9 May 2006

International observers call for reform of Singapore's election system

ANFREL Study Mission to Singapore during the 2006 General Elections: Initial Findings and Recommendations

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) organized a study mission to Singapore on the occasion of the 2006 General Elections. The purpose of the mission, ANFREL’s first activity focused on Singapore, was to deepen understanding of the country’s election system and engage in dialogue with relevant Singaporean stakeholders.

The mission consisted of 7 elections experts from civil society organizations in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Thailand. The team visited Singapore from 2-7 May, meeting with Singaporeans of all major political affiliations, including candidates and party workers, academics, media, and citizens. Seven rallies by all 4 parties were also attended, as well as other campaign activities. On Polling Day we also visited 20 polling centers in 8 contested constituencies, as well as 7 counting centers.

We found that there is much to be learned from Singapore’s experience, and it certainly deserves further study. As in any country, there are both positive elements that other countries could profitably emulate, as well as negative elements which perhaps ought to be reformed. We feel that the experience of other democratizing countries, especially in Asia, would be relevant in both regards.

In terms of positive elements, ANFREL appreciates first and foremost that the atmosphere of the election was extremely peaceful, for which credit is due to Singaporean voters and all contesting political parties. Second, we were pleased to note administration of the election was efficient and professional. The polling and counting processes appeared to be very smooth, and polling station workers appeared to be well trained and prepared. Likewise, the regulation of campaign activities was generally strict and effective, for example the performance of the police in regulating rallies.

Third, the level of discourse in the campaign was relatively high. In their rally speeches, newsletters and other campaign materials, candidates of all parties presented many policies, including a significant number of specific proposals and pledges. In this they were presumably responding to the sophistication of Singaporean voters as a whole.

ANFREL welcomes the fact that a record 18 women will be joining the new Parliament, and look forward to women playing a fuller role in Singapore’s political life. Finally, the introduction of overseas voting is a positive development, enabling more citizens to exercise their right to vote.

Although this was a necessarily brief introduction to Singapore’s system, ANFREL also would like to put forward the following recommendations for reforms that we feel merit consideration before the next General Elections are held:

1. Most importantly, a structurally independent election authority should be established to conduct all electoral work and processes; such a crucial institution must not only be neutral, but be seen to be so by all voters.

2. The campaign period should be more than 9 days long; in order to allow voters to have adequate time to learn about all the candidates and to make the most informed choice possible.

3. The system of Group Representation Constituency (GRC) should be reformed; there are better ways of achieving the important objective of ensuring representation of minority groups than winner-take-all block voting.

4. Changes to electoral boundaries, particularly changes to the type of constituency, need to be made considerably earlier, in order to allow all voters and potential contesting parties or candidates to know their changed constituencies.

5. For equal opportunity, the government should institute some form of public funding for political campaigns. The rules on campaign expenditures should be complemented by equally strict rules on use of state facilities and resources.

6. As party agents are currently the only form of oversight over much of the polling and counting processes, the Election Department should proactively facilitate contesting parties to register adequate numbers of them; parties likewise need to redouble their efforts to recruit suitable individuals for the task.

7. To strengthen transparency, provision should be made for independent non-governmental organizations to be allowed to monitor all stages of the election process; in addition, international observers should be welcomed, so that Singapore’s experience can be better understood by the rest of the world.

8. Ways should be found to allow the public to view all stages of the counting process.

9. Since the media are the primary means for many voters to gain information about the election, the media licensing regime should be liberalized, to allow the media sector to reflect the diversity of views in society.

Democracy and human rights are universal principles that are interdependent and indivisible. Based on this perspective, the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) has been observing elections, conducting research, and carrying out trainings in many Asian countries. ANFREL stands ready to work together with Singaporeans to fulfill the above goals.

For further information, please contact: Ms. Somsri Hananuntasuk, ANFREL Coordinator, at 00661 8105306 or visit www.anfrel.org, which also contains reports on various other ANFREL work in Asian countries.


