A polling agent for the Worker’s Party in Marine Parade GRC said that the actions of two People’s Action Party (PAP) polling agents he saw “reinforced the stereotype of the PAP as being arrogant and not playing fair”.
In a blog post on 29 July titled “Badly Behaved Polling Agents“, the WP polling agent, Shih Tung Ngiam, recounted his experiences of volunteering in the recent general election (GE), noting first that based on his previous experiences, he has always had a “cordial relationship” with observers from other parties.
“Elections officials have also always tried their best to be fair to all sides and to follow the procedures laid down by the Elections Department (ELD),” he added.
He then went on to highlight, however, that there have been stories of the habits of PAP polling agents such as interrupting proceedings by asking Presiding Officers (POs) to repeat the names and serial numbers of voters so that they can mark voter attendance on their own registers.
Mr Ngiam said that while this is common in previous elections, “it was worse this year” due to the new polling station layout that has polling agents seated further away from the PO. That and the requirement of wearing a mask makes it more difficult for polling agents to hear the POs voices.
In fact, Mr Ngiam recounted how the PO at the Maha Bodhi school polling centre ended up shouting back at the PAP polling agent who kept asking her to repeat herself. This same polling agent, according to the author, had also taken a table from storage to make it easier for the mark voter attendance in her copy of the electoral register.
Mr Ngiam said he objected to this, citing that the table “created the appearance of favourtism”. Following a short discussion, the Senior PO accepted his objection and made the polling agent return the table.
“This did not stop her from marking her register of course; she just rested her file on an extra chair instead of using a table,” Mr Ngiam added.
Moving on, Mr Ngiam described a more “egregious” behaviour when two women dressed in white walked in and started talking to the two PAP polling agents.
“This raised my eyebrows because the women were not wearing any official passes and should not have been allowed to enter the polling station.”
Noting that their white outfits led him to infer that they were PAP polling agents, Mr Ngiam said there was still a problem since each party was only allowed up to three polling agents at a time in one station.
Mr Ngiam recalled, “Despite my concerns, I decided to cut them some slack because it was not unreasonable to have an overlap of shifts for a short time during shift changes.”
“It was only after they continued talking among themselves for some time that I realised that the first shift of PAP polling agents was training the second shift while inside the polling station.”
Since the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) and SPO weren’t present at the time, Mr Ngiam advised the PAP polling agents themselves that they had exceeded their limit and should complete their handover quickly.
However, they did not take it well.
“I was shocked when the PAP polling agents snapped at me in response. It was only when I reminded them that they were breaking the law that the original two polling agents withdrew,” said Mr Ngiam.
When the SPO returned, Mr Ngiam told him about the newcomers not having official passes. The SPO then asked them to leave.
Sharing his thoughts on these two incidents, Mr Ngiam said, “None of the PAP polling agents or counting agents I have encountered in the past have gone so far. This is the first time that I have seen such arrogant and entitled behaviour from PAP polling agents.”
Both incidents led Mr Ngiam to say, “I do not think that the bad behaviour of the first two PAP polling agents affected the integrity of the election. However, their actions reinforced the stereotype of the PAP as being arrogant and not playing fair.”
Mr Ngiam shared his blogpost to his Facebook page on Monday (3 August), which garnered several comments from netizens who had similar encounters with other PAP polling agents.
One person recounted how a PAP polling agent rearranged the seating arrangement inside the polling centre without asking for the ARO’s permission first.
The netizen said, “He came in, make his presence felt and just ordered the changed of seats. ARO was sitting at the back observing the whole scene but was not asked nor did she intervene.”
Another person noted that in the station they were volunteering at, a PAP polling agent walked into the station without a badge and gave instructions to two junior polling agents.
The netizen said that they asked the PO why this person was allowed in without a badge. At that point, the the PAP polling agent left, followed by the ARO.
The ARO apparently later explained that it was an “oversight” and that the incident has been “logged” into their systems.