The Elections Department (ELD) should channel its efforts into “fixing the many lapses” in election processes and procedures to date for future polls, the Red Dot United (RDU) Party urged.
In a statement on Wednesday (23 September), RDU pointed out that it has observed several of such lapses and had “filed an official complaint on Polling Day”.
The party also noted that “numerous complaints were made against the ELD in the lead-up to and during” the General Election this year.
While the ELD has “apologised for their lapses and has promised to make several improvements to its processes for future elections”, RDU criticised the ELD’s alleged “arbitrary” and “punitive” actions against dissidents of the establishment.
“As a department of the government of Singapore under the Prime Minister’s Office, the ELD should live up to our high standards of public service and accountability and concentrate its efforts on fixing the many lapses in processes and procedures of future elections,” said the party.
Referencing the police investigations against historian Thum Ping Tjin, a co-founder of Southeast Asian journalism startup New Naratif, RDU said that the Government “should refrain from using overly broad laws, oppressive regulations, and litigation to severely curtail freedom of speech and assembly in Singapore, which are legitimate and essential components of our democracy”.
The investigations pertain to a police report filed by the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) in this year’s General Election against New Naratif for allegedly publishing paid advertisements during the campaigning period.
The ARO had issued three notices to Facebook on 3 July, 7 July, and 8 July to remove five allegedly unauthorised paid advertisements published on its platform by New Naratif.
The ARO alleged that this amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under Section 83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act during the recent election.
Under the Act, the conduct of any election activity requires prior written authority signed by a candidate or their election agent.
“Election activity” includes any activity which is done for the purpose of promoting or procuring the electoral success at any election for one or more identifiable political parties, candidates, or groups of candidates; or prejudicing the electoral prospects of other political parties, candidates, or groups of candidates at the election.
Neither New Naratif nor its representatives or agents were authorised by any candidate or election agent in this General Election to conduct election activity, according to the ELD.
RDU said that if the content published by New Naratif “can be deemed ‘election advertising’, then it may be time to review if the legislation should be amended instead of criminalising citizen participation in politics”.
“RDU acknowledges that Singapore needs laws to protect our elections from manipulation by malicious money and hidden hands. But New Naratif operates in an open, accountable and transparent manner.
“It releases a full transparency report every six months, with full financial figures, which can be seen on their website. Such public accountability rivals even our government agencies, which are audited once a year,” said RDU.
New Naratif co-founder Thum Ping Tjin condemns alleged “continuing abuse of the law to intimidate and harass activists and independent media in Singapore”
Dr Thum was summoned to the Clementi Police Station for questioning on Monday. He was reportedly interrogated for four and a half hours.
He was escorted back to his residence by four police officers. His mobile phone and laptop were seized the same day after he was interviewed by the police.
In a video message recorded soon after the police raid at his house, Dr Thum said that it is “never a good feeling when the place that you live is invaded”.
“I want to reiterate that this was an abuse of the law by the Prime Minister’s Office, and I condemn the continuing abuse of the law to intimidate and harass activists and independent media in Singapore,” he said.
Dr Thum also called on the ELD to “drop this case to withdraw their police report, and I urge the People’s Action Party government to stop harassing independent media and critics of the Government”.
Any person convicted of an offence under the Parliamentary Elections Act may be liable to a fine of up to S$2,000 and/or a jail term of up to 12 months.
Investigations in GE2015 took ten months
The ARO from ELD during the GE2015 made police reports in May 2016 against socio-political site The Independent Singapore and two individuals 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”.
Function 8’s director Teo Soh Lung and activist Roy Ngerng 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 their mobile phones were seized by the police.
In the end, a stern warning was issued to them and the devices were returned to them by the police only after ten months of investigations.