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.
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.