The Problem of Relative Choice for Singaporean Voters

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Some time back, the Prime Minister of Singapore announced a few sweeping changes to the election system to encourage more dissenting voices within the Parliament in Singapore. He proposed the following changes namely:

(1) Permanency and Number of Nominated Members of Parliament in the Singapore Political System: Nominated Members of Parliament will feature as a permanent fixture in the parliament. The number of NMPs are fixed at 9. In addition, the Constitution and the Elections Act will be changed to allow a maximum of 9 Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs). The number of NCMPs in each parliament is equal to the difference between nine and the number of opposition MPs elected. One important thing to note is that no more than two NCMPs may come from the same GRC ward.

(2) 12 single member constituencies (SMCs) and lesser six-member GRCs: We will have 12 SMCs and we are not sure how these new ones are going to be formed. It is likely that 3 new SMCs will be carved out of the present electoral boundaries. The other change is that there will be fewer six-member GRCs.

It is not in the interest of this article to offer an opinion on the policy whether cynical or positive, but instead, it may be interesting to apply some behavioral economic reasoning involved in how the establishment is applying the problem of relative choice for the Singaporean voters. Based on David Ariely’s model about relative choice in his book, “Predictably Irrational”, here is a situation which one can relate to. Suppose if I have two choices (A) and (B) where it is difficult to compare given different attributes, the introduction of a decoy choice (-A) will provide an individual with a choice that is comparably be better than (B) and tips the individual towards (A).

We will aggregate these new changes in the Elections Act and Constitution and call it choice (A), which is the outcome that the establishment is willing to compromise, i.e. if all the conditions apply, the new Parliament after the next election will have a maximum of 20% representation from the opposition. Given all the recent debacles made by the Singapore government, for e.g., the escape of Mas Selamat and the loss of investments from Temasek, it is difficult for the establishment to determine the anger that is brewing within the voters in the electorate. So, one possible outcome is a freak election where the voters will end up bringing the opposition to power or the loss of many PAP MPs leading to a possible 70% PAP – 30% opposition scenario. Let me call that option (-A). Of course, it looks increasingly difficult to maintain the option that they will stay in power with a 82 PAP to 2 Opposition scenario. So, we call that option (B) which is likely to be ditched by the voters given increasing unhappiness with the government’s policies. To ensure no freak election, the best way is to offer choice (-A) and (B) such that the most optimal choice is (A). Basically, the 20% representation is an option which the PAP has worked out to be a viable option to tempt the voters in making the choice (A).

[1] Dan Ariely, “Predictably Irrational”

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Bernard Leong

A Pragmatic Idealist