Singapore needs independent election agency: Watchdog

May 11, 2006
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore should free its media and create an independent election authority, a Bangkok-based watchdog recommended Thursday in a review of the city-state’s general election.

The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) was commenting on last Saturday’s general election in which the People’s Action Party (PAP) won 82 of the 84 elected seats in parliament. PAP has ruled Singapore since 1959.

More than 33 percent of all votes cast went to the opposition – up from 25 percent in 2001.

Singapore’s Elections Department, which handled preparations for the ballot, is under the office of the prime minister.

“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,” ANFREL said in a statement.

ANFREL sent seven elections experts from various Asian countries to observe the city-state’s political process from May 2-7.

Noting that the media are the primary means for many voters to obtain information about the election, ANFREL said “the media licensing regime should be liberalized, to allow the media sector to reflect the diversity of views in society.”

Opposition parties, complaining they have little access to the mainstream, pro-government media, have resorted to the Internet to publicize their views.

The Singapore Democratic Party was ordered to remove an Internet podcast during the campaign after the Elections Department said the audio file violated campaign advertising rules.

Voters cast ballots in nine single-member constituencies and 14 electoral districts known as Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs), where voters elect between three and six legislators. Some GRC representatives must be from minority ethnic groups.

“The system of Group Representation Constituency should be reformed; there are better ways of achieving the important objective of ensuring representation of minority groups than winner-take-all block voting,” said ANFREL, which has conducted election monitoring, research and training in many Asian countries.

It also said changes to electoral boundaries “need to be made considerably earlier” and the campaign period extended from nine days to give voters time to learn about their candidates.

“Ways should be found to allow the public to view all stages of the counting process,” added ANFREL, which said it visited 20 polling centres and eight counting centres.

The monitors said the peaceful election was administered in a professional and efficient manner, with polling station workers apparently well trained. ANFREL said polling and counting appeared to proceed smoothly.