It has been reported that the police will not be taking any further action over a police report filed against Member of Parliament-elect for the People’s Action Party (PAP), Ong Ye Kung, over a video depicting Ong chatting with a schoolboy which was uploaded on social media during the recent election campaign period.
In a joint response to TODAY, the Elections Department Singapore (ELD) and the police said that the Assistant Returning Officer had issued an advisory to Mr Ong to “remind him to comply with the law in relation to all campaigning activities”. The Assistant Returning Officer from ELD assists in overseeing the smooth running of the General Election, which took place this year on July 10.
The joint statement read: “As the Assistant Returning Officer had looked into the matter, the police will not be taking any further action.”
In isolation, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the police decision. After all, Ong did promptly remove the video after being told by the Elections Department (ELD) that the said video contravened election rules. In context however, could it look like one rule for the dominant PAP and another for the alternative politicians?
One has to note the seriousness of Ong’s potential offence.
Under section 83(1) of the Parliamentary Elections Act, no person attending a primary or secondary school as a student is allowed to take part in any election activity. Any person who contravenes any of the provisions of the said section shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both. No candidate or election agent shall authorise any person to conduct an election activity, knowing or having reason to believe that the person is attending a primary or secondary school as a student or that an order has been made in respect of the person under section 30(1)(b) of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (Cap. 67). Every offence under this section for contravening subsection (1), (1A) or (2) shall be an arrestable offence within the meaning of the Criminal Procedure Code 2010 (Act 15 of 2010).
Apart from the police report filed against Ong, there were also police reports filed against the PAP’s Heng Swee Keat and the WP’s Raeesah Khan. Both had related to comments that have been construed as racist in nature. The police report against Heng was swiftly dismissed while the reports against Khan remain hanging over her head.
Why is it that the police reports against both PAP stalwarts are so swiftly dismissed while Khan’s are still unresolved? Is this not a fair question to be asked? Is this not something the police ought to address? After all, the police is a state agency funded by public monies and therefore should not give the impression that it is in any way biased, however unwittingly.
The issue here is about whether or not rules are fairly and evenly enforced.
Before Nomination Day in 2020, the PAP ran into some controversy when citizens remarked upon PAP flags being placed in Marine Parade shortly after the general election was called. The presence of the flags seemed to contravene the ruling that political party flags could only be displayed from the close of Nomination Day. When the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) reached out to the ELD “to clarify the legal status of displaying party flags in public places, the SDP were told that the PAP flags flouted no rules because the campaigning period had not started.
To a lay person, this answer by the ELD was unconvincing. Logically speaking, flags are only put up close to election day purely for campaign purposes. Why else put up flags? The important question however is whether the ELD would have given this answer if the roles were reversed and it was the SDP that had put up the flags?
What about the recent comments made by Co chair of the multi ministry task force for COVID-19, Lawrence Wong ? Wong had said that various political supporters gathering on election night had put the entire country at risk. He went on to say that if the government could find out who these supporters were, the government might be able “to identify and take them to task.” Many photographs of supporters taken that night were of WP supporters. Would Wong say the same thing if they were PAP supporters?
What about the fact that the PAP is the reason why there were people gathering in the first place – they called the general elections despite objections from opposition parties did they not?
If the Government wants to catch supporters for gathering, why not also punish all those who went to the polling stations to vote as well? It cannot possibly be fair to essentially force through a general election at a time of global pandemic just to then turn around and catch supporters?
Rules are supposed to be in place to ensure order and certainty for all. If there are concerns about its uneven application, it could cause suspicion and unrest. Worst still, if people are given the impression that rules are simply put in place to “fix” political opponents, this could result in rumours and mistrust.
Take for example how police reports were filed by the Assistant Returning Officer from the ELD in May 2016 against socio-political site, The Independent Singapore and two individuals, Teo Soh Lung and Roy Ngerng for “several online articles and postings that may be tantamount to election advertising, on Cooling-Off Day and Polling Day of the recent Bukit Batok by-election”
Ngerng and Teo were called up for a two-hour interview at the Cantonment Police station, after which the police escorted the two back to their respective homes to raid their premises. In total, three laptops, one desktop, two hard drives, memory cards, and both their mobile phones were seized by the police. In the end, the devices were returned to them and issued a stern warning by the police after ten months of investigation.
In filing the police reports against those above, the Elections Department said the following:
“In filing the police reports, the Assistant Returning Officer has taken into consideration the nature of the postings and the potential impact that they might have had. Socio-political sites such as TISG that regularly promote, propagate and discuss political issues should be accountable and responsible for what they publish. Not only did TISG publish articles that may be tantamount to election advertising on Cooling-Off Day, it continued to do so even after receiving a specific reminder from the ARO not to post any election advertising during Cooling-Off Day and Polling Day. The two individuals – Teo Soh Lung and Roy Ngerng – also regularly engage in the propagation, promotion and discussion of political issues.
Posting election advertising on Cooling-Off Day and Polling Day is an offence under Section 78B(1) of the Parliamentary Elections Act. Any person who is convicted of such an offence may be fined up to $1,000 and/or jailed up to 12 months.”
Compare this with the recent police report filed against former ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan over a Facebook post he made on Cooling-off Day (9 July) in which he rebuked the new member of Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Lee Hsien Yang.
No apparent action over Bilahri’s posting has been taken by ELD and the police and it is remains doubtful if the police would raid his home the same way that they did to Teo and Ngerng.
We can all accept rules if they are consistently applied. What is concerning however is when rules are seemingly manipulated to suit those in power.