Survey of voter concerns 2015 General Election

29 August 2015

During the run up to the elections we are conducting a survey on ‘My Concerns for this General Election’.
Please help us fill in the survey and share it with your friends. Please click on the link below to participate.

Letter to ELD on electoral procedures and negative campaigning

28 August 2015

28 August 2015

Mr Lee Seng Lup
Head, Elections Department
11, Prinsep Street
Singapore 187949

Dear Mr Lee,

We wrote to you on 14 August requesting for a meeting and to offer MARUAH as independent, non-partisan election observers. To date we are awaiting a response from your office.

Following the GE in 2011, we also wrote to you in May 2011, on the issue of voting dilemmas for people who were visually handicapped. We are grateful that you have since introduced voting aids to enable visually-handicapped voters to mark their ballot papers independently.

In 2013, another issue that we raised with you was the design of the polling booth. In MARUAH’s 2011 post-election survey, a number of respondents felt that there was insufficient privacy when marking their ballots. MARUAH suggested that screens, three-corner partition booths or curtains be used to ensure the secrecy of the vote. We hope that this will be implemented in GE2015.

Given that the GE2015 will be held very shortly, MARUAH looks forward to working with the Elections Department to ensure that our polls are held in a free and fair manner at all levels of the electoral process. MARUAH has listed below a few areas that the Elections Department needs to pay urgent attention to.

Security of ballot boxes
We note the change in election procedures, as described in the Handbook for Parliamentary Election Candidates 2015, to allow one polling agent for each candidate or group of candidates to be present on the bus used to transport ballot boxes from polling stations to counting centres. This is a welcome move and will help to strengthen Singaporeans’ confidence in the integrity of the election process.

Allowing one polling agent for each candidate or group of candidates to sign ballot boxes at time of sealing (instead of only being allowed to place a seal on the box)before they are moved to the counting centres, will make it easier for candidates to verify the chain of custody of electoral materials. It would be helpful for ELD to clarify whether the seals and signatures used by polling agents during sealing of ballot boxes may include elements of candidates’ logos, symbols or names, or whether the seals are included in the general prohibition of election advertising within polling stations.

Re-entry cards for polling agents and counting agents

Re-entry cards for polling agents and counting agents were used in the 2011 Presidential Election and 2012 by-elections to facilitate the taking of breaks by candidates’ agents, and re-entry procedures were spelt out in the candidates’ handbooks for those elections. We observe that re-entry procedures are not described in the 2015 Candidates’ Handbook. Nonetheless, we hope that re-entry cards for polling and counting agents will continue to be used and that the procedure(s) will be explicitly described in any Guides for Polling Agents and Counting Agents that may be published for GE2015. Consistency in approaches has to be part of the processes that we need.

Sampling Check

The Candidates’ Handbook (p 42) states that the purpose of the sampling check is to help election officials check against final count results. ELD should clarify whether any persons besides elections officials receive data from the sampling check prior to the official announcement of results for that electoral division by the Returning Officer. If any such disclosures are made, they should be made simultaneously to all candidates, for example, by the ARO announcing the results of the sampling check over the table at the time that the check is performed. We feel that this is the best way to ensure consistency and be transparent.

Adjudication of uncertain ballots

While the ARO on the ground must make the final decision in adjudicating any uncertain ballots, it would be helpful for ELD to publish the examples that it uses in training AROs so that counting agents and the public will better understand the thought processes and the criteria used to reject or accept a ballot. There have been instances in the past where disputes have arisen (examples of such incidences in 2011 have been written about on the Yawning Bread website and letters from the Singapore Democratic Party) and we can avoid this for GE 2015.

New restrictions on speakers at election meetings

The new rules prohibiting leaders of a political party from speaking at rallies organised by other parties is deplorable. There is no plausible reason for the rules on grounds of public order or safety. This rule is a gross violation of Singaporeans’ right to free speech. The rules will severely cripple a specific group of candidates from the Democratic Progressive Party and the Singapore People’s Party, who have come
together to put forward a collaborative challenge to the contestants from the ruling party of the People’s Action Party. We contend that this is unfair to the two opposition parties. While this rule was apparently made for a short-term political purpose, it has long-term implications in that it creates a barrier by administrative fiat to the establishment of coalitions between political parties in Singapore despite the fact that there is no constitutional or statutory basis for doing so.

