Singapore Election 2011: Nomination Day

Update: Hi! If you enjoyed this post, I’ve got a series on Singapore’s election going up over the next week:

  1. Election 2011: the Redistricting
  2. Election 2011: Nomination Day (this post)
  3. Election 2011: He’s Their Helen Thomas

…and there’s more to come.

Today was Nomination Day.

There’s only one day in the entire election cycle where candidates can register to get on the ballot for a Singaporean election. And there’s only a one-hour window – one hour in one day in five years – where candidates can hand in their papers. If you miss that window – even if you only miss it by thirty seconds, as one opposition party learned at thirty seconds past midday today – you’re hosed.

This year, the action happened between 11am and midday at nine nomination centres scattered across the island. Prospective candidates were required to rock up before midday with (as per the Elections Department rules) an armful of forms, a “political donation certificate” certifying that they haven’t accepted anonymous or foreign donations over $5,000, and four people to assent to the nominations. Last – but not least – there’s the $16,000 per person fee to get your name on the ballot; losing an election in Singapore is an expensive exercise.

Update: I’ve been told the nomination fee isn’t as onerous as it sounds. An alert reader pointed me to the candidates’ handbook, which explains that the fee is refunded if you (or your team, if contesting a GRC) land more than one-eighth of the votes. Not so bad.

Losing an election, though, is a difficult task if you’re a member of the ruling PAP party. Several past elections have seen so many seats go uncontested that the PAP wins on Nomination Day, and doesn’t even have to show up to the polls; this happened most recently in 2001, when the PAP won 55 out of 84 seats on Nomination Day. In the 2006 election, only 37 of 84 seats were handed to the PAP uncontested; and in this year’s election, the opposition parties set a new record by contesting 82 out of 87 seats. By the standards of Singapore’s parliamentary system, this is progress. (To be fair, uncontested seats are not a uniquely Singaporean problem; the rampant gerrymandering in American state and national legislative elections makes quite a few seats not worth contesting.)

The opposition parties came achingly close to contesting all 87 seats, too. The five uncontested seats came from Tanjong Pagar GRC, the seat held by Lee Kuan Yew for nearly fifty years (and helmed by him since it was aggregated from a single-seat constituency to a multiple-seat GRC in 1991). After denying as late as yesterday evening that they’d contest the seat, the Singapore Democratic Alliance (a coalition party that, despite its logo, is not sponsored by Audi) tried to field a last-minute team… thirty seconds after the nominations closed.

Despite that disaster, though, the opposition parties have organised themselves relatively well for this election. They’re contesting a record 82 out of 87 seats, and the divisive three-cornered contests of past years (which, because of first-past-the-post voting, have always ended up being handed on a plate to the PAP) are almost gone. The single-member seat of Punggol East isĀ the only seat contested by three candidates this time around; candidacies for all the other seats have been divided roughly equally between the six opposition parties.

And for one neophyte politician, running on Lee Kuan Yew’s team in Tanjong Pagar, all he needed to do to win was turn up. Dr Chia Shi-Lu, an orthopedic surgeon, was called up last night to replace another PAP candidate who was abruptly shuffled halfway across the island to the Tampines electorate. Dr Chia turned up to the nominating centre at 11am this morning with the rest of the PAP team for Tanjong Pagar; he paid his $16,000; and by midday he was Chia Shi-Lu, MP, Member for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

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