Singapore — Opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) Chairman Paul Tambyah has highlighted the need for an independent election department, in response to the Elections Department’s (ELD) police report against the New Naratif socio-political website.
The ELD, which is under the Prime Minister’s Office, has accused New Naratif of breaching the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA) during the July election. The department said that five paid Facebook advertisements New Naratif put up during the election period contravened the PEA since the publication was not authorised by any candidate or election agent in the General Election to conduct election activity.
The police summoned the website’s founder and managing director, Dr Thum Ping Tjin, for investigations at Clementi Police Station on Sept 21. The interview reportedly lasted about four-and-a-half hours. After that, police officers escorted the historian to his home and seized his laptop and mobile phone.
The SDP was the first political party to express concern at the action. In a press statement on Sept 22, it said:
“The SDP is concerned about the continued harassment of activists and independent journalists in Singapore, the latest being Dr Thum Ping Tjin. As a citizen, Dr Thum was exercising his rights to comment on the political situation in Singapore.”
It added: “The Elections Department (ELD) should not operate in a partisan manner. If it wants to cite breaches of election rules, there are numerous incidents regarding the PAP that the ELD should look into.”
Sharing his party’s statement on his personal Facebook page, Dr Tambyah expressed opposition to the ELD being under the Prime Minister’s Office. He wrote: “We badly need an independent election department.”
We badly need an independent election department
The New Naratif also brought up the independence of the ELD in its initial response to the police report. In a statement on its website, it asserted that the police report against it was “a continuation of the PAP government’s attempts to intimidate independent media, and is an abuse of the PEA designed to strike fear into the hearts of the government’s critics and citizenry”.
“The PAP (People’s Action Party) lost the argument at the ballot box, and Prime Minister Lee promised humility. Instead, the Prime Minister’s Office is taking revenge against leading critics and independent media. They are repeating tired old tactics by abusing the Parliamentary Elections Act, just like after both the 2015 and 2016 elections when investigations were launched against critics.
“Singaporeans deserve better. We sent a clear message that we want a good, clean, effective government which governs on behalf of all Singaporeans, not petty thuggery and abuse of power.”