By S Ramesh
SINGAPORE: Reactions to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s proposal that there be a one-day ‘cooling-off’ before the electorate goes to the polls to cast their vote have been mixed.
Leaders of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) said the move will help better manage the election process, but the opposition Workers’ Party (WP) said otherwise.
Under current election rules, political parties are not allowed to campaign on Polling Day itself. With the proposal, except for party political broadcasts and news reports, there will be no more mass rallies, door-to-door visits and even display of party symbols on the eve of Polling Day.
But the minimum period between Nomination Day and Polling Day will be extended from nine to ten days so as to keep to the number of minimum campaigning days under current election rules.
Prime Minister Lee said the additional ‘cooling-off’ day would give voters time to reflect rationally on issues, after the emotional high of election campaigning.
Reacting to the proposal, Lim Boon Heng, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and PAP chairman, said: “Choosing your representative in Parliament is a serious matter. So I think it is a good idea to allow people to reflect what has been said during the campaign period and then to make a considered decision on how they would vote on Polling Day.
“A 24-hour reflection shouldn’t make people forget about the essentials of the campaign. It will make a difference when emotions are stirred up too high for whatever reasons. It is not something new that we have thought up. It is something which has been adopted in some countries too.”
Eugene Tan, Assistant Professor of Law at the Singapore Management University, said: “The hope is that the swing voters would be less likely to cast swing votes and the fence sitters will have an additional day to make their choices. The aspiration is that the choices will be because of the ability to reflect, to think, will be for the better, for the country.”
But the Workers’ Party said the extra ‘cooling-off’ day favours the PAP.
Sylvia Lim, Non-Constituency MP and Workers’ Party chairman, said: “You have to remember that the eve of Polling Day is a very critical period for the voters and in Singapore’s context, you can say there is a bar on political parties campaigning on this cooling-off day, but you must remember that the role of the PAP as a political party and its role as the government is often blurred.
“We may have situations where civil servants could come out to clarify certain government policies and even announce policy reviews for that matter. So practically, I think it is difficult to ensure that the cooling-off period serves its purpose.”
In an e-mail response to MediaCorp, Hougang MP, Low Thia Khiang, felt the idea is a sign of the PAP distrusting voters’ judgement.
Teo Ser Luck, chairman of Young PAP, said: “Mr Low could be reading too deep into such an action. I think cooling-off could be good, whether for the opposition or the main party to consolidate and take a breather and to review their positioning.
“I don’t believe it would have that great an impact on anyone. It would give people some time to consider but as I say, some of them would have decided before the nine days of campaigning begin. And a lot of Singaporeans would almost look at the whole GE as uneventful, as their life would go on as per normal. But for another segment of the society, it would impact. But I wouldn’t look at it as the majority.”
Singapore’s next General Election is not due till February 2012 but with Prime Minister Lee’s ‘cooling-off’ proposal, it signals that preparations are picking up steam for the next polls.