I note that certain changes have been proposed to the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) which would provide for the Singapore Elections Department (SED) to disregard the vote count for a polling station if the votes in a sealed ballot box are lost or destroyed before the ballots are counted.
A fresh poll can only be called if the election officials consider the number of votes in the particular polling station enough to change the final result for that constituency.
While no official reason has been given for the proposed change, I suppose that efficiency and the conservation of resources might be the possible reasons. That said, this proposed change can lead to troubling consequences if potential issues are not fleshed out.
It is important to note that election officials are trained by and report into the SED. The SED is in turn a department under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). In Singapore, we have only had Prime Ministers from one party, the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) and the current Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) has been Prime Minister for over 20 years. With this factual matrix, is it possible that this proposed change if passed, could be open to abuse? While I am not suggesting that any wrongdoing is planned and will occur, the potential of misuse is present if there are no safeguards that go along with the proposal.
Taking a fresher look at the SED, it would appear that this body, although having purview over election proceedings, is not regulated by statute. Rather, it is simply a department within the PMO. While the PMO is an esteemed office, there exist a blurring of lines between state and party in Singapore in part due to the fact that we have had no other political party post independence apart from the PAP. Again, I am not suggesting that there is any wrongdoing on the part of the PMO. However, in a climate where a blurring of lines does occur, unwittingly or otherwise, it would be more above board if the SED is seen to be more independent and less directly influenced by the PMO.
After all, it could cause conflicts of interest if the SED is in charge of elections which could lead to their boss either winning or losing an election?
I notice also that the SED has had several incarnations over the years. While inherited from the British, it was then transferred to the purview of the Ministry of Home Affairs, followed by the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office before finally being transferred to the PMO. Would it not be more above board if it had remained in the Ministry of Home Affairs and not directly under the control of the PMO?
The SED’s core values are that of excellence, integrity and agility. It would appear to serve those better if the nexus to the PMO and by extension PM Lee is not so direct.