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GE 2020: S'pore's Electoral Campaign Guidelines And How They've Been Broken

Here is a quick reminder of what parties can and cannot do to get your vote— and a roundup of the times when candidates crossed the line during GE 2020.

The Basics of Campaigning

Politicians typically campaign by:

  • Canvassing (physical walkabouts, house-to-house visits)
  • Distributing pamphlets, handouts, newsletters etc.
  • Displaying posters and banners
  • Advertising on the Internet
  • Advertising on vehicles.

Each candidate can open one election office per polling district within a radius of 200m from any polling station.

Decorative items bearing plagues such as clothing, buttons, and umbrellas are not considered election advertising.

Ethical Guidelines

Electoral ethics advises against:

  • Negative campaigning, which includes denigrating opposing candidates.
  • False statements.
  • Allegations of corruption or criminality.
  • Statements that incite racial and religious discord or social divisiveness.

While it is unclear what words or actions constitute a violation of electoral ethics, several incidents held during GE 2020 may have flouted these guidelines.

Raeesah Khan, the Workers Party (WP) candidate for Sengkang GRC submitted a public apology after two police reports were filed against her for inciting racial and religious discord in old Facebook posts.

The People’s Action Party (PAP) has been reported on the same charges after it published a blog post calling for Raeesah’s candidature to be revoked.

The report stated that the PAP had falsely accused her of making “highly derogatory statements about Chinese and Christians.”

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has also been issued a Corrections Notice for making false claims under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA).

The order was issued after SDP accused the PAP of making plans to increase Singapore’s population to 10 million.

The SDP maintains that its statements are credible and has announced that it will be applying for a cancellation of the Correction Order.

On July 6, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stated that opposition parties “have been completely silent on how to tackle Covid-19 during the last six months, and in this election campaign.”

In response, several parties have countered with reiterations of the policies set forth to ameliorate medical and socio-economic problems created by Covid-19 stated in their manifestos.

This selection of incidents number among the many which seem to have flouted ethical guidelines this electoral season.

It remains unknown whether mechanisms to investigate unethical campaigning will be activated once Polling Day is over.

Posters and Banners

Should:

  • Bear an official stamp identifying the material as electoral advertising
  • Conspicuously display the symbol of the candidate/party
  • Hung on streetlamps and trees, abiding by traffic safety guidelines
  • Limited to the maximum number of about 2500 for GRCs and 500 in SMCs.

Should not:

  • Obscure the view of other posters and banners
  • Be removed or defaced by competing candidates
  • Be displayed within 50-metres of a polling station
  • Display illegal material, like seditious content

On 2 July, the People’s Solidarity Party (PSP) took down over 50 posters along Clementi West which infringed on public safety.

Contesting in the same district, the PAP was ordered to take down posters which violated the same guidelines as well.

Singapore People’s Party (SPP) Williamson Lee pointed out PAP posters which had been put up without the official stamp in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC on 1 July in a Facebook post. The PAP later rectified the issue.

Persons Prohibited from Conducting Election Activities

  • Students attending primary or secondary school
  • Persons with an order of supervision under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provision) Act
  • Undischarged bankrupts
  • Foreigners.

On 2 July, People’s Action Party (PAP) Ong Ye Kung uploaded a video on Facebook discussing life in Sembawang GRC with a 13-year-old boy, Jony.

The video has since been taken down for violating electoral guidelines, and an apology was issued.

COVID-19

Physical rallies are banned and replaced by increased airtime on national television. E-rally livestreams are encouraged and candidates who go canvassing are required to maintain social distancing measures.

Film Campaigns

Only “factual and objective” films approved by the Information Media Development Authority (IMDA) can be used for electoral advertising. This includes:

  • Recordings of live events
  • Commemorative videos
  • Factual documentaries
  • Manifestos
  • Declarations of policies and ideology
  • News reports by licensed broadcasting agencies

Films that are “directed towards any political end in Singapore,” and “affect voting in any election” are classified as Party Political Films (PPF) and prohibited.

Film posted online do not require authorization but must comply with the Internet Code of Practice. This prohibits material that includes, among others, homosexuality and endorsements of racial and religious hatred.

Online Campaigns

Termed Internet Election Advertising (IEA), candidates can publish IEA on social media, websites, and blogs, etc. However, they are prohibited from publishing:

  • Results of an election survey
  • Results of an exit poll prior to the closure of polling stations
  • Appeals for donations
  • Facilities enabling the public to search for prohibited advertising
  • PPF and other prohibited films.

All IEA must conspicuously display the particulars of the publisher, the person(s) responsible for ordering the IEA, and payment for the IEA, where applicable.

All candidates managing chat rooms or forums must ensure that there is a moderator who manages and records all messages sent during the electoral period.

Print Campaign Material

All print advertising must conspicuously display the particulars of the printer, publisher and person(s) responsible for ordering publication on the first or last page of the document.

Privacy

Candidates who obtain personal data of the electorate must comply with the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA).

Candidates must:

  • Inform individuals whose personal data they wish to use (e.g. the use of photographs for election campaigning)
  • Take security measures to prevent unauthorized access to personal data (e.g. slotting mailers into letterboxes/under doors to prevent private information from being stolen.)
  • Shred personal data if there is no reason to retain it
  • Purchase the Register of Electors and contact electors only for the purpose of campaigning.

Financing

The maximum a candidate can spend on election expenses is $4 per elector in an SMC and $4 per elector in a GRC, divided by the number of candidates in the group.

In GE 2015, the People’s Action Party spent over S$5.3 million in campaign monies.

The Political Donations Act (PDA) restricts the donations candidates receive.

Candidates can only receive donations from permissible donors, and anonymous donations are restricted to less than S$5,000.

Political associations, candidates and donors who have made more than S$10,000 per year must submit periodic reports to the Registrar of Political Donations.


Check out our GE 2020 microsite for the latest election-related news, find out which constituency you belong to, and who’s running where on the election battleground here: https://vulcanpost.com/ge2020/


Featured Image Credit: ICJ.org

 

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