Singaporeans still voting in fear?

By Howard Lee

Sg polling boothYou might think that it is a fast fact from the 70’s, but it seems that one in 10 Singaporeans still cast their vote in fear that their ballots may be traced back to them by the authorities, who might then “punish” them for their choice.

This was suggested in a position paper published by Singapore human rights group MARUAH yesterday, which indicated that such a climate of fear erodes Singapore’s claim to be a democracy as well as the legitimacy of its government and Parliament.

The evaluation was significant, because 10% is greater than the margin of victory in many constituencies in GE2011.

The deduction was made by comparing the results of the survey conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies on political attitudes, and MARUAH’s own exit poll during GE2011.

In the IPS survey of 2,080 random individuals, 9% of respondents indicated that “they did not feel free” to cast their vote as they chose. MARUAH’s survey of 1,157 voters likewise indicated that 14.8% of respondents who cast their vote did not feel that their vote was secret.

MARUAH also cited anecdotal evidence found on online socio-political websites such as TOC and TR Emeritus, where anonymous users made direct references to such fears.

The paper also indicated that many political analysts or opinion leaders are of the view that those who voted out of fear tend to be older Singaporeans and those who hold jobs, or are related to those who hold jobs, in the public sector.

MARUAH referred to the traceability of individual votes as an “urban legend”. This is because of systemic and legally guaranteed safeguards put into the voting process – such as seals on ballot boxes and the witnessing of the destruction of ballots by political parties six months after elections – and also the logistical impediments to prevent the tracing of individual ballots.

Nevertheless, MARUAH believed that this climate of fear is caused chiefly by four factors – our serialised ballot sheets, the absence of privacy in the area where citizens mark their ballots, the “calling out” of names of voters when they register, and the public references to precinct voting patterns that were made known to political parties.

Citing best practices in other countries, MARUAH called on the government to make urgent changes to these conditions so as to “defend the legitimacy of Singapore elections”.

It also called for the Election Department or NGOs to embark on a program of voter education well before the next general election, targeting public sector workers and their family members, and voters above 50 years of age.

MARUAH’s Position Paper on Improving Citizen Confidence in the Secrecy of the Ballot can be found here. It includes details on how the 10% was calculated, analysis of the four factors that encourage the climate of fear, and why some of our measures to prevent voting fraud are excessive.

[Image from MARUAH Position paper, courtesy of AsiaOne]