is paranoid over his own position and his son's position. Although I think that no one in the present Cabinet has such ambition and power, Old Lee is not taking this for granted. So I guess, none of us will know, but the future will be intriguing. Haha....take care and don't think too much. It might not even happen within our lifetime.

Cheers!
T

Hi Siew Kwun

Maybe I could answer your question systematically.

1) Why are the voters assigned to specific voting lines?

The votes are "rojaked" within their district codes (which is around 5-6,000 votes) and not across. The reason for them to stick closely to the Registor of Electors is for the Opposition as well as the Election Department to track the voters turnout. Since voting is compulsory, voters who failed to vote will be imposed a nominal fine. This is the way to verify the non-voting.

2)What is the purpose of the omnimous serial number?

This acts as an deterrance to any stuffing of ballot boxes, particularly during the votes counting. Many wouldn't buy this argument but in the West, they encountered lots of voting problems. For example, if New Orleans, which is predominately Afro-American of lesser education tends to vote for the Democrats. Republicans might play foul to prevent them of their votes and there would be little ways to track and confirm the patterns. In the last Presidential Election, there was a successful hoax to ask these voters to go to the wrong place for voting at the wrong day. But there was no way to reverse it.

3) Why didn't she simply write it openly in front of me in an open record book?

In the polling station that I witnessed, I found no such problem. Perhaps that particular civil servant was over-zealous. In any case, he/she has to be non-partizen.

4) Is it possible, say, for a group of citizens to demand to see their voting slips, to confirm that their votes were indeed recorded as per their choice?

Technically, it is not possible. First, only the President or the Returning Officer can order the High Court Judge to reopen the ballot boxes. For which both Opposition and PAP candidate must be present. Second, it is almost impossible to find your particular vote as there are around a million votes casted this time around. So you will have to trace your votes in one of the 600-700 boxes. And if you found that box, it is one of the 2000-3000 votes in the box.

5) Under what circumstances does the High Court Judge actually request the sealed ballot boxes to be reopen?

Unless that there is a suspected stuffing of ballot box with evidences of fake votes. Or either of the Candidates is unhappy with the procedure and suspects that there is foul play involved. For which, an independent (maybe an overseas witness) maybe appointed to oversee the opening. If the seal is tampered with broken, the judge may open an inquiry to investigate.

6) Finally, wouldn't it be simpler and cheaper to mark the voters with indelible ink chop as is done in other countries if the intent is to prevent ballot box stuffing?

It could be cheaper but is much easier to duplicate. It is the same logic as the dollar note where the most obvious marking is the serial number but not the various markings. By matching the serial number to the elector registers and to the NRIC, it is actually the cheapest method and lowest probability of fraud. Again, it is more of a deterrance.

Hope this helps. But don't quote me on this as it is based on my observations on the procedure.

Cheers!
T

Hi T,

Relac la.

I am a vampire leh lolz.

Anyway I am not thinking too much la, juz curious.

Cheers

I think it is possible to track who votes for who.

The ballot slip is torn from several huge books like tickets from a book of lucky draw coupons. As each ballot slip is given to a voter isn't the voter's registration number then written on the counterfoil of the ballot slip?

So registration number -> is tied to ballot serial number via counterfoil -> tied to ballot -> tied to vote.

And although several ballot boxes are mixed at the counting centers, the fact is that the ballots once counted will be sealed back into their originating ballot boxes. These are also returned to the elections department.

Of course, to sort out who votes for who could be a time-consuming task, but not impossible given that you only have to match a few thousand counterfoils to a few thousand ballots. Just remember, that mail sorting machines can do wonders for this kind of work.

Hi Anonymous

Well, the question is why should the government commit that much time and hours to track individual votes? To recriminate him?

Seriously, if one is true about his political beliefs, he/she should not worry about this. The people that should worry are the Oppositions. Yet all spoke in confidence of the voting secrecy.

In the end, by monitoring the who votes what is pointless. The procedure has been going on for many elections, and just name one person that was discriminated by the government for his choice of his vote.

Cheers!
T

Hey anonymous, the only worry should be whether the actual number of votes have been allocated to the right party. Having a serial number is a good thing in fact because it provides accountability. One shouldnt worry for which party he/she votes for as it's not a criminal offence, it's every singaporean legal right! In fact, one should vote using his/her conscience.