Campaigning and Ethical Practices

We cite the recent case of Workers’ Party’s candidate Dr Daniel Goh who came under attack through an anonymous letter that he was having an affair. What concerns us is the approach taken by the media houses – Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp – to publicise the letter and generate stories. How do these practices resonate with what ELD has given as guidelines in (page 21 and 22) and also in Section 10.1(d) & (e) on page 56? We believe these guidelines are targeted at political parties for them to observe ethical practices, maintain a fair discourse in terms of “public interest” and to prevent deterioration into ‘gutter politics’. We ask ELD what are the guidelines for media houses, including on registered online ones.

MARUAH fully recognises that holding General Elections is a difficult exercise. However, MARUAH remains hopeful that the Elections Department will be willing to accept our assistance to ensure that free and fair elections with a high level of decorum do take place in Singapore.

We look forward to hearing from you shortly and we would like you to note that as a matter of public interest we will place this letter on our website.

Yours Sincerely,
Braema Mathi and Ngiam Shih Tung
Co-chairpersons of MARUAH Election Watch

About MARUAH Singapore
MARUAH is a human rights NGO based in Singapore.

“Maruah” means “dignity” in Malay, Singapore’s national language. Human rights is fundamentally about maintaining, restoring and reclaiming one’s dignity, and MARUAH strives to achieve this by working on national and regional human rights issues. MARUAH is also the Singapore focal point of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, which is officially recognised in the ASEAN Charter as an entity associated with ASEAN.

More information on MARUAH at

Is my vote really secret?

28 August 2015

Do you have doubts about voting secrecy in Singapore? Ever wondered why ballot serial numbers are necessary at polling? In this video posted during the previous General Elections, Singaporeans from different walks of life come together to speak about their voting experiences.

MARUAH suggestions to improve polling process

27 August 2015
This letter was published in The Online Citizen on 24 August 2015 under the title “Sampling check results should be announced to parties for transparency

TOC has reported that the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) sent a letter to the Elections Department (ELD) asking for clarification on the procedures for admittance of candidates’ agents to polling stations and counting centres, and on election advertising. Given that election administration is not part of the day-to-day jobs of the civil servants selected as elections officials, it is understandable that there may have been a lack of understanding of some of the procedures despite ELD’s efforts to train the elections officials. In their reply to a previous letter from the SDP, ELD acknowledged that elections officials had not been consistent during the 2011 General Elections in certain areas. To its’ credit, ELD subsequently released guides for the Presidential Election and by-elections describing polling and counting procedures, including the rules for admittance and re-admittance of candidates’ agents. These guides can be used as a basis for candidates to train their volunteers to understand their rights and responsibilities as polling agents or counting agents.
Overseas best practice
Another frequent point of contention during elections is the interpretation of ballots where the voter’s intention is unclear. In the UK, the Electoral Commission publishes guidance for Returning Officers on adjudicating doubtful ballots. In Singapore as in the UK, the decision of the Assistant Returning Officer (ARO) on the ground is final. However, it would be useful for ELD to publish the training materials that it uses to train AROs so that all counting agents would be aware of the criteria used by AROs in deciding whether to accept or reject uncertain ballot papers.
Sampling Check
A unique feature of the counting process in Singapore elections is the “sampling check”. As explained in the Guide for Counting Agents
5.16 During the counting process, the ARO will conduct a sampling check to obtain a sample of the possible electoral outcome for that counting place, for the purpose of checking against the result of count for that counting place.
This sampling check is not specifically mentioned in the Parliamentary Elections Act but from the description in the Guide for Counting Agents, it appears that it is used by ELD to predict the result of the election early in the counting process. From my observations as a counting agent in past elections, the check is performed by the ARO or his assistants taking a sample of 100 ballot papers immediately after the mixing of the ballots and counting the number of votes for each candidate within that sample.
In developing democracies, “Quick Counts” are estimates of the overall result of an election based on the actual results (not exit polls) at a sample of polling stations. In large underdeveloped countries, compilation of results by the central government may be problematic even though the count at local level is monitored by elections observers. Quick counts thus help to ensure the reliability of official results which may not be available for some time after the election. For example, in the Presidential Elections in Indonesia last year, quick counts showed that President Jokowi had won the election within days of the election even though final results were not released until two weeks later.
In the case of Singapore, the sampling check should be redundant, considering that final election results have always been released within hours of close of polls, and the entire counting process is conducted by ELD’s own elections officials observed by candidates’ counting agents. Nonetheless, if ELD still believes that the sampling check is necessary, the ARO should announce the results of the sampling check over the table for the sake of transparency at the time that the check is performed.
Ngiam Shih Tung
MARUAH Election Watch

