How to vote safely as a Red Dot Unites

Has the campaigning begun? I'll let you be the judge

Hello and welcome to a new edition of GE20Watch! I’m your GE Watcher.

There’s quite a lot of new subscribers for this issue, welcome! In this newsletter, I’ll be curating news on the upcoming Singapore General Election (which draws ever closer…) as well as providing some analysis. This newsletter is predominantly written by me, although there are external contributors on occasion. I choose to remain anonymous for employment reasons, and I hope you can understand. Regardless, I strive to be non-partisan in my coverage and analysis, while acknowledging the dominance of the ruling party and accounting for that.

In non-election related news, the death of George Floyd has sparked widespread protests supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the US, as well as other countries. This has also sparked some reflection on issues of racial discrimination here in Singapore. For some great analysis of how we can stand in solidarity with BLM and reading materials on race in Singapore, check out Race Tuition Centre and this issue of we, the citizens.

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New polling and nomination procedures released, but where are the campaigning rules?

The Elections Department (ELD) has released the guidelines on safe practices for voting and nomination procedures, as well as new rules for election advertising.

At a glance, here are the new measures:

Nomination Day

  • Candidates are encouraged to use ELD’s online services to prepare their nomination documents and may authorise a representative to submit their papers on their behalf if they are unwell on Nomination Day.

  • Candidates who are found to be unwell at the polling centre will be directed to a separate area for nomination and can inspect the papers of other candidates at that area.

Polling Day

  • Voters will be allocated a recommended two-hour ‘time-band’ to cast their ballot, which will be allocated on their poll card, although they may vote at any time when the polling stations are open

  • Seniors aged 65 and above will be allotted an earlier time-band from 8am until noon, and may be accompanied by one household member. Priority queues will be provided for seniors at other times of the day.

  • The number of polling centres will be increased from 880 to 1,100, reducing the number of voters at each station from an average of 3,000 to 2,400. Voters can also check the queue length of their assigned polling station at before heading down.

  • Voters must abide by the 1m safe distancing rule, and will have their temperatures screened at the start of each queue. They must also wear masks, and will scan their own NRIC for e-registration purposes. Election officials will wear protective gear, and cleaners will clean areas such as the polling booth and self-inking pens at least once every 30 minutes.

  • Polling agents and candidates have to use SafeEntry to enter and exit the polling station, but voters will not be required to do so.

  • Voters in isolation at designated facilities will be able to vote at special polling stations.

Changes to election advertising rules

  • Candidates must now declare if they are using paid online advertisements during the election, and must provide details such as where and when the ads will appear, the publisher of the ad, and whether the ad is sponsored. They must also state the amount spent on paid online ads when submitting election expenses returns after the election.

  • Paid online ads must indicate whether they were paid for by the candidate, political party, or a third-party campaigner. People who have not been authorised to campaign on behalf of candidates will not be allowed to put up sponsored ads, but they can put up unpaid advertising such as blog posts.

  • Candidates must now bear the costs ($50) of removing posters or banners that break advertising rules. There are now two maximum sizes of posters and banners, down from three, but one large ad may be displayed for every 4,000 voters, up from the previous limit of one for every 5,000 voters.

  • Candidates must now indicate the symbol allotted to them on print advertisements (for political party candidates, this is their party’s logo).

  • The list of items exempted from election spending now includes umbrellas as well as other portable objects worth less than $10 if their volume does not exceed 10cm x 10cm x 10cm. The items must also not have false or negative content towards other candidates.

These new rules are purportedly to reduce the level of election disinformation, with the ELD referring to examples of political parties in Britain and Indonesia using misleading claims and launching disinformation campaigns on social media.

Campaigning rules have not yet been announced, with the ELD only noting that political parties and candidates are ‘strongly encouraged to plan for modes of campaigning that minimise large group gatherings’. They also stated that they would ensure voters have access to the campaign messages of all candidates, and ‘may include’ additional TV broadcast time.

However, a series of speeches about Singapore’s post-Covid-19 future by PM Lee and his Cabinet ministers will be delivered from June 7 to June 20. Some cynical observers (okay pretty much everyone) have noted how this is de facto a start of the election campaigning process, with Workers’ Party member Yee Jenn Jong noting his frustration at the late release of campaigning rules while ‘the opponents [get] access to the full armory’.

It is true that the uncertainty due to the Covid-19 situation makes it difficult for formalised campaigning rules to be set, but with the other procedures having been released, it does appear that the rules should be released soon. Nevertheless, releasing the campaigning rules as close as possible to the election would benefit parties with more resources (aka the ruling party) to prepare for all eventualities, and with the speeches giving the ruling party’s ministers more air time, you can understand the frustration of opposition parties. With the opposition also depending largely on the buzz created by large election rallies, which will now be a thing of the past, as well as the difficulty of carving out a unique space on the free-for-all of social media, the odds are somewhat stacked against them on this front.

Glory Glory Man Uni- I mean, Red Dot United

The already crowded opposition scene gets even more congested with the addition of Red Dot United (RDU), a new political party set up by former PSP members Ravi Philemon and Michelle Lee. Philemon had quit PSP recently after the aftermath of a video saga in the party (read about it here!), and he said during the launch of RDU that it was possible that he had ‘asked too many questions’ in the PSP. Lee had left PSP in March, which she attributed to the work being ‘too exhausting’. When asked why they had set up a new party and not joined other pre-existing parties, they said that they felt there was a need for ‘new perspective, new ideas and new methods’ in the political landscape, and will be a ‘political-social platform’ not focused on any key individual and targeting the youths.

However, with the elections all but imminent, as seen by the announcements of new rules (see above), and the average processing time for the registration of a political party being about 2 months, it is uncertain if RDU can be registered in time. Philemon said that they would write in to request that their application be expedited if it has not been approved in a few weeks. RDU has not announced where they will run or how many seats they will contest.

It is also uncertain what value RDU adds to the opposition scene, and with such little time to the election and them being a relatively small outfit (they have 12 members), this election may be a write-off for them. Nevertheless, their focus on youth is always welcome, and if they can carve out a niche in this area, it may be to their advantage moving forward. To attract youth, however, they will need a consistent and specific message/platform, instead of empty platitudes.

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