Elections in Singapore are a highly regulated affair. Political parties, candidates, and even citizens are governed by Election Regulations that outline the do’s and don’t’s of an election campaign from how campaign posters are meant to be approved by the Election Department to the strictly no-politics talk on Cooling Off Day which follows nine days of rigorous campaigning.
The Election Department, which is tasked with overseeing the procedures of election in the country, addressed several issues this GE2020 from police reports made against Worker’s Party (WP) MP of Sengkang GRC Raeesah Khan over alleged racially charged comments from two years ago to a campaign video violating regulations by People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Ong Ye Kung as well as several instances of damaged campaign posters.
However, it does seem that there were still many other instances of regulation violation that the ELD did not respond to.
1. PAP’s Sun Xueling’s campaign video featuring school children
One of these is a two and a half minute political campaign video introducing PAP MP’s Sun Xueling who contested in the Punggol West SMC. The video included multiple scenes of children who were of preschool and primary school age.
The video, which was uploaded of PAP’s YouTube Channel on 30 June showed a young preschool-aged boy donning the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots t-shirt with Ms Sun speaking in the background.
In another scene, the politician is seen interacting directly with adults and children of primary school aged. At the end of the video, Sparkletots preschoolers run into the outstretched arms of Ms Sun as she embraces them in a hug.
2. PAP campaign posters with no ELD stickers
Another issue that the ELD has yet to address is something highlighted right at the beginning of the campaign period by Singapore People’s Party (SPP) candidate for Bishan Toa-Payoh GRC Williamson Lee.
Mr Lee revealed in a Facebook post on 1 July that many PAP posters were being put up without the required stickers issued by the ELD approving the posters. Mr Lee explained that all campaign posters and banners must be accompanied with a sticker issued by the ELD which can only be collected after nomination day.
ELD regulations state that all posters and banners but bear the stamp of the Returning Officer, to ensure that parties and candidates do not go over the limit on the number of posters and banners they can put up in one constituencies.
The regulations state:
“No person shall display or cause to be displayed in any public place election posters and banners without authorisation by the Returning Officer.”
“All posters and banners displayed must bear the official stamp issued by the Returning Officer.”
3. PAP’s Aljunied GRC candidate gives out gifts
In a post that went viral on social media just as Nomination Day kicked off on 30 July, Facebook page “Say NO to PAP” wrote that the votes of Aljunied GRC residents “cost only 2 pieces of Texas Fried Chicken to buy over”.
It added, “Whose money is he spending to bribe you? Otherwise what do they get in return for the political sponsorship? What kind of a teacher is he who brings such education to your children? Shamsul so shameful.”
Shamsul is Mr Shamsul Kamar of the PAP who was contesting that constituency.
Mr Shamsul took to Facebook on 1 July to say that the allegations are “untrue”, explaining that it was in relation to a photo of a leaflet about a food distribution event slated to be held on 4 July. He said, “It is unfortunate that there were allegations by netizens that I am only helping the Malay community and that I am luring people to vote by providing them with free food.
“I would like to state that these allegations are untrue.”
In another incident in Aljunied GRC, the Sin Rak Sin Party questioned in a Facebook post if the People’s Association (PA) was buying voted by giving residents bird’s nest.
The boxes of bird’s nest, given out by Kaki Bukit grassroots organisation included a name card of Mr Kamar’s details and a photo of him. Mr Kamar is also the organisation’s adviser.
The Kaki Bukit Community Centre later said that the bird’s nest was not bought using public funds nor was it being used to buy votes for the GE. Instead, it was donated by grassroots leaders and given out as a token of appreciation to Merdeka Generation residents who attended an community event the year before. Event packs that were not given out at the earlier event were later given to families under the Kaki Bukit Social Assistance Programmes, said the organisation. However, no clarification was made as to whether the leftover gifts were handed out during the GE.
4. Foreign interference by Critical Spectator Facebook page
Another matter that the ELD has yet to address is regarding the alleged foreign interference of the Critical Spectator Facebook page in the Singapore’s election.
