Election Explainer: The Mandate

Explainer, GE2020 / Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

What counts as a strong mandate?

We will hear a lot about “strong mandates” and “strong support” as elections draw near. But did you know that a party only needs a simple majority of the elected seats to form the next administration (government)? With 93 seats up for election, a party only needs to secure 47 seats to form the next administration. The number of MPs needed to make or change a law can be as low as 14 or 15.

Some claim that there is a psychological effect from having a “strong mandate,” such as an overwhelming or a significant increase in the number of seats and, to a lesser degree, vote share. Alternatively, a significant fall in vote seats or vote share could have a dampening effect. A lot of this has to do with whether a party meets, exceeds, or falls short of expectations. The “strength” of a mandate may affect the confidence of a party in pushing for its agenda even when it does not have a practical effect on what they can or cannot do.

In Singapore’s Parliamentary system, a simple majority of 47 seats is enough for the day-to-day running of the country and passing regular laws. Any more than a simple majority does not make a practical difference for Singapore’s governing functions unless there is a need to amend the Constitution. So for the regular business of Parliament, it does not matter whether a party has 47 seats or 62 seats (this upper number can vary, upward slightly; see below).

Laws can pass with even fewer MPs. For voting on laws to take place, there must be a minimum level of attendance, called a quorum. According to the Constitution, a quorum amounts to 1/4 of the MPs.

Given recent Constitutional amendments, there may be up to 12 NCMPs (Non-Constituency Members of Parliament) selected from the best losing candidate from the non-ruling parties, plus 9 NMPs (Nominated Members of Parliament). Assuming that all 12 NCMP seats are filled, there are a total of 114 seats. Quorum requires that 29 MPs be present, so a minimum simple majority needed for any regular law to pass is 15 votes.

Numbers can be even lower. If non-ruling parties win 12 seats, there is no need for any NCMPs. There will be a total of 102 seats in Parliament. Quorum requires 26 MPs. A minimum simple majority needs 14 votes.

The only difference for a “strong” mandate is if there is a need for a Constitutional amendment. That requires 2/3s of elected MPs, including NCMPs. NMPs can take part in debates but cannot vote on Constitutional amendments.

Elected MP numbers can be as high as 105 with 12 NCMPs or as low as 93 if there are 12 regularly elected non-ruling party MPs (no NCMPs). A 2/3 super-majority needed for a constitutional amendment can be as high as 70 votes or as low as 63 votes.

Check out articles 25, 39, 56, and 57 of the Constitution, along with its Fourth Schedule for the details.


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