GE crash course
What are General Elections?
General Elections (GE) are a process by which citizens of a democratic state choose individuals to represent them as Members of Parliament, by casting their votes in a ballot box on polling day.
According to Singapore’s Constitution, a GE has to be held within five years of the first Parliamentary session following the previous GE, although in our case, the Prime Minister (PM) can advise the President of Singapore to dissolve Parliament before the full five-year period is up. Once Parliament is dissolved, it has to be re-elected through a GE. Hence, the PM’s dissolution of Parliament means a GE is on the horizon.
Singapore, like Britain, adopts the first-past-the-post system 1, which means that the candidate (or group of candidates) who gets the most number of votes out of all the candidates running gets elected to a seat in parliament. If a party wins over 50% of the seats, it becomes the party that holds office.
What is Parliament? What does it do?2
For context, the Government in Singapore is modelled after the Westminster system, with 3 separate branches, the:
Legislature - the President and Parliament
Executive - Cabinet Ministers and office-holders, led by the Prime Minister
Judiciary - the Supreme Court and State Courts, led by the Chief Justice of Singapore
Parliament is part of the Legislature, the branch of the Government which writes the law of the land and debates a range of issues pertaining to specific constituencies and the country as a whole. It consists of Members of Parliament (MPs) who are elected (by you!!) to represent the residents in their constituencies, Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) and Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs).
There are currently 89 seats occupied by elected Members of Parliament, including the Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan Jin, who is also an elected MP in Marine Parade GRC. This number will be increased to 93 in the upcoming 2020 election. 3 The other seats in the 13th Parliament are currently occupied by our 3 NCMPs and 9 NMPs, bringing the total number of people to 100.
This is the composition of the 13th Parliament of Singapore, which began on 5 January 2016.
Source: Tan Chong Beng
Source: "13th Parliament of Singapore". Wikipedia. Also can be found at https://www.parliament.gov.sg/mps/seating-plan
The leader of the political party that secures the majority of seats in Parliament will be asked by the President to become the Prime Minister (PM). The PM will then select their Ministers from elected MPs to form the Cabinet.4
How do the General Elections work?5
Since the first Parliamentary sitting following the last GE was in 2016, the next GE will have to be held before April 21, 2021. With the release of the electoral boundaries on 13 March 2020, we are currently awaiting stage 2 - the dissolution of Parliament by PM Lee.
For those who are interested, this Straits Times article has helpful graphics that detail the timeframes between each stage of the General Elections.
What does SMC / GRC mean? Why do Singaporeans love acronyms so much?
SMC An SMC is an electoral division that is represented by a single Member of Parliament (MP).
GRC A GRC is a larger electoral division, both in terms of population as well as physical area. While
only 1 candidate can run in an SMC, a maximum of 5 candidates (based on recent changes)
can run as a team in a GRC. This means that it is not possible for you to select and vote for a
single candidate running in a team; you have to accept or reject the team altogether 6.
UWDKWSLASM: Unfortunately, we don't know why Singaporeans love acronyms so much.
* A General Note about the role of MPs in your constituency
Regardless of whether you are in a GRC or SMC, your MPs are meant to represent the interests of you and the other residents in your constituency, as well as manage the general estate. You do not have to wait for your regional Edusave Awards ceremony, or for them to make their rounds during house visits to encounter them; you are free to write to your MP about issues you and other residents of your estate may face, as well as drop into Meet-the-People sessions MPs hold.
Singapore’s governmental structure https://www.parliament.gov.sg/about-us/structure/system-of-government
Members of Parliament - breakdown https://www.parliament.gov.sg/mps/seating-plan
The relationship between the MPs and the Cabinet Ministers https://www.pmo.gov.sg/the-cabinet
The process of the Singaporean General Elections https://www.eld.gov.sg/elections_parliamentary.html
Bilveer Singh, Understanding Singapore Politics. 2017.