On 7 July, The Online Citizen (TOC)’s editor Terry Xu filed a police report against the Facebook page over three posts it made in relation to the GE. The report stated that the man behind the Facebook page, Michael Petraeus, is a Police national.
According to the Parliamentary Election Act, “No person — who is not a citizen of Singapore, shall take part in any election activity”.
However, on 5 July, Mr Petraeus wrote about why he thinks GST should be raised in Singapore instead of tapping on the nation’s reserves.
Following that, in two posts on 6 and 7 July respectively, Mr Petraeus wrote about WP MP’s Raeesah Khan. In the first post on 6 July, he compared her case with the PAP’s former candidate Ivan Lim who withdrew his candidacy after a wave of online criticism surfaced about his behaviour at work and during National Service.
In the second post, he criticised Ms Khan’s role model as American Marxist feminist Angela Davis, who he described as one of the most “odious” and “repugnant characters of the American left”.
Mr Xu noted that he has yet received any call from the Police to assist in investigation.
5. Violation of Cooling Off Day by Bilahari Kausikan
Next, there is the issue of former ambassador-at-large Bilahari Kausikan who made a Facebook post on Colling Off Day (9 July) in which he rebuked the new member of Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Lee Hsien Yang.
During the GE’s Cooling-off Day, Mr Bilahari took to Facebook claiming that Mr Lee”s “eloquently attacks” the system he has benefited from as he was prevented by PM Lee from monetizing the 38 Oxley Road property – which initially bequeathed to PM Lee.
He also questioned the son of late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) intention for joining the politics, adding that his reason for not contesting in the GE was “hollow” and the move was “cowardly”.
Following that, a Singapore citizen lodged a police report against Mr Bilahari on polling day (10 July) at the Tanglin Division Police HQ. The citizen alleged his post had sought to “influence the public on election partisan politics”.
However, the ELD has also remained silent on this matter.
Contrary to their inaction in this case, ELD took the initiative and filed a police report against an independent news site, two citizens over posts made in the Bukit Batok By-Election 2016. The police raided the homes of these individuals and seized their electronic devices, and took about ten months before issuing a stern warning to them.
6. Party flags in front of polling stations
Next, TOC spotted PAP flags displayed right in front of the Tanjong Katong Secondary School, which is a polling station for the Mountbatten SMC. The flags were seen on Polling Day.
According to ELD, “campaign posters and banners may be hung on street lamp posts and trees along public roads, but they are not allowed within a radius of 50 metres from a polling station.”
No response was issued by ELD over the matter.
7. Party flags displayed before election campaign period begins
Another flag related offence is in relation to PAP flag being put up even before the election period began. Several flags with PAP logo were spotted at the roadside of Marine Crescent soon after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for the general election (GE) on 23 June but ahead of Nomination Day on 30 June.
TOC was alerted by its correspondent on 24 June who shared a series of images of PAP flags—taken at around 7pm the day before—being put up in the area.
Following TOC’s report, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) filed a request with the Elections Department (ELD) over the display of party flags.
In response, ELD said that the rules relating to the display of posters and banners under the Parliamentary Elections (Election Advertising) Regulations do not apply at this time, as the period of campaigning by political parties for the July 10 General Election (GE) has not started. For now, the display of posters and banners is governed by other legislation such as the Town Councils Act.
Later, Today Online reported a volunteer saying that the flags were put up “as part of National Day celebrations”. However, almost immediately after polling day, the flags were removed. This would suggest that the flags were indeed put up for the purpose of the GE.
8. Voters unable to vote due to various errors
In one incident, a Singaporean woman named Chandri reported on a mishap that occurred on Polling Day when she was told that she couldn’t vote as she was “unregistered”. The woman had gone to the polling station with her husband at Marsiling-Yew Tee to cast their votes
She told TOC that she was born in Singapore and had not left Singapore for an extended period of time. Not just that, she had also voted in GE2015, which made her absence in the polling station’s system unfathomable.
The thing is, when Ms Chandri checked the ELD website, her name was in fact on the electoral register.
