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ANFREL Study Mission to Singapore during the 2006 General Elections:
Initial Findings and Recommendations
The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) organized a study mission to Singapore on the occasion of the 2006 General Elections. The purpose of the mission, ANFREL’s first activity focused on Singapore, was to deepen understanding of the country’s election system and engage in dialogue with relevant Singaporean stakeholders.
The mission consisted of 7 elections experts from civil society organizations in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Thailand. The team visited Singapore from 2-7 May, meeting with Singaporeans of all major political affiliations, including candidates and party workers, academics, media, and citizens. Seven rallies by all 4 parties were also attended, as well as other campaign activities. On Polling Day we also visited 20 polling centers in 8 contested constituencies, as well as 7 counting centers.
We found that there is much to be learned from Singapore’s experience, and it certainly deserves further study. As in any country, there are both positive elements that other countries could profitably emulate, as well as negative elements which perhaps ought to be reformed. We feel that the experience of other democratizing countries, especially in Asia, would be relevant in both regards.
In terms of positive elements, ANFREL appreciates first and foremost that the atmosphere of the election was extremely peaceful, for which credit is due to Singaporean voters and all contesting political parties. Second, we were pleased to note administration of the election was efficient and professional. The polling and counting processes appeared to be very smooth, and polling station workers appeared to be well trained and prepared. Likewise, the regulation of campaign activities was generally strict and effective, for example the performance of the police in regulating rallies.
Third, the level of discourse in the campaign was relatively high. In their rally speeches, newsletters and other campaign materials, candidates of all parties presented many policies, including a significant number of specific proposals and pledges. In this they were presumably responding to the sophistication of Singaporean voters as a whole.
ANFREL welcomes the fact that a record 18 women will be joining the new Parliament, and look forward to women playing a fuller role in Singapore’s political life. Finally, the introduction of overseas voting is a positive development, enabling more citizens to exercise their right to vote.
Although this was a necessarily brief introduction to Singapore’s system, ANFREL also would like to put forward the following recommendations for reforms that we feel merit consideration before the next General Elections are held:
Most importantly, a structurally independent election authority should be established to conduct all electoral work and processes; such a crucial institution must not only be neutral, but be seen to be so by all voters.
The campaign period should be more than 9 days long; in order to allow voters to have adequate time to learn about all the candidates and to make the most informed choice possible.
The system of Group Representation Constituency (GRC) should be reformed; there are better ways of achieving the important objective of ensuring representation of minority groups than winner-take-all block voting.
Changes to electoral boundaries, particularly changes to the type of constituency, need to be made considerably earlier, in order to allow all voters and potential contesting parties or candidates to know their changed constituencies.
For equal opportunity, the government should institute some form of public funding for political campaigns. The rules on campaign expenditures should be complemented by equally strict rules on use of state facilities and resources.
As party agents are currently the only form of oversight over much of the polling and counting processes, the Election Department should proactively facilitate contesting parties to register adequate numbers of them; parties likewise need to redouble their efforts to recruit suitable individuals for the task.
To strengthen transparency, provision should be made for independent non-governmental organizations to be allowed to monitor all stages of the election process; in addition, international observers should be welcomed, so that Singapore’s experience can be better understood by the rest of the world.
Ways should be found to allow the public to view all stages of the counting process.
Since the media are the primary means for many voters to gain information about the election, the media licensing regime should be liberalized, to allow the media sector to reflect the diversity of views in society.
Democracy and human rights are universal principles that are interdependent and indivisible. Based on this perspective, the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) has been observing elections, conducting research, and carrying out trainings in many Asian countries. ANFREL stands ready to work together with Singaporeans to fulfill the above goals.
For further information, please contact: Ms. Somsri Hananuntasuk, ANFREL Coordinator, at 00661 8105306 or visit http://www.anfrel.org, which also contains reports on various other ANFREL work in Asian countries.