It has been reported that the New Naratif, founded and managed by historian Thum Ping Tjin is being investigated by the Elections Department (ELD) for allegedly breaching election rules over the period of the 2020 general elections in July.

According to the ELD,  the New Naratif had published paid advertisements that amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity over the general election period.

Apparently, the ELD is of the opinion that the advertisements amounted to election activity pursuant to the definition of the same under Section 83(8) of the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA):

“For the purposes of this section, “election activity” includes any activity (other than clerical work wholly performed within enclosed premises) which is done for the purpose of —

(a) promoting or procuring the electoral success at any election for one or more identifiable political parties, candidates or groups of candidates; or
(b) prejudicing the electoral prospects of other political parties, candidates or groups of candidates at the election.”

And, because the New Narratif was not specifically authorised by any candidate or election agent to run these advertisements, this ran afoul of Section 83(2) of the said legislation.

No person shall conduct any election activity unless he is in possession of a written authority signed by a candidate or his election agent in Form 22 or Form 23, as the case may be, in the First Schedule; and such authority shall be issued only on or after the day of nomination.”

One of the advertisements cited by the ELD was a video that featured clips Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and accused him of suppressing critics under the guise of the rule of law.

Given that the advertisements run by the New Naratif did not promote any specific candidate, nor can the video truly  be said to have affected the chances of the Prime Minister from winning the election given that he won the election by a landslide, it seems a bit of a stretch to suggest that its satirical videos amounted to election activity?

Going after a small independent outfit after winning a general election by a majority could also seem bullying and unnecessary on the part of the authorities. In other words, the establishment could end up prejudicing its own future electoral prospects by ruthlessly pursuing this far more than these advertisements could ever do.

Besides, what about the Peoples’ Action Party’s (PAP) own breaches of election rules? What are the ELD’s views on these?

One notable example would be allegations of the migrant workers being deployed to distribute its materials over the general election campaign period.

Photographs of a foreign worker wearing a maroon-coloured T-shirt with the words “East Coast-Fengshan Town Council” on its back and carrying a few white-coloured bags with the PAP logo on them had gone viral.

The town council admitted in a Facebook post that such an incident did in fact occur.

It is unknown if PAP or the estate cleaning contractor was the one deploying migrant workers to distribute the party propaganda material, nevertheless this clearly runs afoul of Section 83(1) of the PEA which states:

83.—(1)  No person —

(a) attending a primary or secondary school as a student;
(b) against whom an order of supervision has been made under section 30(1)(b) of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (Cap. 67);
(c) who is an undischarged bankrupt; or
(d) who is not a citizen of Singapore,
shall take part in any election activity.

If the ELD wants to investigate the New Naratif for breaching the PEA, shouldn’t it also investigate the PAP or whichever agency that deployed the migrant workers to distribute the flyers in the same token?

What about the catalogue of at least 10 breaches that have been identified and not seemingly dealt with by the ELD?

Seeming piecemeal and inconsistent investigations like this could lead to speculation that the ELD is not impartial or objective.

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