24 hours ‘cooling-off’ period for Singapore polls
PORT OF SPAIN, Dec 1 — Singaporeans will get an extra “cooling-off” day at the next General Election, a 24-hour period during which campaigning will not be allowed so that voters can reflect calmly on their decision.
In announcing the change, which will also apply to the presidential election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the idea had been on the table for many years.
The decision to finally go ahead comes in the light of another significant set of changes to the election rules he proposed months ago.
In May, Lee announced in Parliament that Singapore’s political system would be amended to give non-People’s Action Party (PAP) members at least 18 seats, or nearly one-fifth, of the House.
This would involve changes regarding Non-Constituency MPs and Nominated MPs, plus the Group Representation Constituency and single-member ward schemes.
“The legislation is almost done now, but there has been a little bit of delay because we had one further thought, which is to extend the period between Nomination Day and Polling Day by one extra day and to use that extra day as a cooling off period before polling itself,” Lee told the Singapore media at the end of a three-day visit here to attend biennial Commonwealth meetings.
He is now in Cuba.
He expects the Bill to be ready for its first reading in January or February, with the necessary amendments to the Constitution and related legislation completed after the Budget debate, which traditionally takes place in late February and early March.
The Budget was presented in January this year in response to the global financial crisis. The idea of a “cooling-off” period before the polls is not uncommon.
Countries like Australia, Indonesia, Italy and Mexico all have some variation of this feature in their electoral systems, with anything from one to three days of campaign silence before the final vote.
Singapore currently allows campaigning to take place between Nomination Day and the day before Polling Day. On the day that votes are cast, however, all campaigning is disallowed, meaning a ban on mass rallies, door-to-door visits, and the display of party logos and symbols.
The “cooling-off” day will, in effect, be like the Polling Day, when all forms of campaigning are disallowed. The one exception will be party political broadcasts, which are televised on the eve of the polls to summarise the messages of the different political parties. This, alongside news reporting on the election, will not be affected.
The minimum period between Nomination Day and Polling Day will be extended from nine to 10 days to compensate for the extra cooling off day.
“So you have basically the campaign period the same as before, one extra day which is a quiet day, and then the polling,” Lee said.
“We think there’s merit in this idea (of a cooling-off day). After a very exciting and emotional election campaign, you really ought to have some time to calm down, reflect on the issues and the arguments, and analyse what’s at stake, logically, rationally, and then to go in to the polls to cast your vote in a calm and steady state of mind.”
Another advantage, particularly if the election has been an emotional one, is that the extra day will help lower the risk of public disorder.
The Prime Minister said he recalled past election rallies at which there was pushing and shoving as the crowds got worked up. In some cases, crowds also refused to disperse after the rallies were over.
“It is good to have 24 hours to calm down, think about it, and then tomorrow we vote,”said Lee.
But will this work as well in the era of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and other forms of online social media?
Lee acknowledged that there was a grey area with regard to the Internet, where private exchanges could quickly become public ones, and the policing of online violators could be tricky.
Nonetheless, he hoped the spirit and principle of the “cooling-off” period would be upheld by Internet users.
The websites of the political parties, however, will be bound by the new rules.
“I can’t control several million videos on YouTube. But your website, what you are putting out in your own name, I think that should end on the day before cooling-off day,” said Lee.
With all these political changes coming up, can Singaporeans expect to see some new faces in the PAP line-up soon?
Lee declined to give details, except to say: “The slate’s not complete yet but we are not at the starting point any more.”
The Prime Minister also remained coy about whether the changes meant Singapore would have a General Election next year.
When asked, he laughed and said: “Maybe… I don’t have a date for you. There will be many milestones along the way which will tell you that the date is getting closer. But even without the milestones, I can tell you the date is getting closer.” — The Straits Times
Note: Even political party websites will be bound by this ruling!