One of the Elections Department’s (ELD) safe polling and nominating procedures for the coming general election may disadvantage opposition candidates, even though it is designed to protect all candidates from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a virtual press briefing that was held on Monday (8 June), the ELD announced a new rule that prohibits assentors who are unwell from entering 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.”
Election candidates must bring a proposer, seconder and four assentors, who are electors in the ward they hope to contest, to the Nomination Centre to nominate them to contest the ward. The new ELD rule means that election candidates should make sure they have back-up assentors, in case their original assentors fall sick and are not allowed to enter the Nomination Centre.
While it may be a piece of cake for ruling party politicians to rustle up a large group of assentors, it could be an uphill task for opposition candidates to gather backup assentors. Opposition politicians already struggle to find six subscribers – some electors say they are afraid of being blacklisted by the establishment if they nominate opposition candidates.
Those in the opposition camp also need to be cautious about selecting reliable assentors, since there is a risk that ruling party sympathisers may agree to be an assentor but fail to show up on nomination day, leaving the candidate unable to contest the ward.
Although well-intentioned, the new ELD rule on unwell assentors could end up making the playing field more uneven for opposition candidates.
Last month, the Government passed the COVID-19 Special Arrangements Bill in Parliament, that would allow unwell candidates to authorise a representative to file nomination papers on their behalf, among other special measures to protect voters and candidates.
The Independent has written to the ELD to ask whether the government body – which is under the Prime Minister’s Office – would allow assentors who are unwell to authorise representatives to be present for nominations or use their SingPass to nominate candidates.
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