Such Blatant and Extreme Manipulation of the Electoral System Has No Place in a Democracy
Like his father before him, the Prime Minister has never felt confident of winning a free and democratic election fairly on his Government’s record and policies. He continues to shamelessly:
- Maintain complete control of the media through outright ownership and legislation that gives the state a monopoly or the right to demand editorial control. Since the last election he has brought even the online media under his control through new rules including closing one of the last remaining online newspapers not under the Government’s control on the vague charge of stirring up anti-foreigner sentiment.
- Use state resources to bribe and intimidate voters and to defend his reputation in private lawsuits against individuals who have criticised him in a manner that would be deemed corrupt in most democratic countries.
- Tilt the electoral playing field in his favour by making the body responsible for regulating elections a mere department within his office. The PAP have tampered with the electoral system repeatedly to tilt the odds in their favour including changing electoral boundaries repeatedly without any justification and introducing the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) in order to make it more difficult for the Opposition to compete.
All the examples listed above perfectly demonstrate why the holding of regular elections is not a fit criterion to judge whether a country is a democracy.
In Parliament on Monday the PM showed how he was determined to continue to exploit the last of these unfair advantages to his party’s advantage. He announced that he had convened the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee, which is under his control, in secret two months ago despite promising as recently as January this year that “when its [the EBRC] is set up, everyone will know.”
PM Lee refused to commit to a minimum period between the release of the EBRC report and the calling of an election that could be as little as a month. He also resisted calls to introduce transparency by making the minutes of the EBRC available and to appoint Opposition representatives to the EBRC on the grounds that the EBRC had to be above politics. This is highly disingenuous since clearly it is very much under his and the PAP’s control.
Lee’s revelation means that the next election is potentially less than three months away. The PM also revealed that he had asked the EBRC to reduce the minimum size of GRCs below 5 MPs and to set the minimum number of SMCs at 12.
The fact that the PM and his party have known about the convening of the EBRC and have already in large part shaped and influenced its report on boundary and constituency changes hands the PAP an enormous advantage over the Opposition.
Reform has made removal of the Elections Department from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) an important part of our manifesto since 2009. We want an independent Electoral Commission. In order to ensure real independence it should not be headed by anyone from the civil or legal service but preferably by a foreigner and report directly to Parliament or the President not the Executive.
We have also called for the abolition of GRCs, which serve no purpose other than to make it more difficult for the Opposition to compete and which leave large numbers of Singaporeans denied their fundamental human right to vote for and be represented by a representative of their choice.
The PAP has long used the excuse that GRCs are necessary to ensure minority representation in Parliament. However, coupled with the Ethnic Integration Act, the rule does not ensure that minorities are able to choose candidates of their choice but rather ones selected for them by the PAP. The fact that the Reform Party has no trouble attracting ethnic minority candidates and is led by a member of an ethnic minority illustrates that GRCs are not necessary to protect minority representation. Reform Party would abolish the Ethnic Integration Act to allow minorities to be effectively represented and also as a fundamental violation of basic human rights.
In addition to entrenching the independence of the Election Commission and abolishing GRCs, the Reform Party would also undertake the following fundamental reforms that are essential if we are to have free and fair elections and be capable of being called a democracy:
- Abolish the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act and remove state monopolies in broadcasting and other media areas. We would also remove the restrictions on online media and reform vague laws restricting freedom of expression.
- End the use of threats of withholding state resources like housing upgrading and transport links to intimidate voters. Reform wants to see government control over the economy and the people reduced by returning government assets directly to the people through the listing of Temasek and GIC and the issuing of shares to Singapore citizens. We also want to see Singaporeans having the right to own the freehold of their HDBs.
- End the conflict of interest in which government officials can take out defamation lawsuits in their personal capacity while in office.
- Entrench the principle, long established in the UK and other democracies, that Government bodies cannot sue for defamation or use protection from harassment laws to restrict individual’s rights to freedom of expression.
- Set out strict limits on any restrictions on our fundamental rights and liberties as enshrined in our Constitution. At the moment our Constitutional rights can be set aside for any reason if the Executive judges it to be in the national interest.
- Enshrine the independence of the judiciary by setting up an independent Judicial Appointments Commission over which the Prime Minister would exercise no influence.