Returning Officer to issue corrective directions, overseas Singaporeans allowed to vote by post, among changes to laws tabled to Parliament

Returning Officer to issue corrective directions, overseas Singaporeans allowed to vote by post, among changes to laws tabled to Parliament

SINGAPORE — Several amendments to the Presidential Elections Act and Parliamentary Elections Act were tabled in the Parliament yesterday (6 February), which include prohibiting children 16 years old, foreign individuals, providing for Singaporeans residing overseas to vote by post and foreign entities from participating in election activities.

The Elections Department of Singapore (ELD) has issued a statement to say that this is part of their ongoing efforts to improve electoral processes in Singapore. ELD is a department under the Prime Minister’s Office.

Under the current law, foreign individuals are prohibited from participating in election activities. ELD said the bills would make it clear that foreign entities are also prohibited from participating in election activities.

The Bills also seek to adopt an age-based restriction to prohibit individuals below 16 years old from taking part in election activities.

Powers for the Returning Officer to issue corrective directions

Regarding “online Election Advertising (EA) breaches”, the bills will empower the Returning Officer to direct any content publisher, be it individuals or social media companies, to remove their EA and disable or reduce access to the content to Singapore end-users.

One of the amendments “provides greater flexibility in addressing disruptive events during elections”, empowers the Minister to make regulations for contingency arrangements to be put in place arising from disruptive events, for example flood or health hazard, to enable the Returning Officer to conduct safe, orderly, efficient and timely elections, states ELD.

Allow overseas Singaporeans to vote by post

To improve voting accessibility for overseas Singaporeans, the Bills provide for Singaporeans residing overseas to vote by post.

“Return envelopes containing the postal ballot papers must be postmarked before Polling Day and reach the custody of the Returning Officer in Singapore within 10 days after Polling Day in Singapore to be accepted for counting.”

Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill will provide oversea Singaporeans more time to meet the residency criterion, including removing the need for existing overseas voters to re-register themselves before each election.

They are also qualified to register as overseas voters as long as they have resided in Singapore for an aggregate of 30 days in the preceding three years from the date of the application.

There are some 200,000 Singaporeans based overseas. A total of 6,570 of them registered to vote in the General Election 2020 and 4,794 of them cast their votes.

Extending transparency requirement on election advertising to online EA

Under the current laws, relevant particulars such as the name of the publisher, the persons who directed the election advertising and the persons who paid for must be included in the election advertising (EA).

To “promote responsible and informed voting”, ELD has extended the same requirement to the amplification of online EA, which refers to the boosting, sharing, resharing or reposting to increase their reach, will also be subject to the same requirements, as these “have the same effect as publishing fresh content”.

All election advertising — be it paid or unpaid — will be required to publish the full names of those who had played an active role, such as the people who were responsible for the publishing; gave the approval, or directed the advertising to be published; and who paid for the advertising.

ELD said the bills seek to enhance “transparency by allowing voters to know who is communicating the election advertising” and enhance “accountability and traceability by making persons involved in the publishing or displaying of the EA responsible for their communications and ensuring that obligations imposed can be enforced.”

Singapore citizens who are not candidates or election agents are exempted from these requirements if they publish online EA in their capacity, and did not pay, receive payment or were directed by others to do so.

Other changes also included providing special voting arrangements for voters residing in nursing homes to vote.

“The Bills provide for the Returning Officer to establish special polling stations within the premises of nursing homes. The Bills also provide for mobile polling teams to be deployed for residents to cast their votes by the bed.”

Amendment to the Presidential Elections Act

Regarding the Presidential Elections Act, the amendment proposed the removal of the requirement for the committee to consider applications from those below 45 years old, as well as those who do not submit a community declaration for the community that the election is reserved for.

The Constitution of Singapore states that to qualify to be elected as President, a person must not be less than 45 years of age.

In late 2016, constitutional amendments were passed to reserve the elected presidency for candidates of a particular racial group in the absence of a president from that group for the five most recent presidential terms.

The Presidential Election must be called by 13 September, when President Halimah Yacob’s six-year term expires.

If the bills are passed, these amendments will come into effect in the coming election.

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