The Elections Department’s (ELD) is under scrutiny after it said that it will not issue campaigning rules at this time, even as the nation prepares for a potential July election.
Heavyweight ruling party ministers have hinted that an election is around the corner and that this election will be conducted differently given the COVID-19 situation. The ELD has publicly announced COVID-safe polling and nomination processes but remains reluctant to reveal what changes there will be to campaigning rules.
During a press briefing on Monday, the ELD said the reason it cannot release campaigning guidelines at this time is because it needs to wait to find out how the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) safe distancing guidelines change around the time election is called. Asserting that it needs to abide by MOH’s COVID-19 restrictions to decide on whether it can permit activities like rallies and walkabouts, the ELD said:
“If social distancing measures allow 10 persons to congregate, then we will allow walkabouts, subject of course to safe distancing requirements. But if the guideline is such that it’s only five, then we have to decide what (this means) in terms of walkabouts.”
Giving another example at a virtual press briefing, the ELD said: “If the election is going to be held next month and the prevailing health advisory allows for (gatherings of) five persons, then I think we will not allow supporters at the nomination centre.
“But if the election is going to be held, say in April next year, and (if MOH) allows gathering of up to 250 people like before, then we will allow supporters of up to 250. It really depends on the (health situation), and by this example I hope you appreciate why it is difficult for us to share the guidelines at this point in time.”
When pressed to provide a timeline on when it will release campaigning rules, the ELD would only say, “Certainly it will not be later than the day of the Writ.”
This means resource-strapped opposition parties could have as little as five days to make firm campaigning plans since the period between the issuing of the Writ of Election and Nomination Day ranges about five days.
The delay in publishing clear campaigning rules has left opposition parties at an impasse. Members of the public responding to the ELD’s reasons for delaying the release of campaigning rules have asked why the authority can’t issue preliminary campaigning guidelines then amend the protocols as the COVID restrictions evolve.
Netizens are also questioning how the ELD can claim that it will give political parties “enough time to prepare their physical campaigning strategies” since it has no say in when the election is called. Only the Prime Minister, who is the chief of the ruling party, can decide when to call an election.
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