21 March 2006

"Of Course You Can't Vote. You're Not The Right Kind of Singaporean."

This ST Forum letter contains a rather major typo:
March 21, 2006
Physical distance should not decide right to vote

DURING his walkabout in Serangoon Gardens on Saturday, Foreign Minister George Yeo was asked about ongoing plans to let Singaporeans who are overseas vote.

He was quoted as saying that 'we must make sure that those who vote are ... familiar with the conditions in Singapore and do not, from a long distance, having lost track with what's happening here, affect the political process' as voting is 'a very serious business'. I cannot agree more.
She actually meant to say - "I cannot disagree more", as the rest of her letter shows. Funny, the things that ST sub-editors miss. Anyway, here's the rest of the letter:
According to a recent Straits Times survey, there are Singaporeans living in Singapore who have no idea which constituency they are in and who their MPs are. Are these Singaporeans any more in touch with what is happening in the country than a Singaporean living overseas, who keeps track of developments in Singapore via the Internet and other sources?

I think it is time we move away from the idea that physical distance from Singapore affects whether a Singaporean is in touch with the country or not, especially when Singapore is so wired.

Any Singaporean overseas who needs information about Singapore need only walk that short distance to the computer. Keeping in touch depends on a Singaporean's will, not his/her whereabouts.

Agnes Sng Hwee Lee (Ms)
Bucharest, Romania
Well, Agnes has made her point very clear, and Mr Wang would just like to add a little to that. The very idea that George Yeo is operating on is pretty scary. His idea is that some citizens should be allowed to vote, and some citizens should not.

Right now, in democracies around the world, the status of citizenship automatically confers the right to vote, with only one major qualification - you need to be an adult (21 years being the usual official age). One hundred years ago, another major qualification was very common - you need to be male - but that's fallen away; for it's now generally accepted that women are also worthy members of the human race.

But our BG George Yeo seems to be entertaining the idea of a new kind of qualification - you need to be familiar with the conditions in Singapore and you must not have lost track of what's happening here. The ramifications are awesome. Exercise your imagination a little - what is the meaning of "you need to be familiar with the conditions in Singapore"?

Will we see a day when lowly-educated Singaporeans are not allowed to vote, on the basis that they don't really understand what's happening in Singapore? Will there come a time when long-time residents in old folks homes are not allowed to vote, on the basis that they don't really get to see the conditions in the rest of Singapore? Can we imagine a day when any Singaporean who doesn't quite fit into mainstream society (because he's gay, a Jehovah's Witness, a Sayed Baba believer, an ex-convict, an activist, a conscientious objector, a political filmmaker, a Falungong practitioner or a political dissident) is also barred from voting?

Yeah, I'm daydreaming a little. Wandering into the realm of fiction. Just like Orwell, when he wrote his novel 1984. Still, it's interesting ... and scary ...

A Canadian citizen in prison exercising his right to vote,
in the 2004 Canadian federal elections.

36 comments:

TwoLegs said...

Perhaps there's no typo. Perhaps she had in mind the last sentence.."
voting is 'a very serious business', and she cannot agree more to that and so everyone should be allowed to vote, in Singapore or overseas.

As to dreaming, I think some members of the 'opposition' are not 'allowed' to vote. I leave that to your imagination.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Hmmm, think you're right about the typo. Ok, sorry, ST sub-editors.

Blank Doll said...

My French teacher who has lived in Singapore for 16 years loves the country. He loves the PAP and he thinks we rock for a little island. He laments that fact that he can vote in France even though he doesn't even know who the Minister of Education is but he can't vote in Singapore. It annoys him so there, people who live overseas may not even want to vote.

Or maybe they do. Information asymmetry can be quickly corrected right? People can always read up on Singapore even when they're abroad. I think the fact that an overseas Singaporean may want to vote shows that he or she still feels himself or herself to be part of Singapore and ought to be allowed to vote.

Voting is a 'serious business' and may I ask Mr. Wang why on earth do you have this obsession with scrutinizing the Straits Times?

Anonymous said...

Fact:
Student A: 4th year overseas study, government scholarship. Can vote at overseas polling station.
Student B: 4th year overseas study, parents' scholarship. Cannot vote at overseas polling station.

Huichieh said...

