Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing introduced a new Bill in Parliament on Apr. 7 that lays out guidelines and special provisions to safely hold a general election (GE), even during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Titled the "Parliamentary Elections (Covid-19) Special Arrangements Bill", it is expected to be debated in Parliament during the next Parliament sitting.
While Chan revealed a few details, the full text of the Bill is now available for viewing on the Parliament website.
The changes as laid out in this Bill may see the next GE held in conditions unlike any before it.
Here, we sum up the key points to note for the bill:
Clause 2 - Temporary arrangements
According to Clause 2, the Bill only refers to elections that take place held on or before Apr. 14, 2021.
This is because the Bill provides temporary arrangements, and is not intended to affect all future GE.
The next GE must be held by Apr. 21, 2021.
Clause 3 - No penalty for voters who are isolated and do not vote
This clause excuses voters who may be required to remain in isolation at one place, or may be prohibited from leaving that place due to a Quarantine Order, or a stay order, from voting at an election.
The Bill would treat such voters as having "good and sufficient reason" for not voting.
This means that such voters are entitled to have their name restored to the register of electors without penalty after the election.
This is so such voters do not contravene their orders and leave their dwelling by citing the need to vote.
However, Clause 3(4) also states that such a voter may leave to vote, as long as he or she is following directions given by the Returning Officer.
According to the Elections Department of Singapore (ELD), a fee of $50 will be imposed if a non-voter does not have a valid and sufficient reason for not voting.
Clause 4 - Vote outside of electoral division
But this does not mean that voters under quarantine cannot vote at all.
Clause 4 overrides the section of the Parliamentary Elections Act that states voters can only vote within the electoral division where they are registered.
This is so that voters subject to stay orders can vote at special polling stations assigned to them instead.
The clause also allows an exception for voters to remove their surgical masks for the purposes of identification.
Presiding officers have the power to limit the number of voters at any polling station at any one time, which should allow them to observe safe distancing rules.
Clause 5 - Special polling stations
This allows Returning Officers to set up the aforementioned special polling stations. According to the Bill:
"Special polling stations may be in the boarding premises that the electors are required not to leave while subject to the Covid-19 stay orders, or in some other suitable premises in Singapore.
Polling at these special polling stations will be akin to that at overseas polling stations."
In other words, a group of voters registered in a bunch of different electoral divisions may vote at the same station.
Clause 6 - Calling out electoral divisions
This clause mandates that a poll and voting done by voters subject to stay orders must be done according to normal procedures, with a number of exceptions.
The hours of special polling stations must be no less than four hours, and it cannot remain open after the poll closes.
The maximum number of polling agents in the special polling station is the same as it is for overseas polling stations, which is one polling agent for each political party, independent candidate, or group of independent candidates contesting the election.
Since special polling stations may cater to a group of voters from different electoral divisions, the presiding officer must call out both the electoral division and polling district code of the voter, before issuing the ballot paper.
In the case of counting the votes, if no ballot boxes are provided for the votes in different electoral divisions in special polling stations, the Returning Officer must sort the ballot papers according to the different divisions, before counting them.
This can also be done by a person authorised by the Returning Officer.
Clause 6 also allows "the Minister" to make regulations to safeguard the general public and the election officials against risk of Covid-19 infection.
For example, he or she may allow a voter to mark and cast their ballot secretly, and then transport that ballot securely to the Returning Officer, without the voter having to leave the place where they are quarantined.
All such regulations must be consistent with the principles of the Parliamentary Elections Act, such as voting in secret and one-man-one-vote.
Clause 7 - Arranging transport by motor vehicle
Under the Section 71 (1) and (4) of the Parliamentary Elections Act, one cannot use a motor vehicle to transport voters to and from the polls, or park them within 100 metres of a polling station between 8 am and 8 pm on polling day
However Clause 7 makes an exception, as the Returning Officer may have to arrange for vehicle transport to take voters to a special polling station to cast their vote.
Clause 8 - Dissuading voters in the name of public health
Under Section 81(1) the Parliamentary Elections Act, no one can dissuade a voter from voting, from Nomination Day to Polling Day.
But Clause 8 makes an exception for the Returning Officer and the Director of Medical Services to authorise actions persuading voters not to vote, if they happen to be displaying acute respiratory symptoms, are feverish, or may have been infected by Covid-19.
Clause 9 - Nominees don't have to turn up in person
This clause allows nominees who are subject to stay orders, quarantine orders or in ill health (and with a valid MC) to still be nominated as a candidate, even if they are not able to turn up in person for the nomination proceedings.
The nomination papers and other documents may be delivered by a representative of the nominee who meets the qualifying criteria.
This clause simply states that the section in the Parliamentary Elections Act that deals with postponing and adjourning elections (Section 56A to 56F) are not overwritten by the specific powers afforded in this Bill.
Top image by Zeitgeist Photos by Lim Weixiang.