Straits Times: A look back at the decade

Prime special report
FACES of the decade

LOW THIA KHIANG: Taking over the helm of the Workers’ Party in 2001, he emerged as the leader of the opposition in the 2006 General Election when WP secured the largest vote share of the opposition parties. The WP also made strides in attracting a crop of young candidates and getting younger Singaporeans excited about the opposition in the 2006 elections.

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Posted in 2009 12. Comments Off on Straits Times: A look back at the decade

Straits Times: Opposition: PAP will have unfair edge

‘COOLING-OFF’ DAY BEFORE POLLING

Ruling party could disguise election pitch as news items, they claim

BY KOR KIAN BENG
POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT

SINGAPORE’S opposition parties have unanimously opposed the proposal to have a “cooling-off” day before Polling Day, during which no electoral campaigning will be allowed.

A number of them say the change will give the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) an unfair advantage through its use of the mass media.

Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang pointed out that the PAP can especially turn to TV to campaign, by disguising it as “news” items from the Government.

“This will effectively give the ruling party an extra day of campaigning to the disadvantage of the opposition,” he said.

The opposition also argues that Singaporeans are rational voters and that opposition rallies are not prone to pose public disorder concerns.

PAP MPs, however, rebut the charge, saying the change is designed to benefit voters most, by giving them time to process information or messages received earlier during an intense campaign period.

They also urged the opposition to view the “cooling-off” period as a necessity because the political scene looks set to hot up, with the implementation of several political changes announced in May.

The two sides were responding to the “cooling-off” proposal announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday, after the Commonwealth leaders meeting in Trinidad and Tobago.

The idea has been discussed for several years, he said, but the decision to go ahead with it came after his May announcement that revised the Non-Constituency MP, Nominated MP and Group Representation Constituency schemes.

These changes will give at least 18 seats in Parliament to non-PAP members. Some analysts expect them to intensify the contest for seats in the coming general election – a key factor that triggered the new proposal, they said.

Mr Lee gave two reasons for the latest move: One, to allow voters, after an exciting campaign, to reflect calmly on the arguments made, and to go to the polls in a steady state of mind. Two, to lower the risk of public disorder.

Currently, campaigning can take place from Nomination Day to the eve of Polling Day.

But with the “cooling-off” day, mass rallies, door-to-door visits and the wearing of party logos and symbols will not be allowed on the eve.

There is one exception: Political parties can still give their traditional TV broadcast on the eve, making one last pitch to voters.

This, plus news reporting on the election, will not be affected.

But Mr Low of the Workers’ Party believes this would give the PAP an edge.

“For instance, if opposition parties campaign on issues of health care and public housing policy and managed to get the message across to the voters, the government department or relevant civil servants can always come out on the day of the cooling period with some announcement of policy changes or explanation to counter what opposition parties said during the campaign period, in an attempt to sway public opinion,” he said.

“The mass media can also run a ‘story’ for the same effect without the need for any PAP candidate to appear,” he added.

Dismissing his fears, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, PAP MP for Aljunied GRC, which was fiercely contested in the 2006 polls, said the mass media had been fair and balanced in its election coverage.

Fellow Aljunied MP Zainul Abidin Rasheed felt the change would be fair to all. However, he added, the PAP will have to ensure the new system is also seen to be fair. One way, he suggested, is for PAP ministers and MPs to stop making speeches that would be seen as indirect “campaigning”.

The exceptions, he said, would be for events fixed long before the election date was announced, especially international events that cannot be postponed.

Mr Low also said PM Lee’s concerns over public disorder is an “over-imagination”, noting that assigning each party a stadium for their supporters to gather prevents such potential problems.

But Mr Ong Kian Min, PAP MP for Tampines GRC, argues that the long-running political strife in Thailand shows Singapore cannot take for granted the calm it has seen in recent elections.

Dr Gillian Koh, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, said the key factors behind the change are the growing influence of the Internet and the more intense contest for seats with the new political schemes.

She also said the change will benefit all political parties who would then “focus on presenting their closing arguments in the party’s political broadcasts on the ‘cooling-off’ day”.

However, voters interviewed do not see the need for the “cooling-off” day, saying they would have made their decision long before Polling Day.

Mr Ahmad Fadil, 30, an IT executive who voted in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC in the 2006 election, added: “I don’t think Singaporeans are that passionate about politics compared to our neighbours.

“They just want the election to end quickly, find out who won and get on with their lives.”

kianbeng@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Nur Dianah Suhaimi


A REASON IN FUTURE NOT TO ALLOW VOTING?


“If the PAP is so concerned about irrational voters, perhaps in the future, this would be a good reason not to allow Singaporeans to vote, or to tweak the voting system by allowing some men to have two or three votes, as expounded by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew previously?”

Mr Low Thia Khiang, Member of Parliament for Hougang and secretary-general of Workers’ Party

Posted in 2009 12. Comments Off on Straits Times: Opposition: PAP will have unfair edge

Channel NewsAsia: Mixed reactions to PM’s proposal of one-day cool-off before Polling Day

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.

– CNA/ir

Posted in 2009 12. Comments Off on Channel NewsAsia: Mixed reactions to PM’s proposal of one-day cool-off before Polling Day