SINGAPORE - Singapore will increase the number of MPs in Parliament by four, and do away with six-member GRCs in the latest changes to electoral boundaries announced on Friday (March 13), raising expectations that the next general election could be called soon.
The changes to constituency boundaries are incremental in nature, with the largest changes in the fast-growing north-eastern part of the island.
The report comes on the same day that Singapore announced more social-distancing measures in its fight against the global coronavirus pandemic, including limiting the size of gatherings to 250 people to reduce the risk of transmission.
In its report submitted to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (March 11), the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) recommended an increase in the number of elected Members of Parliament from 89 to 93. The Government has accepted the recommendations.
There will be 14 Single-Member Constituencies (SMCs) and 17 Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs), up from the current 13 SMCs and 16 GRCs.
A new four-member Sengkang GRC will be created through a merger of the former Sengkang West and Punggol East SMCs, as well as parts of Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC.
In all, three SMCs have been taken off the map - Punggol East, Sengkang West and Fengshan. The latter will be subsumed into East Coast GRC.
In their place are four new single seats.
Punggol West, whose current MP is Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xueling, will be carved out of the sprawling Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.
Two former single-seats make a return - Yio Chu Kang, which was part of Ang Mo Kio GRC, and Kebun Baru, which was part of Nee Soon GRC.
Marymount has been carved out of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, which has become a 4-member GRC.
With these changes, gone are the mammoth six-member Ang Mo Kio and Pasir Ris -Punggol GRCs helmed by PM Lee and Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean respectively - both have become 5-member GRCs.
In all, there will be 11 five-member GRCs - three more than in 2015. The number of four-member GRCs remains the same at six.
Two anticipated hot battlegrounds - East Coast GRC and West Coast GRC - have each grown to become five-member GRCs.
East Coast GRC, which is expected to see a strong challenge mounted by the Workers' Party, has absorbed Fengshan.
Meanwhile, the new Progress Singapore Party formed by former People's Action Party (MP) stalwart Tan Cheng Bock is tipped to contest West Coast GRC, which has absorbed polling districts from Chua Chu Kang GRC and Hong Kah North.
In keeping with recent practice, the boundaries of opposition-held seats - Aljunied GRC and Hougang -have remained intact.
The report said: "The Committee reviewed the boundaries of the current electoral divisions, taking into account the current configurations, changes in the number of electors due to population shifts and housing developments."
The committee's recommendations continue reforms to the system that PM Lee had initiated ahead of the 2011 General Election to further reduce the average size of GRCs and create more SMCs.
The average number of MPs per GRC at the coming general election will be 4.65, down from 4.75 in the 2015 GE.
There will be 2,594,740 voters heading to the polls, which have to be held by April 2021 - up from 2,460,484 at the 2015 election.
The committee, which comprises five senior civil servants and is chaired by Cabinet Secretary Tan Kee Yong, was formed on Aug 1 last year.
The next question is when Parliament will be dissolved, and the writ of election issued.
In 2015, this happened 32 days after the boundaries report was released, and in 2011, 54 days.
In 2006, Parliament was dissolved 48 days after the report's release, and in 2001, a day after.
In the days ahead, People's Action Party (PAP) activists and opposition party members are set to meet their teams to step up preparations for the election.
One major question is how the hustings will be impacted as the Covid-19 outbreak continues to run rampant overseas.
In his second national address on the situation on Thursday, PM Lee said the outbreak will continue for some time - a year, and maybe longer.
He also emphasised that the situation in Singapore remains under control, and the disease outbreak response level - currently at orange - will not be raised to red, the highest level.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat had earlier noted in a forum on Wednesday that the coronavirus situation and its impact on the economy are likely to worsen, and ensuring Singapore can focus on overcoming the challenges is a major factor in deciding when to hold the general election.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.