The Elections Department (ELD) appears to be resolute on not changing rules for the impending General Election to accommodate assentors who turn out to be unwell at the time of elections.
The authority, which is under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office, released an advisory on COVID-safe polling and nominating measures on Monday (8 June). One of the rules for candidates is to ensure that they replace assentors who are unwell since they will not be allowed to enter the nomination centre.
The ELD said: “Subscribers (i.e. seconder, proposer, assentors) who are unwell will not be allowed to enter the Nomination Centre. Candidates should replace subscribers who are unwell.”
Though well-intentioned, this rule could end up making the playing field more uneven for opposition candidates, since they would now need to ensure they have back-up assentors, in case their original assentors fall sick and are not allowed to enter the Nomination Centre.
Opposition candidates already face difficulties in securing six assentors for nominations – some electors say they are afraid of being blacklisted by the establishment if they nominate opposition candidates. There is also the risk that ruling party sympathisers could agree to be an assentor for an opposition candidate only to abruptly back out on Nomination Day and leave the candidate unable to contest.
The Independent asked the ELD whether it would consider allowing assentors who are unwell to authorise representatives to be present for nominations or use their SingPass to nominate candidates, so that candidates can focus on campaigning instead of finding back-up assentors.
Responding to The Independent, the ELD would only say that our query was addressed in Trade and Industry Minister’s Second Reading Speech during the debate on the Parliamentary Elections (COVID-19 Special Arrangements) Bill, in Parliament. It made no other comment.
In the Second Reading Speech, Mr Chan asserted that the COVID-19 Special Arrangements bill “does not allow for alternative representation for subscribers i.e. proposers, seconders and assentors.”
He added: “As subscribers can be anyone whose name is in the relevant register of electors, aspiring candidates should find a replacement if any of their subscribers is subject to movement control orders like QO [Quarantine Order], SHN [Stay Home Notice] or MC for ARI [Acute Respiratory Infection], or is having a fever or showing ARI symptoms on the day of nomination.”
The ELD’s referral to Minister Chan’s earlier remarks suggest that it has no intention to amend the rules to accommodate assentors who find themselves unwell on Nomination Day.
If candidates are unable to find backup assentors and one or more of their assentors are barred from entering the nomination centre on Nomination Day, they may be ineligible to contest the election.
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