Right now, in democracies around the world, the status of citizenship automatically confers the right to vote, with only one major qualification - you need to be an adult (21 years being the usual official age).

I'm quite sure that this is not true, strictly speaking.

In the US convicted felons are not allowed to vote during the course of their incarceration, parole and apparently, in some states, for the rest of their lives. I don't think this is going to change in any forseeable future.

As I understand it, the UK has similar laws though the European Court of Human Rights considers it in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Not sure if they have done anything about it though.

He was quoted as saying that 'we must make sure that those who vote are ... familiar with the conditions in Singapore and do not, from a long distance, having lost track with what's happening here, affect the political process' as voting is 'a very serious business'.

There are (at least) two distinct positions that could be taken--

1. People overseas (and presumed to be unfamiliar with local situation, etc.), should not be allowed to vote, period.

2. Sure they are allowed to vote--but the government should not be expected to make it convenient for them (i.e., they still have to register and travel to the polling station at the nearest consulate, or come back, etc).

My own uneducated opinion is that 1. is not defensible, at least, not given the presentation so far. 2., however, is something else altogether. It might be defensible, but hard to say...

Mr Wang Says So said...

Funny you should mention point 2, Hui Chieh. I personally haven't looked at the detailed mechanics of how overseas Singaporeans get to vote -

but by chance I recently met an old acquaintance at a conference. She's Singaporean, currently working in Tokyo -

and she commented that the applicable rules are really stupid because she can only register once to vote as an overseas Singaporean.

In other words, suppose she registers this year, to vote in the coming elections while she's in Japan. Then suppose two years later, she leaves Tokyo to work in Hong Kong, and then the next election comes around again.

She won't be allowed to vote in Hong Kong. There is no avenue for reregistration. In other words, she either has to come back to Singapore to vote, or she has to go back to Tokyo to vote.

So it seems to me that the more well-travelled you are; the more of the rest of the world you have actually seen an experienced; the more the Singapore government wants to make it difficult for you to vote.

Anyone wants to guess why?

Mr Wang Says So said...

"may I ask Mr. Wang why on earth do you have this obsession with scrutinizing the Straits Times?"

It was (foolishly) suggested by another commentator that I love to attack journalists because I'm a bully and they are such helpless targets. That commentator conveniently chose to ignore that the fact that the "victims" (if we have to use such a nasty-sounding word) of my criticisms include a wide range of non-journalists such as

PM Lee;
URA;
HDB;
Tomorrow;
Koo Tsai Kee;
Balaji Sadasivan;
NKF;
Cowboy Caleb;
the Ministry of Health;
the Singapore Police Force;
Yong Pung How;
the Singapore Armed Forces;

just to name a few. If this blog refers frequently to journalists, it's simply because this blog is about Singapore's current affairs and that's what ST journalists write about.

Huichieh said...

So it seems to me that the more well-travelled you are; the more of the rest of the world you have actually seen an experienced; the more the Singapore government wants to make it difficult for you to vote.

Actually, it's too early to say. As far as I can tell, this round is meant to be a dry run.

From a 2004 press release (Wong Kan Seng speaking):

Overseas Singaporeans are spread out in many countries. The number is not large, compared to the total Singapore population. Based on 1997 General Elections statistics, the Elections Department estimates that in a fully contested election, about 43,000 electors, or slightly more than 2% of the electorate, are likely to be resident abroad. Our sense is that the number of overseas Singaporeans of voting age is probably higher, as some of them may not have restored their names on the register over the years, and some came home to vote. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has estimated that the current number of Singaporeans overseas is about 100,000.

The Government recognizes that more and more Singaporeans will work and study overseas, with economic globalisation. Therefore, the Government has decided to try out overseas voting in a limited way at the next general elections if all procedures can be completed on time. This will allow us to gain some experience. We can then consider doing it on a larger scale.


Ok, I'm cool with that (even though it meant that I will probably end up not getting to vote depending on when they call it).

Much less forgivable next time round.

There was a bunch of stuff on my blog back in Jan.

That reminds me--the relevant section (13A) of the Parliamentary Elections Act is actually the place to look if anyone wants to draw conclusions.

Wayne said...

I have written and thought much about overseas voting (OV) in Singapore and generally spatially across the globe. Here's my two cents worth.

