MARUAH’s Statement of Deep Concern on Actions Taken Against New Naratif’s Dr Thum Ping Tjin

12 October 2020

MARUAH expresses its concerns over the statement issued by the Elections Department (ELD) of the Singapore Prime Minister’s Office alleging that New Naratif (NN) had breached the Parliamentary Elections Act during the course of the General Elections 2020, the actions taken by the Singapore Police Force, the takedown order given by Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) to Facebook, and Facebook’s censorship of New Naratif through compliance on IMDA’s takedown order.

According to the press release of 18 September, the ELD alleges that NN’s boosting of five Facebook posts during the recent General Election, “amounted to the illegal conduct of election activity under S83(2) of the Parliamentary Elections Act.” The ELD further stated that NN did not have written authority to conduct election activity, that ELD’s previous press release of 3 July on NN’s activities was carried by various news outlets and yet despite this publicity and even after Facebook took down NN’s boosted post, NN continued to boost other Facebook posts. ELD also quoted, in its statement (Ref:, the definition of election activity under the Parliamentary Elections Act, which includes “any activity which is done for the purpose of promoting or procuring the electoral success at any election for one or more identifiable political parties, candidates or groups of candidates; or prejudicing the electoral prospects of other political parties, candidates or groups of candidates at the election”.

MARUAH still remains unclear over what constitutes internet election advertisements as qualified by ELD in its press statement. We note that there are studies, codes, and in some instances, legislation that frame criteria in this regard. The onus is on ELD to state how the advertisements breached the criteria that it observes, as well as justify how these criteria are also interpreted and thus applicable to satirical content, which was the nature of one of NN’s boosted posts.

MARUAH asks if a discussion with NN to seek clarifications from NN would not have sufficed? We wonder why ELD preferred to make a police report. We also ask how many other police reports ELD has filed on other breaches as were also reported to ELD, in the course of GE 2020? Is this then the process of governance that ELD uses, that is, to make police reports? Is there a better approach as we build up trust in election climates, which inevitably will get more complex as new social media forms develop and are used more often and offer many more possibilities to users and readers? Would not a system of transparently sharing the criteria on ‘promoting’, ‘prejudicing’, ‘procuring’ help all parties to become more self-evaluative?

We are also deeply concerned over the ethical principles with which Facebook is governing its platform. Facebook has been criticised severely for allowing its communication platform to be used by political parties to influence voters. We ask if Facebook operates with greater consistency, now, on material that is deemed to be prejudicial in elections, and what its principles are. MARUAH will also be raising these concerns to Facebook. Under such circumstances, what then would be the ELD’s and IMDA’s expectations of such operators like Facebook when we do see inconsistencies in its application in leaving up or taking down news items. More importantly, how does ELD also ensure consistency in making its judgements so that IMDA can be consistent in asking Facebook to take down news items — in this case, posts from other news organisations which were boosted during the election period?

Lastly, we are troubled at the actions taken by the Singapore Police Force, in its response to the police report made on NN. Besides an interrogation for more than four hours, there was also a confiscation of personal items such as the mobile phone and laptop and entering the home of Dr Thum Ping Tjin to remove his belongings for investigations. The evidence is entirely digital and available online, and New Naratif has not denied that the boosted posts in question belonged to them. There is thus no need for the seizure of Dr Thum’s belongings. Such unnecessary seizures have happened previously to Ms Teo Soh Lung and Mr Terry Xu. We ask if investigations have to be carried out in this intimidating and intrusive manner without a thought for the individual’s civil rights.

ELD and the Ministry of Home Affairs demonstrate a high-handedness in handling the allegations. It is akin to affirming that an allegation made as a police report, leads automatically to an interrogation and seizures of materials. If the criteria are clearly spelt out, an allegation made in the form of a police report, can then be assessed on such defined terms, and where deemed fit, further action is taken. MARUAH believes that the first step is to publicise the codes that can ascertain ‘prejudicial’ content in elections. It is also equally important to situate any assessment in an environment of multimedia technology, with many media organisations delivering news and a more critical and aware public. It is important that ELD finds a balance in this governance, without crippling a journalism that offers critical perspectives and satire as an expression. It would be naïve to think of the Singapore audience as being innocently and easily influenced by the media.

MARUAH states that such continued actions including these by ELD will only instill deeper fear into people. If restrictions continue in this way, people will still be driven to take risks in expressing themselves as there is just too little legitimate space given for expression. MARUAH states that it is always preferable for a country like Singapore to host a discussion and build up better understanding through dialogue so that people’s right to express themselves is not reduced to silence. 

Should you require clarification, please email MARUAH Secretariat at

Thank you.