Anonymous said...

a praiseworthy report, but a tad naive. we already know what the govt's response would be.

ja said...

err.. not to ofend any SDP fans, but maybe the SDP should ask themself why they manage to win only 22-23% of their votes whereas the WP and Chiam managed to increase their vote share significantly?

maybe it's their political stance, policies, and leaders that the public so dislike, instead of the election process?

Anonymous said...

Often in a report like this, you have to read between the lines. The study mission cannot afford to offend the Singapore Government, nor appear to be siding with them.

Several valid points raised, but not really any new ones. I am a little curious about point seven though - these guys are part of an independent non-governmental organisation right?

Anonymous said...

Probably bcos of many factors ja.

probably because of the fact that they cannot raise the issue of the NKF, probably because our MM and SM sued them and the media goes all out to portray a bad image of the party. Look at how the media writes off SDP more than SDA or WP (which is touted as a credible opposition). Probably because some of the CEC members decided to apologise and not Dr Chee and Ms Chee. Probably because Dr Chee is continually persecuted by the PAP and keeps doing civil disobedience acts (which may not make the average Singaporean think well) God knows. Probably you are right (some people are perhaps put off by what they did).

In my opinion, it is probably a mix of everything :O

Anonymous said...

as we all know that govt is afraid of liberalisation (if not democracy) bec this would be at their disadvantage as they wanted so much of power and control - a clean sweep, if not 83 out of 84!!
otherwise, have to spend more time to think how to fix these oppo.

Anonymous said...


1. The page reporting the "slamming of WP on MM's remarks" in the CNA was a blank page.

2. Ch 8 invited a female analyst to talk on the election. When one of the media staff asked about how she view sg's ranking of 140th position, the analyst said it was based on overall view including fair coverage of the media. She was then immediately cut off by another media staff.

Read yawning bread's website which he published some of the comments received by viewers. Some appreciated so much to stumble into a website which truly reflect a more balancing view of the election.

would encourage if more such websites could be set up to counter the bias reporting of the local media.

Anonymous said...

news coverage is OK; commentary is bad

Matilah_Singapura said...

No country likes being dictated to by "foreigners". They consider it an affront to their sovereignty.

The most effective way to "punish" a recalcitrant state is through the market: BOYCOTT Singapore goods and services. This will immediately get the S'pore business community off its collective arse and actually pay attention to the rights of "other people" for once.

The biz community has no problem taking advantage of the low taxes, open labour markets - and the jolly-good-times the multinationals enjoy in the "rule-by-law" (essentially fascist) Singapore.

It is about time someone leaned on them, and for once get them to pay attention to the property rights of the common folk.

Anonymous said...

dear, ja, not to offend s'poreans, but Li Ao is right, which is why WP gets 1/3 of the votes while SDP gets 1/4 votes.

Anonymous said...

today's 6.30pm news at ch8 reported that gomez's passport has been detained by the police and he has been called for interogation again today for 5 hours.

so, meanwhile, suggest that all of us shall keep silence until the issue is over.

Matilah_Singapura said...

Keep silent? Nuts to that!

If we're not prepared to defend each others fundamental rights - in this case wrongful arrest by POLITICISED law enforcement, then WHO, pray tell is going to defend those fundamental rights.

Chee SJ?



I say scream, loud.

Keep in mind, what happens to James, can happen to anyone of us. By keeping silent, you give tacit approval to tyranny.

If you are concerned about freedom from the intolerable absolute power wielded by Lee Kuan Yew and his merry band of thugs, you'd better act in congruence with your concerns.

Activism is based on personal action. and the price of liberty is constant vigilance - which means as long as you are a sentinent being, you better look YOURSELF, and assist others while you're at it.

clyde said...

I'm afraid 'silence' is not within our creed :(

Anonymous said...

WP themselves are silent so far.

Anonymous said...

part of the tactic is to put on the pressure, in the expectationsomeone would say/do something wrong so that he/she can be charged/sued etc

Anonymous said...

"WP themselves are silent so far."

My take: it's a political game. If they decide it's not worth it, Gomez will be sacrificed. They've shown solidarity and unity during the elections, and it has served them well.

They have more important things to worry about, like Sylvia Lim's nomination into Parliament, and the next elections.

- Impassioned Singaporean