With only less than 900 out of 100,000 overseas singaporeans (OS) registering to vote, it validates two conflicting theories.

1) The theory that it is too restrictive to vote (The public does not know how many potential ELIGIBLE overseas Singaporeans there are in total) and too far to vote (only Singaporeans living in some capital cities can vote) and thus OS is seen by some to be bias?

2) The theory that most OS did not bother to register to vote despite much publicity(thus precipating the latest move by the govt to reach out to OS through overseas unit) and thus not interested in Singapore's affairs very much. OV as current status quo is unlikely to be move forward UNLESS singaporeans become interested in their own country.

The debate over OV drives into this heart of these conflicting theories.

Unless we can glean more information from various sources including number of POTENTIAL eligible OS, a typical profile of the current registered OS, debates within the government about the procedures of OV, any attempts to widen and broaden OV, we are very much in the grey areas, ladies and gentlemen.

ted said...

I also suppose you can add that a percentage of the estimated 100 000 overseas Singaporeans moved away willingly from the Island nation. That is to say that they want to have nothing to do with Singapore at all, the fact that they are still registered as Singaporean voters exist because of administrative technicalities and the immigration laws of the countries they reside in.

So I can argue that no effective measures really exist to enforce this (conceivably large) percentage of Singaporeans to vote, and most of them would possibly vote the other way or spoil their votes, making the whole Overseas voting exercise a relatively costly and futile one.

Huichieh said...

Well put Wayne! (Still sorry I missed you in Chicago.)

Wayne said...

Thanks HuiChieh! Ironically, I am in Chicago now! =)

I am thinking of taking a 24 hour train ride to D.C. to vote but half of my friends think I am crazy =p

Huichieh said...

Hah! (Actually, I confused you with your brother, with whom I wasn't able to meet up when I was in Chicago in Feb for a couple of days.)

If not for the fact that I'm so totally buried by work and expect to be so for the next two months, I might consider as well. Would have made a nice holiday for the Wifey and baby...

Anonymous said...

I always thought it was just them being afraid of overseas educated singaporeans voting the other way since they have nothing to lose from doing so, and many dislike the incumbent?

After all, freebies don't affect them, goodies don't benefit them, they are obviously internationally mobile, so there is nothing in it for them to vote the incumbent. Unlike my neighbourhood uncle who may think that he depends on them winning so that he can continue living and surviving.

Anonymous said...

of course those people living overseas shouldnt get to vote. if anyone shld get to vote first, it should be me!

oh.. but wait, no one's gonna contest this particular PAP stronghold.

chrischoo said...

I understand that you can register to vote at a different overseas polling station every time the register of electors is revised. However, once you've made the choice to vote at a particular location, you're stuck to that location until the next revision. The register was updated twice since late 2004. Overseas Singaporeans are also allowed to return to Singapore to vote.

As for the typo, I'm pretty sure that it's what the writer meant. It is good practice to agree with some points first because it buffers the disagreement that comes after it, making the argument less confrontational. This is more a business letter-writing strategy.

It's particularly disappointing that so few overseas Singaporeans registered to vote though - it makes voting seem meaningless. I'm one of those registered to vote overseas but I don't expect a contest in my constituency. They ought to allow voting by SingPass in future though, since so many transactions are already done using that ID.

hugewhaleshark said...

Haha, this is the kind of political faux pas you get when you have a gahmen full of technocrats lacking in political savvy.

charles said...

To Blank Doll: "My French teacher who has lived in Singapore for 16 years loves the country.".

Your French teacher is a hypocrit (it is common among French immigrants)
He can take the Singapore citizenship anytime he wants if he likes PAP so much.
But he probably still likes the fact that should he loose his job here he can go back to France and get help from the state.
And he also probably likes the fact the he can vote in France and cannot here (I am mean, happy the few who actually get to vote here),

Goddaughter said...