MARUAH Secretariat

[Repost from ANFREL] Hong Kong: Stop Intimidation and Threats Ahead of Legislative Council Elections

22 July 2020

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) is alarmed by the quickly deteriorating election environment in the run-up to the Hong Kong Legislative Council elections scheduled for 6 September 2020.

The new National Security Law that came into effect on 30 June has exacerbated a climate of fear in Hong Kong’s electoral democracy. The law’s ambiguities in criminalizing secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces with sentences going up to life imprisonment has given the authorities sweeping powers to clamp down on civil liberties and human rights[1].

Several pro-democracy groups advocating for greater autonomy and self-determination, such as the Hong Kong National Front, Studentlocalism and opposition party Demosistō[2], have since chosen to either disband or relocate abroad over fears of political imprisonment. Activist and former lawmaker Nathan Law has also fled Hong Kong[3] and subsequently withdrawn from the pro-democracy camp’s primaries. Other opposition members are facing an uncertain future ahead as the Beijing-imposed law has empowered authorities to disqualify candidates from running in the election[4].

The authorities have used the new legislation to threaten the organizers of the 11 and 12 July primaries designed to select pro-democracy candidates to the 6 September legislative elections. Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang claimed the participation in the primaries may violate the National Security Law[5], while Chief Executive Carrie Lam declared that the coordinated effort by democrats to win a majority in the legislature to oppose government policy “may fall into the category of subverting the state power”, an offense under the new law[6].

On the day before the primaries, district councilors and a pro-democracy shop faced intimidation attempts to warn them not to use their premises as polling stations[7]. The Hong Kong police also raided the office of the primaries’ co-organizer Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI), accusing the organization of “dishonest use of a computer”[8].

Despite overt intimidation, the two-day primaries saw a high voter turnout, with over 600,000 Hong Kongers casting ballots in the process. It is commendable that the people of Hong Kong are showing their resilience and determination to resist democratic regression.

The instillation of fear using the National Security Law did not stop after the primaries. Both Hong Kong Liaison Office[9] and Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office[10] have issued strong-worded statements to accuse the primaries of violating the National Security Law. The Electoral Affairs Commission also claimed the primaries are not part of the electoral procedures and reminded the public to take heed of the National Security Law when organizing and participating in election-related activities[11].

The National Security Law is the latest development in a year-long crackdown on protesters, activists, and opposition forces in the territory. In November 2019, authorities conducted a two-week siege on the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University[12], culminating in over 1,100 arrests in a single day[13]. On 18 April 2020, police arrested 15 prominent activists[14], including publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai and founder of the Democratic Party Martin Lee, in what was perceived as a hardening of the authorities’ position towards the pan-democracy camp.

ANFREL condemns the sustained intimidation and threats towards the city’s democracy advocates, citizens, and civil society by the authorities of Hong Kong and Beijing. Avenues for debate and constructive dialogue have been steadily restricted, ensuring that the environment prior to the Legislative Council elections can be considered neither free nor fair.

We call for an immediate repeal of the National Security Law, which violates the spirit of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and Hong Kong’s Basic Law and stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers in their pursuit for democracy, attachment to fundamental freedoms, and demands for free and fair elections. We call on the government of China to honor its international commitments and stop encroaching on Hong Kong’s autonomy, rights, and tradition of democratic governance.


Download the full statement here: Hong Kong: Stop Intimidation and Threats Ahead of Legislative Council Elections

MARUAH’s Notice to Political Parties for Singapore’s Future

8 July 2020

Congratulations on this lead up to Polling Day on July 10th. Wishing each candidate and all political parties the absolute best.

As Singapore citizens we will be making our way to the polling station if we can, practice ‘stay safe’ habits and vote for the political parties and the candidates that we think will best represent our interest and with whom we can work to build up our country as a peaceful, prosperous and equal society to live in, where we can enjoy happiness, have fair and equal access to justice for all persons and practice non-discrimination as our moral code.

So, as a human rights organization, MARUAH is reminding all political parties and candidates that they need to fulfil State obligations to promote, protect and fulfil a citizen’s rights. We also reassure that an individual’s right does not mean it is to the exclusion of community-mindedness or a mutualism, as this is already a given in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 29). We also state as Singapore becomes more diverse and we live in an interconnected world that the core values of human rights – indivisible, inalienable, interdependent and universal – are not compromised as legislation, policies and programmes are prepared and set for the future. These core principles are also part of the Sustainable Development Goals in its 2030 vision, in its frameworks and in international agreements. As such we make the following calls on what we would like to have over the next five years, till the next General Elections. We ask:

