The country’s Elections Department announced on Thursday that rallies — typically something that helps opposition parties — would not be allowed if the poll is called during phase two of Singapore’s re-opening, but each candidate would get three minutes of free air time on TV instead.
The report stated the current electoral system entrenched structural barriers that favoured the ruling PAP and limited the opposition from mounting a serious challenge.
“Many of these barriers, including the lack of independent electoral bodies, structural obstacles to filing candidates for the opposition, limited campaigning time, filing of lawsuits against opposition candidates, tight state control and censorship on the media, and discriminatory practices to punish supporters of the opposition, have ensured PAP’s dominance in politics since self-governance in 1959.”
“Unless urgent and immediate steps are taken, it is unlikely that the current system can adequately safeguard Singaporeans’ right to a free and fair election. These difficulties risk being compounded by the fact that an election may be held during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“There are no apparent reasons for the Government of Singapore to hold an election during the pandemic. It has until April 2021 to do so, raising concerns that the current pandemic might be used to put PAP at a further advantage.”
To remedy the situation, the MPS have called for an independent electoral body to be established; longer notice for election day; longer campaign windows than the typical 10 days; the repeal of laws that stifle free speech; guarantees that state-owned media is balanced, and changes in how electoral boundaries are drawn.
In addition, it called for additional steps to ensure all of Singapore’s 2.6 million voters can vote, despite the pandemic.
The report also criticised the high barriers to stand as a candidate — at present, a deposit of around $15,000 is required and candidates don’t get their money back if they fail to win at least 12 per cent of the vote.
James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions, won a Kennedy Award for outstanding foreign correspondent and is the author of The Great Cave Rescue.