Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Leon Perera

(Delivered in Parliament on 1 October 2018)

Mr Speaker sir, the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill makes various changes to the administration of the various processes related to Parliamentary Elections such as nominations, polling and counting. I do not oppose the Bill and I concur with the various points made by my colleague Mr Png Eng Huat on the Bill, which I shall not repeat here.

I will pose several questions and requests for clarification.

Firstly, Clause 3 amends Section 11. The new Section 11 (9B)(b) allows rejections 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 the relevant electoral division.

I would like to ask by what means the Registration Officer would make determinations to reject such claims of eligibility. Would he or she, for example, access the relevant government database for personal information and if so what safeguards are there against errors such as lags in updating such databases?

Secondly, 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.

Previously the Act prescribed what information would be reflected in such notices. For example, part of the old Section 37 read:

“37.—(1) Outside each polling station, there shall be affixed in a conspicuous place by the presiding officer before the commencement of the poll a notice showing the name of each candidate in English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil, and the symbol allotted to the candidate under section 34.

(2) The names of the candidates shall be arranged alphabetically in English in the order of their surnames, and if there are 2 or more candidates with the same surname, of their other names.”

I would like to ask what is the reason for removing these prescriptions and providing the Minister with broad latitude to determine the content of these notices? What guidelines or rules will the Minister be bound by in making such a determination?

Thirdly, Clause 8 amends Section 39 to empower the Minister to prescribe the method for computing the number of polling agents for each candidate or group of candidates who may enter a polling station. The reason given is to allow the Minister to ensure that the permitted number of polling agents is proportionate to the number of voters allotted to that station.

I would like to ask for the reason that this change is being made. I would also like to ask if the legislative intent here it for the Minister to be able to ensure that the ratio of polling agents to voters is more or less similar across polling stations and in line with the recent nationwide averages, which is clearly desirable? Or is the intent that the Minister should be able to exercise this discretion to vary the average nationwide ratio of polling agents to voters significantly away from recent averages, either by increasing or decreasing the ratio?

Lastly, and this is admittedly a relatively minor point, Clause 12 removes the current requirement for Returning Officers (ROs) to inform candidates or their election agents (EAs) of the location of counting centres or the postponement of counting due to contingencies. Rather, the information will be published in the Gazette.

I would like to ask why this change is necessary as this could cause confusion among candidates if there is some disruption to the counting process due to contingencies. Would it not be possible to automate the broadcast of an email or text message to election agents and/or candidates upon new information being published in the Gazette.