  • that we achieve a higher level of accountability through a Transparency Act that we hope will be enacted before the next General Elections
  • that the Freedom of Information Act be enacted so that data, public documents, and historical materials can be shared with the public and where needed, can be held as archives
  • that the Freedom of Expression be legislated as the digitized world is the norm and we already have the counterbalancing force via legislation – Protection of Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) – and the authoritative powers as given to each Minister 
  • that an Anti-Discrimination Act be enacted as soon as possible
  • that all political parties and especially those with representatives in Parliament take on a participatory approach with civil society freely and not selectively, setting the ground rules for fair-minded conversation aimed at the betterment of people, protecting their rights and developing a stronger democracy
  • that the budget for Defence be reduced from its current proportion of the national budget and that there is an increased focus on peace  building, reparative and remedial work  in the region and internationally through our diplomacy, making it Singapore’s mainstay reputation
  • that we ratify international peace treaties such as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1951)
  • that we also ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990)
  • that we make determined plans to ratify the core human rights instruments of the International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights (1966), the International Covenant on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
  • that we become signatories to the Core International Labour Organisation’s Agreements that are still pending
  • that we build up, to achieve an excellent track record, on the Paris Agreement (2016) and so become a leading force in the region as a Climate Change promoter and advocate, to protect and preserve the environment
  • that we continue to be a key leader in ASEAN in bridge-building but support the human rights agenda of ASEAN in that they need to be fulfilled
  • that we develop an economic climate that builds up on a national developmentist approach of self-sufficiency, a greater reliance on regional supply chains for goods, raw materials and human resources and process Singapore’s shift from just market-driven capitalism to sustainability and self-sufficiency in the creation of new industries and job opportunties
  • that policies be centred on ensuring that all basic needs of an individual are met adequately and well, so that no one is left behind or be placed, divided into various recipient clusters to receive social protection of social insurance, social assistance and universal transfers, which ought to be well-planned and implemented on a sustainable scale leading to empowerment, confidence and independent living of individuals and communities
  • that land prices are not pegged to market prices for public housing and for small scale enterprises so that costs are not beyond a middle-income individual with an unbroken career path
  • that we set the National Minimum Wage that takes into account the living costs in Singapore 
  • that health care pricing be reviewed with inputs from experts and by studying the schemes held by other countries so that people in Singapore can access healthcare with affordable healthcare insurance schemes
  • that we measure success by determined factors of well-being, happiness of the people and of having participatory and democratic processes
  • that as citizens there will be greater monitoring of politicians and political parties due to digitisation of information as well as rising awareness in politics

Majulah Singapura!

MARUAH Secretariat

ANFREL: “What’s going on in Singapore?”, a webinar held on 5 July 2020

6 July 2020

Watch a replay of the 5 July 2020 webinar ‘What’s going on in Singapore’, hosted by ANFREL – Asian Network for Free Elections. MARUAH’s Secretary, Braema Mathi and PJ Thum of New Naratif were panellists for this webinar.

Please click on screen shot below to view the video in Facebook.

General Election 2020: Academic Insights

30 June 2020

As we head towards the end of Nomination Day here in Singapore, we thought to share with our readers an excellent email resource provided by AcademiaSG.

Please visit this link to access AcademiaSG’s latest email (30 June) which provides more academic views and articles for you to read on Singapore’s elections.

Foreword by AcademiaSG’s editors

Singapore’s General Election on 10 July may have a broadly predictable outcome, but the way the campaign plays out as well as the final tallies will generate endless conversations — and months if not years of academic analysis. This newsletter, going out on Nomination Day, is dedicated to GE2020. We are especially happy to present 20 for 20: A GE Reading List of twenty book chapters and journal articles offering in-depth looks at Singapore’s political system, its political parties, and past voting behaviour. Some are new publications, examining Singapore’s democratic backsliding since GE2015, and the 4th Generation leadership, for example. Others are older but still highly relevant – like a 2011 article on why election rallies (banned this year) have been such a special part of Singapore’s elections. We are delighted that their authors and publishers have made them available for free download, in support of Academia.SG’s mission to bring scholarly research into the public sphere.
– Chong Ja Ian, Cherian George, Linda Lim & Teo You Yenn

Please click here to subscribe to AcademiaSG’s mailing list.

APHR: “Singapore election: neither free nor fair, new report says” – 18 June 2020

19 June 2020

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) released a report “In Singapore, an Already Unfair Vote Undermined by COVID-19” on Thursday, 18 June 2020.

This report documents structural flaws that potentially prevent elections from being free and fair in Singapore. On page 22 of the report, APHR also makes certain recommendations to safeguard Singaporeans’ right to a free and fair election. These include:

  • Give significantly longer notice for election dates and more campaigning time to ensure an equal electoral competition and for voters to make their opinions;
  • Replacing the GRC system with one that ensures better respect for the principle of “one person, one vote”;
  • Immediately amend or repeal all laws that restrict the rights to freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly in Singapore; and
  • Delay the general election unless additional measures are taken to: ensure all eligible voters are able to vote, including the sick and those abroad; and ensure that opposition parties are able to campaign on an equal footing with PAP.