The excessive trouble an overseas Singaporean has to go through to vote is daunting (I have missed the registration deadline), but arguably there is a lot of potential fraud surrounding online voting and such and honestly it may cost too many tax dollars to ensure that Mr X volunteering in a rural village in Acheh has access to a polling station and if all checks and balances could be put in place - the government may make overseas voting compulsory -aiyoh, then have to wake up early to take 3 hour train to embassy. Also, if we wait till our Singaporeans based in US vote - do we make them vote the day before or do we make them vote after us...and how long must we wait for the results compared to pre-overseas voting days...my Singapore home is very close to one of those PAP thingys, don't think my aged parents want to wake up to victory cheers at 4am. I'm very surprised a lot of politicians don't plead the troublesome excuse, but rather choose to voice versions of a nexus test (are you connected to Singapore enough, do you know how much a kopi-o costs, can you sing the latest NDP theme song...) - quite a dangerous route, quite certain to annoy Overseas Singaporeans and the Mr Wang types - better to admit we are not so ISO 2000 (whatever the accrediting standard is). Voting in the Singapore elections is an inherent right of all Singaporean 21 and above (regardless of location, although Mr Wang, got insanity exception or not?), and if you are overseas and really want to vote and somehow have no access - you can fly home and assert that right (but my advice is - wait till you know your GRC or the one-man show type thingy (SMC?) is contested first)..........

john said...

I think George Yeo meant to say that Singaporeans who has spent significant time living abroad in western countries shouldn't be allowed to vote. Most likely, these group of people, having experienced true democracy, wouldn't vote for them anwyay.

mrdarren said...

yes, the idea of denying some citizens the right to vote is dangerous to our democractic society. As far back as 40 years ago, the far-sighted Wee Chong Jin Commission recommended the government include the citizen's right to vote as a fundamental liberty in the Singapore Constitution. 40 years later, the citizen's fundamental right to vote is still not accorded protection and recognition in the Constitution!

amatu said...

Blankdoll, your french teacher just want the status quo to remain as such so he/she can still benefit untill returning to france. If he/she loves sg, then taking up PR is not a question.

Anyway, so much words and theories, so does singaporean has rights or not? why is it so difficult to be a singaporean...

Huichieh said...

Anyway, so much words and theories, so does singaporean has rights or not? why is it so difficult to be a singaporean...

http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/
Look under "PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS ACT"

The 'theories' are not about the right to vote per se, but about the new provisions for overseas voting, and why so few overseas Singaporeans bothered to register to vote.

Strictly speaking, the issue is not really about 'rights'. At the extreme, even a Singaporean who has been overseas for a long time can, as long as he/she take the trouble, apply for registration, has his/her name restored to the roll (I think it's $5 if you *don't* have a good reason why you missed the last election; no fees if you do), buy a plane ticket and return to Sg to vote. In other words, despite all the bluster, as far as I can tell, the laws have no provision to actually bar the "someone overseas who is unfamiliar with the conditions in Singapore" bogeyman from voting, if he takes the trouble to do so.

The real issue is whether the government is oblidged to make it as convenient for overseas Singaporeans to vote as it is for those in Sg, or at least more convenient than it is right now.

In other words, having the right to vote is one thing. Whether the exercise of that right should be costless is something else altogether.

Something that is worth thinking about. In Sg, voting is both a right and a *duty*, which is partly why elections day is basically a national holiday. Which also means that if the opposition chooses to contest every seat, every qualifying elector residing in Sg has very little excuse not to show up and vote. Things are actually made easy for him/her to do so.

By way of contrast, in the US, voting is a right, not a duty. No national holidays. People have to take time off from work to vote. This means that only the broadly politically concerned will vote since there is a personal cost to bothering at all, and which is also why there is so much effort on the part of both parties to "turn out the vote"--it's not just about getting people to vote GOP or DEM, but getting them to bother to vote at all!

Anonymous said...

"The real issue is whether the government is oblidged to make it as convenient for overseas Singaporeans to vote as it is for those in Sg, or at least more convenient than it is right now. - Huichieh" &
"Sure they are allowed to vote--but the government should not be expected to make it convenient for them (i.e., they still have to register and travel to the polling station at the nearest consulate, or come back, etc). - Huichieh"


The problem is that the affiliated, such as those who work for the government or have scholarship, are given the convenience while the generally public are not. "Some animals are more equal than others - George Orwell" "Some" overseas voters are made "more equal" by being given access to overseas polling station, while "others" overseas are not given the same provision.

Which leads to the next point: Amongt the 900 people registered to vote overseas, what proportion belongs to the "some" or "others" camps. Is there a bias from these overseas voters?

