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GE 2020: A Returning Officer Doesn't Just Announce Election Results - What Do They Really Do?

It’s the last day of campaigning before Singaporeans head to the ballot box.

Since the news that the general election (GE) in Singapore will be held on July 10 this year, the island has been abuzz with politics.

The key players of the GE — political parties — are the talk of the town, but many tend to forget about the underdog of the elections: the Returning Officer (RO).

Returning Officer… Who?

In parliamentary systems all over the world, the RO is responsible for overseeing the elections.

The RO in Singapore is perhaps best known for announcing the results of the elections on Polling Day.

Most Singaporeans fondly remember RO Yam Ah Mee from GE 2011, who was well-loved for his stoic expression and monotonous voice when announcing the results.

Yam Ah Mee Returning Officer
RO Yam Ah Mee from GE 2011 / Image Credit: SGCafe

Besides declaring the results for general elections and presidential elections, the RO is also in charge of overseeing the conduct of all parliamentary elections.

This includes directing thousands of election officials who run polling stations and count ballots.

Decisions that fall under the discretion of the RO also include the authorisation of campaign materials. According to the Elections Department Singapore, the official stamp issued by the RO is necessary before campaign materials can be publicised.

Williamson Lee of the opposition Singapore People’s Party (SPP) previously accused the incumbent People’s Action Party for putting up posters that did not bear the official stamp by the RO.

Under the Parliamentary Elections Act (128), the RO can also call for a temporary suspension or postponement of polling at a polling station if the voting is likely to be obstructed by causes such as riots, violence or natural disasters.

This Year’s Returning Officer

The RO is appointed by the Prime Minister when he deems fit.

The Minister may appoint a Registration Officer and a Returning Officer and such Assistant Registration Officers as he may from time to time think fit.

Parliamentary Elections Act
tan meng dui
Image Credit: Jurong Port

Tan Meng Dui was appointed the RO for GE 2020 by the Prime Minister’s Office in 2017.

RO Tan is a former Deputy Secretary at the Ministry of Defence headquarters, and held the rank of brigadier-general in the Singapore Armed Force. 

The current CEO of the National Environment Agency also has a master’s in Public Administration from United States’ Harvard University.

He replaced Ng Wai Choong who served as a RO in GE 2015 and the Presidential Election in 2017.

This is his first election as a Returning Officer since his appointment took effect in 2018. However, he brings experience from being a Group Assistant Returning Officer (Garo) during GE 2015.

After the counting of votes is completed, watch out for RO Tan’s announcement of the GE 2020 results this Friday, July 10, on live television or various livestreams.

Featured Image Credit: Jurong Port / Edgar Su via Reuters


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.


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