Feeling strange, she decided to seek help at the nearest police station where she was directed to call the ELD office via the hotline. The person at ELD who handled Chandri’s case told her that “they could not do much” about it. Moreover, they told her to send an e-mail to the ELD so that it wouldn’t happen “on the next GE”.
Not giving up, Ms Chandri contacted ELD via email. When that didn’t work, she went back to the police station with proof of her name on the electoral registry. Eventually, after six hours, she was allowed to vote.
In another incident, a woman was unable to vote due to miscommunication between two election officials. The 36-year old was told that she had already voters when she hadn’t. The problem was that the presiding officer was using the wrong module for the e-Registration system that meant her name wasn’t on the registry. On top of that, a miscommunication led to another officer thinking she had already voted earlier in the day.
The ELD later apologised to her for the error and said it would restore her to the Registers of Electors without a penalty.
9. PAP broadcasting vans disrupting PSP’s ground campaigning
On 4 July, as PSP’s Dr Tan Cheng Bock was speaking to residents at Ayer Rajah market, the PAP activated their campaign vehicle which was parked in the carpark. The vehicle blasted the PAP team’s pre-recorded message at residents, making it difficult for them to hear Dr Tan speak.
According to the police, stationary broadcasts are not allowed. The van did not move even after PSP spoke to them about it.
According to PSP volunteers, this was a common occurrence but no authority stepped in to intervene.
10. Grassroots leaders loitering near polling stations
During polling day, PAP grassroots leaders were seen by TOC walking around polling stations, chatting up voters.
According to the Parliamentary Elections Act which was reiterated by ELD in a press statement a day before Cooling Off Day and Polling Day, no one is allowed to campaign on those two days.
Supporters and volunteers are not allowed to wear any logo of political parties on those days. Only candidates are allowed to do so. However, the grassroots leaders seen at the Commonwealth Secondary School polling centre were seen wearing grassroots uniform which bore the PAP colours of white, red and blue.
Parties call for ELD to be delinked from PMO for independence
These are only some of the violations that have yet to be addressed by the ELD so far. It is just the tip of the iceberg. Polling agents across the island have noted various issues they’ve faced during their shift on Polling Day. There is also the arbitrary extension by two hours of the closing of polls made on the day itself.
It is notable that the ELD currently operates under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). With that, the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) is appointed by the PM himself and is chaired by the secretary to the PM.
Several days after the election concluded, various alternative parties stepped up to highlighted the importance of delinking the ELD from the establishment.
SDP chairman Paul Tambyah called for an independent inquiry into the conduct of the General Election (GE) with a particular focus on issues such as the use of “tendered ballot slips” which apparently were not counted in GE2020.
“This inquiry should be reviewed by all the political parties who took part in this election,” he said in a statement on 17 July and in reference to the story above of the woman who was unable to vote due to human error and miscommunication.
Furthermore, Dr Tambyah also called for the ELD to be removed from the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and placed under an independent organisation instead which reports “to all the registered political parties and [is] answerable to the people of Singapore”.
Chief of the People’s Voice (PV) party, Lim Tean, made a similar call during a Facebook live Broadcast on 26 June when he talked about the “outrageous tactics” used against alternative parties.
Mr Lim, who is a lawyer, strongly agreed with a viewer suggestion that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) must be a standalone division, adding that he thinks the ELD should be independent as well.
The party chief noted: “In law, we have a saying that not only justice must be done, but the appearance of justice must be protected. How can the CPIB and the Elections Department be under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office?”
Mr Lim also stressed that only talking about accountability and transparency is insufficient. He says that there must also be a major redrawing of institutions such as CPIB, ELD, Budget Office, Statistics Office in order to make them “totally independent”.
Beyond that, the WP as well has called for the ELD and EBRC to be made fully independent. In its manifesto, the party said: “The Elections Department of Singapore and Electoral Boundaries Review Committee should both be removed from the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office and report to the Chief Justice and President respectively, and operate as fully independent bodies.”