For more information on APHR’s findings and recommendations, please visit and

Electoral Integrity in the 2018 American Elections (PEI-US-2018)

25 June 2019

From Electoral Integrity Project

This report provides an assessment of the performance of all 50 states + DC in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, compared with the 2016 contest. It applies the expert survey methods used since 2012 by the Electoral Integrity Project to measure and compare the quality of contests around the world.

The team of researchers is composed by Professor Pippa Norris, (Director of EIP Harvard/Sydney), Holly Ann Garnett (Royal Military College, Canada), and Max Grömping (Heidelberg University).


Electoral administration in the US has become increasingly partisan and litigious ever since Bush v. Gore in Florida in the 2000 Presidential elections (Hason 2012). Questions have arisen concerning the security, integrity, inclusiveness, convenience, and accuracy of the registration and balloting processes in America.

These issues were documented in the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Electoral Administration, established by President Obama (Bauer and Ginsberg 2014). The Commission reported that contemporary standards of electoral administration were highly uneven across the country.  It recommended a series of practical reforms to the election process.

The Elections Performance Indexconducted in 2014 by the Pew Center and in 2016 by MIT’s Election Data + Science Lab also suggest that states varies in how they performed against a range of quality indicators in the presidential and the mid-term contests.
In  2016,  a range of problems arose during the campaign and on polling day, some trivial, others more serious.  Throughout the 2016 presidential election campaign, Donald Trump warned about the risks of widespread fraud, claiming afterwards that millions of votes were cast illegally. The security services reported how the Democratic National Committee computer server was hacked and materials distributed through Wikileaks. In addition, social media were awash with trolls disseminating fake news, misinformation and disinformation (Jamieson 2019). The intelligence community and the Mueller Report subsequently concluded that the culprits were Russian. This led to widespread concern prior to polling day in the 2018 midterm elections that contests remained vulnerable to these security risks, as well as the challenges posed by fake news, voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering and voter fraud. In 2018 Congress allocated additional funds and the Department of Homeland Security cooperated closely with election officials in many states to tighten the security of official registration and voting records.

Moreover the Brennan Center documented how states also introduced many changes to the complex legal framework governing the mosaic of American election procedures. Some states facilitated easier and more convenient processes for citizens, such as ‘automatic’ registration, but others sought to tighten voting security through stricter voting requirements. As argued elsewhere (Norris, Cameron and Wynter 2019), electoral laws in America are seen through a strongly partisan lens, but there are potential bipartisan reforms which can strengthen both inclusion and security, these are not necessarily trade-offs, thereby strengthening public confidence in the process.

On polling day in November 2018, how did state elections perform? Were there improvements in the quality of the voter experience when casting ballots? What evidence allows us to monitor changes over time in each state?

For more details, please visit Electoral Integrity Project’s website at .

Perceptions of Electoral Integrity (“PEI”) 7.0 Worldwide Report & Data Set

25 June 2019

From Electoral Integrity Project

Elections should provide opportunities for citizens to participate in politics and hold leaders to account.  When they work well, elections can deepen civic engagement, inform public debate, stimulate party competition, strengthen government responsiveness, and allow the peaceful resolution of political conflict.

The problem is that too often contests fail to achieve these objectives. To assess global trends, the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity expert survey monitors elections worldwide and regionally, across all stages of the electoral cycle.

This report describes the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity dataset (PEI-7.0). The dataset is drawn from a rolling survey of 3,861 expert assessments of electoral integrity across 337 elections in 166 countries around the world.  The cumulative study covers all national presidential and parliamentary elections from July 1, 2012 to December 31, 2018. This annual release adds 53 presidential or parliamentary contests held during 2018.  

Perceptions of electoral integrity are measured by experts in each country one month after polls close. Experts are asked to assess the quality of national elections on eleven sub-dimensions: electoral laws; electoral procedures; district boundaries; voter registration; party registration; media coverage; campaign finance; voting process; vote count; results; and electoral authorities. These items sum to an overall Electoral Integrity Index scored from 0 to 100.  Additional batteries of items are used to monitor specific problems each year. Given widespread concerns about the issue of fake news, online disinformation, and foreign meddling, the 2018 survey focused on issues of campaign media.

For more details, please visit Electoral Integrity Project’s website at .

Sampling Check results to be publicly released

2 September 2015

The Elections Department will be publicly releasing the results of the sampling check conducted during counting of votes. Sampling checks have been conducted in past elections but this is the first time that ELD will be releasing the results to the public and to candidates.

MARUAH has written to the media and to ELD in the past asking it to either stop the practice or to release the results to the candidates. ELD’s disclosure of the results and procedures used for the sampling check increase the transparency and fairness of Singapore’s election process.

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