By Jamal Ismail
At a recent dinner with some friends, I was surprised to hear a friend remark that she had no choice but to vote for the PAP because she is a teacher. On another occasion, I heard a similar remark by an office colleague who is convinced that she must vote for PAP or else her son may not get into the right school, and her application for a new HDB flat will be rejected.
Both assume that their votes are being recorded, and they will be somehow penalized if they don’t cast a vote in favour of the PAP. Surprisingly, these are highly educated people and I realized then that the fear of voting for parties other than PAP is more prevalent than I initially thought.
During the 2011 General Elections, I volunteered as an Election Agent and saw the entire campaigning and voting process from start to finish. Please allow me to share my experience and guide you through the voting system, one step at a time.
Acknowledging the issue
There is a perception among many that the Singapore Government is an all-knowing, vengeful entity. Understandably, these fears are rooted in basic survival issues, concerning their career and daily livelihood ‘bread and butter’ issues like housing, healthcare and their children’s education.
Many Government employees could even relate rumours of some people who had their career destroyed for voting in favour of the Opposition.
Rumours like these have been passed around for so long, it achieved urban myth status; where everyone has heard of them but no one has been able to prove that it exists. A crucial way to overcome the fear is to learn the facts.
Is my vote a secret?
YES, your vote is secret. The plain and simple fact is: No one knows who you voted for, unless you tell them. The proof is in the voting process, and you can read about it on the Singapore Elections Department’s webpage.
Here is the eight-step process that safeguards the secrecy of your vote.
- The maintenance of secrecy is mandated by law under Section 56 Parliamentary Elections Act, which states that everyone manning the polling or counting centre must maintain and aid in maintaining the secrecy of voting and anyone who contravenes Section 56 will be guilty of a criminal offence.
- Every voting slip has a serial number that is matched to the Electoral Roll. The purpose of a serial number to ensure that you get only one voting slip. Note that your name is NOT on the voting slip.
- Each voter has their name and voter number called out for another official to cross out your name from the Electoral Roll, to prevent anyone from voting twice, which would be unfair.
- Then you go into a private booth and mark the voting slip. After you mark the voting slip, you are required to fold it in half and drop it into the ballot box. As only one person can use the booth each time and your voting slip was folded, no one can see who you voted for.
- Your voting slip goes into the ballot box along with thousands of others. At 8pm, all the ballot boxes containing the voting slips are sealed. The officials use a serial-numbered tamper-proof sticker, signed off by Opposition and PAP representatives. The sealed ballot boxes are sent to a Counting Centre, guarded by a police officer.
- At the Counting Centre, the tamper-proof sticker serial numbers are checked by Opposition and PAP representatives. The ballot boxes are then opened and thousands of voting slips are dumped into a big pile on a table. The voting slips are counted, but their serial numbers are NOT RECORDED. This is witnessed and verified by Opposition and PAP representatives.
- After the voting slips are counted and verified, all the voting slips and count records go back into the ballot boxes and are sealed again with another set of serial-numbered tamper-proof seals. This is again witnessed by Opposition and PAP representatives.
- The sealed ballot boxes are then transported with police escort and locked in a high-security vault at the Supreme Court. No one can open the vault without a court order, and so far the court has never issued such an order.
- At the end of 6 months, the same ballot boxes containing the voting slips are burnt. They are transported to the incineration plant under police escort. The Opposition and PAP representatives check and ensure that the same serial numbered tamper-proof seals remain intact, before dumping all the voting slips and records into the incinerator.
The fact remains, your vote is secret. No one can gain access to your voting slip once you have marked it.
Can someone be punished for not voting for PAP?
The plain and simple fact is that no one can be or has been punished for their votes. Who you vote for your RIGHT as a Singapore citizen, and voting is mandatory.
- No one can force you to vote for anyone, because they would be guilty of Section 59 “Undue Influence” of the Parliamentary Elections Act (Chapter 218).
- No one can anyone incentivize you to vote for anyone because they would be guilty of Section 60 “Bribery” of the Parliamentary Elections Act (Chapter 218).
To give you a scale of how Singaporeans voted in the last General Elections in 2011, a total of 1.9 million votes were cast. About 40% of the votes were NOT in favour of the PAP.
That means, over 761 THOUSAND people did NOT vote for the PAP.
If the Urban Myth rumours were true, almost half of the population of Singapore would be unemployed, evicted from their HDBs and their children rejected from schools.
When GE2011 ended, Opposition Party candidates and thousands of their supporters like me simply went back to our jobs and families; lead productive lives, working and conducting business as usual. I continued serving my reservist as an officer.
Although many of my friends and I are openly in support of the Opposition for many years, none of us were investigated, arrested or penalized in any way. We did walkabouts, organized and attended Opposition party meetings and rallies, and participated in the democratic process lawfully. So please be assured that you too can do the same without fear of reprisals.
Overcome the fear
Please find out more about our electoral system, read from a wide variety of sources or even participate in election rallies. Some recommended reading and video on this subject are:[youtube id=”jDeIFUw1K1o” align=”center” mode=”normal”]
Your Vote is Your Voice By Maruah (With Video)
Singapore Elections Department – Ballots Secrecy
Take the opportunity to see for yourself how the voting process is conducted by volunteering to be a Voting or Counting Agent and see for yourself the whole voting and counting process from start to finish.
Your vote is very important. It is your chance to decide on our future. You are not obliged to vote for anyone and no one can force you to choose, even if you are a PA or grassroots member or work in a Government statutory board.
This coming General Elections, please vote without fear.