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View of Singapore Parliament. Singapore is a unitary multiparty parliamentary republic, with a Westminster system of unicameral parliamentary government (Photo by Phuong D. Nguyen from Shutterstock.com).

Parliament passes Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill with minimum resistance

The controversial Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill was passed in Parliament yesterday evening (8 May) after a fierce debate that stretched out over two days.

74 Members of Parliament (MPs) supported the Bill, nine MPs comprising those from Workers’ Party (WP) and Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) rejected it, and one Nominated MP (NMP) Lim Sun Sun abstained from voting on the Bill in the first division.

In the final division, after which the Bill was passed at around 10.20 p.m., 72 MPs supported the Bill, while the nine MPs and NCMPs remained dissenting, and three NMPs – Anthea Ong, Walter Theseira and Irene Quay – abstained from voting on the Bill after Parliament had rejected their proposed amendments.

NCMP Daniel Goh of WP took to Facebook on Wed evening to write about voting against POFMA:

Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam reiterated the Government’s stance before the House that POFMA will not be abused by the Executive as a tool to wield unfettered political power against critics and dissenting voices.

“(Debates) should be based on a foundation of truth, foundation of honour, and foundation where we keep out the lies, that’s what this is about.

“It’s not about the Workers’ Party or the PAP or today, it’s about Singapore,” said Mr Shanmugam, in response to the 31 MPs who had participated in the debate on the Bill on Wed.

When asked by WP MP Png Eng Huat as to whether he would agree that POFMA will not be able to prevent an incumbent party from spreading falsehoods to influence an election outcome, such as in the 2015 General Election, Mr Shanmugam replied: “POFMA deals with falsehoods which are affecting institutions, so if the falsehoods affect the PAP, or the Workers’ Party, that doesn’t come within POFMA.”

Mr Png, however, stressed that the Bill does cover falsehoods spread during election periods, at which Mr Shanmugam decided to evade answering Mr Png and instead addressed Deputy Parliament Speaker Charles Chong: “I really think I have given the best clarification I can, Sir.”