Is it an attempt of micromanagement, in the first place, to counter a perceived bias by making it easier for the "some" and more difficult for the "others"?

I agree with Wayne's statement:
"Unless we can glean more information from various sources including ....a typical profile of the current registered OS, we are very much in the grey areas..."

The problem is that Singapore is moving towards the grey areas outside of democracy.
This was also alluded to by Mr Wang "But our BG George Yeo seems to be entertaining the idea of a new kind of qualification - you need to be familiar with the conditions in Singapore and you must not have lost track of what's happening here."

JS TAN

lbandit said...

Some overseas Singaporeans might find it not worth the while to register to vote, if the GRC is likely to be a walkover.

Cry Freedom said...

Well, once upon a time, Lee Kuan Yew floated the idea that a married person should have more votes than the single person, as the stake is higher with a family and all that, implying that singles are irresponsible social miscreants with selfish individualistic streaks who are capable of wreaking havoc on society.

Luddite said...

Well just a few points.

I think that a lot of overseas Singaporeans tend to be from more well off families and are likely to have Singaporean addresses in constituencies that are not even going to be contested anyway. And by the way, what happens if u don't have a Singaporean address - which constituency do you belong to?

Secondly, one does wonder, if voting were not compulsory, whether one of the following two will happen.

Firstly, will enough Singaporeans bother to show up to vote to meet the minimum threshold (which will presumably be created) for the elections to be considered to be a legitimate mandate? Considering how apolitical Singaporeans are, indifference may for once work against the status quo. Docile allegiance becomes a lack of affirmative approval just like that.

Secondly, one would think that the opposition would stand a considerably better chance if voting was not compulsory. Right now, we have a case of a comparatively indifferent but acquiescent majority overwhelming a impassioned liberal dissenting minority. If voting was not compulsory, we would probably expect a significant decrease in voters among the former but more or less the same number of voters in the latter category.

Making voting compulsory is most likely in the interest of the status quo.

Huichieh said...

JS:

I agree with Wayne's statement:
"Unless we can glean more information from various sources including ....a typical profile of the current registered OS, we are very much in the grey areas..."

The problem is that Singapore is moving towards the grey areas outside of democracy.


Actually, I took Wayne's point to be that without the necessary data, all the various 'theories' of what is going on are in the grey--i.e., only so many conjectures. In other words, there just isn't enough data to conclude either that some have been unfairly treated, or not. Which also means that your above conclusion isn't supported, even though it isn't refuted either.

(Or put another way, I took Wayne's point to be precisely that we don't have the necessary data to answer your animal farm question. Which means that judgment would be premature.)

We just don't know enough at this point, not especially when WKS said as early as last year that this is a pilot, which, by definition, will be restrictive. And I would even argue that precisely because it does objectively favor some over others (e.g., it favors those who stay in DC, as opposed to Chicago), it's best to keep it as restrictive possible so that the overall results will not be skewed.

The problem is that the affiliated, such as those who work for the government or have scholarship, are given the convenience while the generally public are not. "Some animals are more equal than others - George Orwell" "Some" overseas voters are made "more equal" by being given access to overseas polling station, while "others" overseas are not given the same provision.

Let's assume for now that 13A is permanent, and not just part of the pilot. There are still two distinct issues. (a) Access to polling station. (b) Who qualifies.

I agree that the present form of (b) as specified by 13A is somewhat overally restrictive (if this is not a pilot). The impact of (a), however is different. Favoring those who live in the DC area is not the same as favoring, say, government scholars, since it is entirely possible that both scholars and non-scholars live in the DC area. While I find 13A too restrictive in terms of the qualifications of a overseas voter, I am not in principle against having polling stations only in certain places--that's just a matter of logistics. (Akin to having a polling station at my voiddeck, as opposed to having it three blocks down.)

Again, I keep stressing: it's just too early to pass judgment. Not just because of lack of data, but because it's supposed to be only a pilot.

I also agree that BG Yeo's latest seems much more stringent that anticipated, and it certainly enters more dangerous territory. But once again, I want to see how they intend to implement any policy before commenting. Might just be so much unenforcable bluster, which also means that it's not worth my trouble to get worked up over it.