Hi T, coming clean a little yea? ;)

"just name one person that was discriminated by the government for his choice of his vote" sounds remarkably similar to Lee Kuan Yew's TV challenge for Ken to name those who said they were afraid to vote against the PAP. I look forward to the day when the list of victims will finally stand up to recount their tales of discrimination; that day will only come about when the PAP is toppled from power.

Hi Amatu

We finally agreed on something! Haha...I've always been clean.

Hi Gladys

I see no reason to be afraid if you have voted for the opposition. Off-hand, I can name you at least 10 people working in high positions (in the civil service) who voted for the Opposition based on what they told me and the rest of the people. I see that they have not been discriminated whatsoever.

Now, my question again, is that what is the purpose of hoping for PAP to topple from power? Is it because they are lesser capabilities than the Opposition or just because you hated them? This question can be asked as what you want of Singapore.

Cheers!
T

Z: nobody voted for opposition expecting to topple PAP, you were just asking a rhetorical question telling people they are dumb, as PAP (and Li Ao) often does

"give PAP a strong mandate" or to "help opposition to keep PAP humble so it would serve you better" are both valid theories; which one a person accepts depends on his experience and emotional makeup, and on how well the parties give out the messages during a campaign; this time, PAP ran a poor campaign; it can learn a lesson and do better next time

The way I see it, if everyone, and there was an alarming number in the most recent elections, thought that voting for any opposition regardless of whatever they stand for (which is not much right now IMO) simply to "keep the PAP humble" is a really dangerous way of thinking. We assume that the PAP, regardless of whether they make a good or bad governement, will always be in power and that enough people will vote the PAP but if enough people are naive enough to think that their one vote doesn't matter and that their one vote for the opposition won't topple the PAP etc, we could very well see a very different Singapore one day and it could be a Singapore we don't want.

I'm not pro-PAP and I always feel compelled to state this as it's a label one often gets unfairly stuck with if one is supportive of the current government. I will consider and vote for an opposition if I feel that they have it in them to lead and speak on my behalf and support the issues I believe in, currently eveything the oppostition has put forth is just flimsy. I think people who vote simply to humilate the PAP play a very dangerous game. If anything, what I learnt about Singaporeans in the recent election really made me realise that there may be some truth in Li Ao's comment. Singaporean are perhaps dumb but not because we don't protest but because so many seem so willing to throw away the good life and destroy a government which is at this point in time still a good government.

this is the so called "freak result" scenario used to frighten people; like if every student thinks "I can skip class today; it wont do any harm", we end up with an empty classroom - a valid theory; however, I doubt this actually happens in any school recently

"freak result" senario... Interestingly enough it wasn't anything the PAP said that make me think that what we have now could be lost in an instant. It wasn't what the PAP said that frightened me, it was all the talk from my neighbours, at the coffeeshops, in the park etc that made me realise how little people value what they have now. I read up more about the opposition and what they said than I did about the PAP and I'm not naive enough to believe the "freak result" senario could happen just simply because a party says it could happen. It's an election and people want to win so of course they'll say stuff to try and get them the vote. I use my eyes and ears to observe what is going on around me and I realise that this so called "freak result" senario could really could happen one day. It won't happen in this election but the possibility of that happening in the future is there because I do know more people than I care to that voted for the opposition for no other reason than they "need a voice". And they didn't care who this voice was or what he stood for, they just wanted a voice. That's not voting responsibly at all.

I have lived overseas, I lived for many years in the United States and have lived in three different States and visited many cities and I think I appreciate Singapore more because of what I saw in the States. The lack of proper public transportation, the lack of funds in many poorer parts of a relative rich city, real poverty, the inefficiency of the government, the hypocrisy of American politics and ideology, the simple fact that the ordinary man has about as much control over his and his country's own fate as he does in a country like Singapore etc led me to think that the American political model is over-rated.

And actually, in church, on a long weekend, lots of people think that it won't do any harm to skip church that week and we do sometimes end up with half the congregation not there. Maybe not empty but certainly not ideal. Simply put, it can happen.

people are "ungrateful" for their own reasons; PAP simply has to campaign well, which it did not in the recent election

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