Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Dennis Tan

(Delivered in Parliament on 1 October 2018)

Mr Speaker, I agree with what my colleagues, Mr Png Eng Huat and Leon Perera, have said in their speeches. I just have a few clarifications.

Clause 7
Clause 7 amends Section 37 to remove the prescription on the types of information to be included in the notices outside polling stations and to leave such details to be prescribed by the Minister in regulations made under the Act.

The parts of Section 37 which are to be removed include sub-sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. These sub-sections list out basic information such as names of candidates in four different languages to be placed in a notice outside the station with their respective symbols, such names to be listed alphabetically, etc, etc.

The proposed new Section 37(2) states for example at (a) that “the notice must contain such information presented in such form or manner as may be prescribed”.

I would like to ask the Minister:
(1) what exactly will be prescribed in the new regulations?
(2) which existing provisions will not be found in the proposed new rules and what will be the new, additional provisions?
(3) what are the reasons for the proposed changes to Section 37?
(4) what was wrong with the existing provisions?
(5) was there any particular incident which has given rise to the proposed changes?

Clause 19
Clause 19 provides for a new Section 56DA and 56DB after the existing Section 56D. Section 56DA(7) and (8) and 56DB(1)(a), (b) relates to the postponement and abandonment of polling. Under the new section 56DA, if any ballot box containing votes cast is lost or destroyed, the counting of all votes cast at the affected polling station will be abandoned and the poll at that polling station must be restarted, only if it is material to the election result. The new provisions set out the considerations and mechanism for decision-making by the Returning Officer in respect of different scenarios.

I would like to ask the Minister:
(1) why is the Government introducing these new provisions?
(2) why are they suddenly concerned about the scenarios provided for in the new provisions?
(3) are the proposed amendments due to any particular incident which happened in recent years?

Clause 3
Next, clause 3 provides for a new Section 9B(b) which allows for rejection of claim for eligibility without hearing if the Registration Officer is satisfied that the claimant was not a citizen of Singapore or below 21 on the date prescribed in section 5(4) or the claimant’s new address in the claim form is not in an electoral division.

I would like to ask the Minister for his clarification as to what criteria or considerations should the Registration Officer adopt to assist him to come to a conclusion on the eligibility of a citizen and will the basis for the decision be recorded with sufficient detail and make available to any such claimant upon demand.

Clause 11
Mr Speaker, clause 11 introduces a new subsection 3AA to Section 42 which provides that “the voter’s mark on the ballot paper must be made in the area demarcated on the ballot paper for that purpose, and not elsewhere”.

We must always strive to have a clear and unequivocal set of rules for the Returning Officers to make the right determination with minimal chances of any dispute by any candidate and with good sense and bereft of any perverse or absurd outcome. For example, such rules must ensure, and I am going to give an extreme example, that expletives written in the demarcated box of one candidate cannot sensibly be regarded as a vote for that candidate. The Government should also review and strengthen the process by which Returning Officers handle any disagreement by candidates or their representatives in respect of the validity of a voter’s mark in a ballot to enhance certainty and transparency.