Elections and Manipulation

Netina Tan. “Manipulating electoral laws in Singapore,” Electoral Studies vol. 32, no. 4, 2013, pp. 632–43.

  • The literature on electoral authoritarianism has drawn attention to the use of democratic electoral institutions for undemocratic gains. This paper adds to this body of work by showing how a sophisticated hegemonic party in Singapore manipulated its majoritarian electoral system to “manufacture” its legislative supermajority. By measuring the psychological and mechanical effects of the altered electoral system in Singapore, it shows how changes in the rules of the game boosted the incumbent’s legislative dominance despite its declining vote shares in the late 1980s. It also offers new evidence to show how electoral manipulation create an uneven playing field with institutional constraints that penalize smaller parties and benefit the ruling, larger party.

Ngiam Shih Tung. “How Gerrymandering Creates Unfair Elections in Singapore,” New Naratif, April 2, 2020.

  • This article focuses on the redelineation (i.e. redrawing) of electoral boundaries as a mechanism that helps create unfair elections. Unlike many other countries, Singapore does not have an open, transparent system for this. The Parliamentary Elections Act in Singapore does not prescribe a specific procedure for delineating boundaries but gives the Minister the power to specify the names and boundaries of electoral divisions. The Electoral Boundary Review Committee (EBRC) is appointed by the Prime Minister and typically consists of senior civil servants from various Ministries and Statutory Boards. There is no requirement for public consultation during redelineation exercises and there is no minimum period between redelineation and the calling of elections.

Thum Ping Tjin. “A Brief History of Elections in Singapore,” New Naratif, March 19, 2020.

  • This article traces a brief history of elections to Singapore’s Parliament and its predecessors. In particular, it describes the two major turning points in Singapore’s history of parliamentary elections, and the two general forces that have interacted throughout the history of Singapore: a demand by the broader electorate for a responsive, accountable, government; and the desire of the government of the day to restrict the choice available to the electorate in order to achieve its desired outcomes while still retaining a veneer of popular legitimacy. The first of the two turning points was in the 1950s, specifically 1954–57, when the increasing demands of the people of Singapore for self-determination meant that universal suffrage could no longer be denied by the colonial government. In response, the colonial government kept the vote generally fair but sought to limit voters’ choices of candidates through anti-democratic legislation and regulation, like detention without trial and the infamous “subversives’ clause” of the 1957 Constitutional Agreement, which prevented anyone arrested (but not necessarily convicted) for subversion from running in the next election. This policy was then continued and amplified by the People’s Action Party (PAP) government, using lawsuits, harassment, arrests, and other measures, until the 1980s, when the will of the people for wider representation and greater accountability in Parliament became inexorable. Up to that point, voter choice was restricted by limiting their choice of candidates. However, from around 1984–1991, a second shift took place, in which legal and regulatory changes made the elections less fair, and qualitative factors were introduced to discourage voting against the PAP. The elections were fundamentally redesigned to maximise electoral outcomes for the PAP. That is the situation which remains today.