By Andrew Loh –
The Government’s explanation on why several ballot boxes were discovered in a school is being questioned by two of the four candidates who had taken part in the Presidential Election of 2011.
The discovery of the boxes was first reported by website TR Emeritus on 30 August. It uploaded pictures of the boxes which it said was sent to it by “a concerned anonymous reader” of the site.
The boxes were found at a school in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, which had been used as a counting centre for the Presidential Election two years ago.
The Elections Department made a police report on 31 August upon being informed of the discovery of the boxes. It issued a statement and said that the discovery of the used empty ballot boxes had “no implications on the secrecy of the vote and electoral process”.
The police too issued a statement which, among other things, said:
“The persons interviewed by the Police have told the Police that the ballot boxes were empty when they found them, with no ballot papers inside. Preliminary investigations indicate that these were empty boxes left behind in the counting centre intended to be disposed of.”
There has been no word from the Attorney General about the investigations so far.
On Monday, 16 September, the Government explained in Parliament that the discovery of the boxes “did not constitute a lapse in the election process.”
Minister for Social and Family Development, Chan Chun Sing, replying on behalf of the Prime Minister, “stressed that the fact that some boxes were found clearly suggested an oversight by working personnel involved in the collection of discarded material after polling.”
“The entire process is controlled and carefully watched from the beginning of the polls until the boxes are emptied out and once the boxes are emptied out the boxes cease to be called election boxes. They would be known as discarded boxes,” he said.
Mr Chan said the disused boxes, once emptied, were “non-controlled items”. After the ballots are transferred out of these boxes, he added, they are “just like any other boxes.”
He also revealed that a recent check by the Elections Department discovered “several disused boxes” in five schools.
Mr Tan Cheng Bock, one of the candidates in 2011, posting on his Facebook page, questioned Mr Chan’s explanation.
“If [the] Election Department had always treated the boxes as not controlled items ‘just like any other boxes’, what prompted them to file an urgent police report?”
Mr Tan said “the initial response by Election Department reflected the seriousness of the issue when a police report was made.”
“It must be important enough to file this police report,” he said.
Mr Tan Jee Say, who had also participated in the elections in 2011, questioned two aspects of Mr Chan’s explanation. Posting on his Facebook page, he asked:
“The first obvious question is why was [Mr Chan] replying on behalf of the Prime Minister?”
“The question was specifically directed at the PM as the Elections Department comes under the PMO. The PM should be the one answering to Parliament unless he was physically unwell or was otherwise engaged in critical national matters on the day. But this was not the case as he was seen in Parliament in good spirits celebrating his father’s 90th birthday.”
He also questioned Mr Chan’s claim that the abandoned ballot boxes did not constitute a lapse of the electoral process.
Mr Tan Jee Say said: “A lapse is a failure to maintain a standard procedure and the Elections Department in its press statement dated 30 August 2013, set out what this procedure was for empty ballot boxes, namely, that: ‘They are supposed to have been collected by the Elections Department’s contractor, along with other discarded items, from the counting centres for general disposal.’”
Echoing what Mr Tan Cheng Bock said, Mr Tan Jee Say explained, “The Elections Department must have felt that something was amiss or it would not have taken the serious step of filing a police report to investigate this matter.”
He asked if police have completed their investigations and whether the minister had told Singaporeans “the full facts of the investigation”.
“To dismiss the discovery of unaccounted for empty ballot boxes as not a lapse,” Mr Tan Jee Say said, “is to trivialize the requirement ensuring a safe and sound polling process that must enjoy the highest level of public confidence and faith.”