Singapore plans to impose restrictions on a liberal, popular news website in what appears to be an attempt to prevent it from becoming a political force in general elections Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong may call this year.
The Prime Minister’s Office plans to designate “The Online Citizen” as a “political association,” which means the website is barred from supporting any political party or candidate in local elections.
It will also be banned from accepting donations from abroad.
“As a website that provides coverage and analysis of political issues, TOC (The Online Citizen) has the potential to influence the opinions of their readership and shape political outcomes in Singapore,” said the Registry of Political Donations, which comes under the Prime Minister’s Office.
“It has been gazetted to ensure that it is not funded by foreign elements or sources,” the registry added.
The Online Citizen, which is run by volunteers, declined comment.
Oppositions politicians in Singapore have complained of biased coverage by the city-state’s newspapers and television.
Reporters Without Borders ranks Singapore 133rd among 175 countries in its 2009 World Press Freedom Index.
An increasing number of Singaporeans, in particular the young, have been turning to websites such as The Online Citizen and Temasek Review (www.temasekreview.com) for alternative views about developments in Singapore.
The Online Citizen, for example, has lobbied against laws that discriminate against homosexuals, taking a different stance from newspapers published by Singapore Press Holdings, which generally adopt a pro-government stance.
Singapore has gazetted several groups as political associations in the past, including the Singapore arm of a regional human rights advocacy body. The action against The Online Citizen is the first against a website.
Other restrictions The Online Citizen will face once it becomes a political association include a requirement that it list the identities of its owners, editorial team and administrators.
It must also designate a president, treasurer and secretary who will be held responsible for the preparation and accuracy of reports about donations to the site.
Prime Minister Lee told members of his ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) to prepare for elections during an annual meeting on Nov 28. Although elections need not be held before February 2012, some observers believe polls could take place as early as March this year.
Investors have been drawn to Singapore, a financial center and manufacturing hub, for its stability and the PAP, founded by Lee’s father Lee Kuan Yew, has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965.
The country’s opposition parties currently have just two of 84 seats in Parliament but may make inroads during coming polls amid a widening income gap and unhappiness over rising property prices.