MARUAH’s responds to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s comments on the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee

14 July 2015


For immediate use

13 July 2015

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in Parliament today (13 July 2015) that he has asked the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee to have smaller Group Representation Constituencies, and to have at least 12 Single Member Constituencies. This committee was formed two months ago. The Committee, Mr Lee said, is in the midst of deliberations and will make recommendations to the Prime Minister when it is ready.

MARUAH would like to raise its objections to this approach as advocated by the Prime Minister.

Read the rest of this entry »

MARUAH – Declaration on Principles of Free and Fair Elections

6 April 2015

Following our forum “The Vote, the Elections and You: What Citizens Need for Free and Fair Elections.” on 4th April 2015, MARUAH has drafted a declaration on Free and Fair Elections in Singapore.

The declaration can be viewed at the link below.

If you agree with MARUAH’s declaration, please pledge your support by filling up your details. We appreciate your commitment to free and fair elections in Singapore.

Also, please help to share this to your family and friends.

New date – Forum: The Vote, the Elections and You – 4th April 2015

11 March 2015

Dear all,

We are really sorry about the changes that we have been announcing for the forum – The Vote, the Elections and You: What Citizens Need for Free and Fair Elections.

We were told that the original venue was no longer available for our use. Then we booked another venue where the owner got us mixed up with another group, and so we stepped back as the other organisation had booked the place first.

So we have postponed the event.

The new date is: 4th April 2015

The new venue is:
Seminar Room
21, Tan Quee Lan Street
Heritage Place
Singapore 188108 [map]

The time is: 2:30pm – 5:30pm Read the rest of this entry »

Defending the Legitimacy of Singapore Elections, Part 4: Mayors and the Community Development Councils (CDC)

10 October 2014

MARUAH held a press conference on 9 Oct to highlight 2 research papers, as part of its ongoing project, Defending the Legitimacy of Singapore Elections. This is the third in a series of media and public engagements that MARUAH has arranged, with the first two focusing on citizens’ confidence in the secrecy of the ballot and what it considers are areas for reform in the GRC system.

The second paper deals with the roles Mayors and the Community Development Councils (CDC) play in elections.

MARUAH Mayors Position Paper
MARUAH CDC Mayors PowerpointPresentation

Defending the Legitimacy of Singapore Elections, Part 3: electoral boundaries and CDCs

10 October 2014

MARUAH held a press conference on 9 Oct to highlight 2 research papers, as part of its ongoing project, Defending the Legitimacy of Singapore Elections. This is the third in a series of media and public engagements that MARUAH has arranged, with the first two focusing on citizens’ confidence in the secrecy of the ballot and what it considers are areas for reform in the GRC system.

The first paper deals with the issue of electoral boundaries, mapping out the frequency of the changes made to electoral boundaries and the impact these changes have on the electorate.

MARUAH EBRC Position Paper
MARUAH EBRC Annex 1 pdf
MARUAH EBRC Annex 2 (Timeline of boundary changes)
MARUAH Electoral Boundary Delimitation Powerpoint Presentation

Some media coverage of the event : (TOC)

Group urges more transparency in drawing electoral boundaries (Today)

Independent committee should define electoral boundaries: MARUAH (Yahoo! News)


Media coverage on MARUAH position paper on GRC system – Part 2

26 August 2013

Yahoo News Singapore carried MARUAH’s response to comments by A/Prof Eugene Tan and Dr Gillian Koh on MARUAH’s position paper on the GRC system.

Also see below for more media coverage

Part 1 of media coverage here
MARUAH’s position paper on the GRC system here