More candidates, the merrier

Posted on 03 September 2011

Multiple-horse race during elections can be a good thing, says Tessa Wong in a Straits Times commentary on Sept 3. This is a 60-second reduction by New Nation.

The recent presidential elections saw Singaporeans go from “famine to feast” with a walkover in 2005 to four candidates in 2011.

But some Singaporeans argue that a multiple-horse race split the opposition vote.

A two-horse race would galvanise all the opponents of Tony Tan (who is the ruling party’s implicit choice) to support the other candidate to ensure a better chance of winning.

But these critics’ partisan views ignore the perspective that political maturation in Singapore with four candidates running for presidency has the virtue of making voters think harder about their choices.

In elections with straight two-way fights, voting became an easy choice: Either you supported the PAP or opposition. Swing voters may decide based on current level of unhappiness with the PAP government.

This presidential election forced many to choose a candidate based on other criteria.

No longer could voters make a choice based on who was independent. All four candidates expressed that they were.

Voters had to factor in the candidates’ suitability for the role and their character. More research had to be done and the candidates scrutinised harder.

Opposition leaning voters had to choose three Tans not endorsed by the government.

However, not many Singaporeans today have gone through such a thinking process as there was a gradual decline of multiple-horse race over the years.

From the 1950s to 1970s, Legislative Assembly elections and parliamentary elections saw multiple-cornered fights. (Except in 1968 election when Barisan Socialis boycotted elections.)

The 1972 General Election saw 24 multi-cornered fights in the 65 wards contested.

In 1962, there were multi-cornered fights in almost all wards except Southern Islands.

Since then, however, walkovers or two-horse races have become the norm. This was due to the creation of group representative constituencies in 1988 and insufficient opposition candidates and later due to the practice of horsetrading among the opposition before elections.

In past presidential elections, the lack of eligible people willing to run for president has also resulted in walkovers and a two-horse race.

But now, Singaporeans’ collective decision-making process will be refined further with more choices.

Therefore, multi-cornered fights may become the norm as our political landscape becomes more complex and diverse.

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