Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill – Speech by Chen Show Mao

(Delivered in Parliament on 6 February 2017)


The Constitutional Amendment Bill last November effected changes to the Constitution relating to our Elected Presidency.  This bill proposes to put in place nuts and bolts to give effect to those changes and to improve election procedures.  Today I ask about election procedures.

Clause 15 of the bill proposes to abandon the counting of ballots cast at a Polling Station if one of the ballot boxes is lost or destroyed in transit from the polling station to a counting centre, and re-start the polling if necessary.  In this connection, I’d like the Minister to confirm if the smallest unit to which electors are allotted in our Presidential Elections is the ballot box, a unit smaller than the polling station.  If so, I’d like to make the following points on election procedures.



The bill provides that in the event a ballot box is lost or destroyed in transit, the counting of all the votes cast at the affected polling station (including the votes cast that were not in the lost or destroyed ballot box) will be abandoned.  The voting for the affected polling station will be restarted if the difference in the vote count of the two leading Presidential candidates (without counting the votes cast at the affected polling station) is less than the sum of: (a) the total number of electors allotted to the affected polling station and entitled to vote in the election; and (b) the total number of overseas electors entitled to vote in the election.

If electors are allotted to the level of ballot boxes, should we not provide that any re-vote would take place only if the total number of electors affected by the lost or destroyed ballot box, rather than the entire polling station, proved material?  In other words, why not limit as much as we can the electoral impact of any lost or destroyed ballot boxes?

In the last Presidential Elections of 2011, the difference between the ballots cast for President Tony Tan and Mr Tan Cheng Bock was just 7,000 some votes.  It is not unreasonable to expect that fewer than 4,000 electors allotted to an affected polling station and another 4,000 electors registered to vote overseas, would trigger a re-vote at the polling station in a close election under the proposed amendment. Why give leverage to persons who tamper with ballot boxes seeking to influence the results of our Presidential Elections?  Why amplify their powers to do so in close elections?



And how about the manner in which the polling will be re-started once it’s been determined that the affected number of votes is material?  Currently, in another context, our laws provide that polling may be abandoned and re-started on another day in our Presidential or Parliamentary Elections in the case of riot or open violence, storm, flood, fire, health hazard or some other difficulties in the physical conduct of voting.  In such cases, our laws provide that the abandonment and re-start of polling must be carried out in the prescribed manner and, among other things, only those electors who “have not already voted,” shall be entitled to vote when the polling re-starts.  In contrast, in the bill before us today, it is unclear to me if electors who have voted at the polling station and whose ballots remain available for counting because they are not in the lost or destroyed ballot box, would also vote again when polling re-starts in this case.  Instead, the bill provides “The Minister may prescribe the manner in which the abandonment of the counting of votes, the re-start of polling, or the counting of votes, … is to be carried out.”

Does this mean the Minister will have the discretion to decide whether all electors allotted to the affected polling station would vote again upon the re-start of polls, or limit the re-vote to only the electors allotted to the lost or destroyed ballot box?  And if the Minister indeed has that discretion, isn’t that too much discretion, especially in a close election?