Luddite:

I am also inclined to think that compulsory voting favors the status quo, but it's hard to make a firm determination. I would be hesitant to overestimate the indifference of the typical PAP-voter, though we can certainly count on an opposition supporter to be enthusiastic about voting.

By the way, part of the aim of the "turn out the vote" efforts of both the GOP and DEM in US elections is precisely to ensure that whoever gets voted (and obviously, both sides are thinking in terms of their own candidate) has a mandate.

If voting is not compulsory, part of the campaign will definitely be to get people to be enthusiastic about voting. That goes without saying.

Cry Freedom:

Far be it for me to defend LKY's suggestion (which, thankfully, was dropped), but some interesting historical tidbit. I once heard from a professor who studied in Britian that in the earlier 20th century, Oxford/Cambridge Dons actually effectively had two votes--one for themselves as citizens, and one as a Don. Apparently a hangover from medieval institutions. Not surprisingly, this was eventually scrapped.

One other probable effect of non-compulsory voting should be kept in mind. Depending on how it's set up (how convenient it is to vote), it can favor retirees, or just those who have nothing better to do, etc--since they have the time.

Again from history. One of the things that citizens of ancient Athens got to do was to serve as jury members in trials. Very much a circus thing--501 jury members for a trial (that was the number when Socrates was tried, convicted and sentenced to death). Jury members get a small pay for their 'trouble'. Turned out that the typical jury member was a non-working older person who could not be more profitably employed...

Blank Doll said...

haha, my French teacher doesn't approve of capital punishment so he refuses to take pr-ship. He was talking about we didn't give the vietnamese guy a chance even though he was so young. Strange, the French didn't give Vietnam a chance during the 19 and 20th century either.

Hmmm...is everyone here with the exception of Mr. Wang voting then?

ted said...

Waahh Bland Doll talks like he have the moral high ground...tsk tsk. WHy would the french teacher care about what happen in 19th century or the 20th century?

French Teacher =/= France

Everyone can vote but it's better that bland doll don't vote, nay, it's lucky you can't get to vote. Shoo shoo, run off to your France quickly after you finish national slavery. Don't whine when you get inside ok?

Aliaumar said...

This is my first blog entry in a Singapore Blog!

I have lost my right to vote because I am not home to vote and then the authorities just strike you off the voting list and not ever inform you properly as to how to restore that alleged compulsory right >:O

The rest of the world facilitate voting of its citizens worldwide. If Singapore is the last state of the US, I hope the US would put pressure on the PAP regime to set this in place.

The process of getting S'poreans out of the electoral roll because they have jobs abroad is undemocratic! So much for the PAP bullshit.

Check the number of Singaporeans prevented from exercising the right to vote. It can unseat a party I am sure.

Recruit Ong said...

citizenshit? the french prick should do NS first..

Huichieh said...

Aliaumar:

The form to do so is right here--
http://www.elections.gov.sg/forms/formA.pdf

A very simple one page form. The address you need to send it to is right on top. It is found on the Elections Department of Singapore Website and took me all of half a minute on google to find it.

Huichieh said...

(To continue) The relevant section of the Parliamentary Elections Act is here:

Compulsory voting
43. ...

(2) The Returning Officer shall, at the close of each election, prepare a list of the numbers, names and descriptions as stated in the register of electors of such electors as have failed to vote at the election and certify the list under his hand...

(7) Every person whose name appears on the list ... may make a written application for the restoration of his name to the register of electors.

(8) If any applicant under subsection (7) satisfies the Registration Officer that he has a good and sufficient reason for not having recorded his vote, his name shall be restored to the register without penalty.

(8A) Where the applicant does not so satisfy the Registration Officer, his name shall be restored to the register on payment of the sum of $5 to the Registration Officer...

Anonymous said...

{{{blank doll said...

My French teacher who has lived in Singapore for 16 years loves the country. He loves the PAP and he thinks we rock for a little island.}}}

I bet he wouldn't say that if he got a pink IC, had to do NS and wasn't French.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering why are there such a low number of votes, 335 from 8 major cities considering we have loads of Singaporeans in these cities.... that is until I learnt... you must fufill certain citerias.... such as a govt employee in an govt posting.... Now I KNOW why only 335 votes.......