At the Jurong Nomination Centre

Starting today, you’re likely to hear the expression “freak election result” used frequently. With all constituencies except Tanjong Pagar being contested by opposition parties, there is a mathematical possibility, even if it’s in the nano-percentage range, that the People’s Action Party (PAP) might fail to win a majority in the next parliament.

PAP candidates will try to scare voters off voting for opposition parties by raising the specter of the PAP being unable to form a government.

Don’t laugh too soon. As a friend recalled not too long ago, there are Singaporeans among us who think that if the PAP government falls, all civil servants will lose their jobs and they will not need to report for work the day after polling day. There will be people for whom beating the drum of imminent collapse will have an effect on their voting behaviour.

Of course, that’s not how things should work. As Kenneth Jeyaretnam of the Reform Party has reiterated many times, the civil service is designed to remain in place even if political officers lose their jobs after an election. Things will carry on, except that with new ministers taking over, policy directions will be reviewed. But Singapore is not going to come to a stop.

* * * * *

Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photographs inside the nomination centre at Jurong Junior College today; I would have loved to show Singaporeans how things are arranged. I was allowed in, past the airport-style security, because this time I was acting as one of five assentors for Teo Soh Lung, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) candidate for the Single-Member Constituency of Yuhua. Members of the public are not otherwise permitted entry.

With forms filled in, checked and double-checked several times before-hand, we arrived a few minutes before 11 a.m.

The school’s assembly hall was divided into four sections, to serve the single-member constituencies (SMC) of Pioneer and Yuhua and the group representation constituencies (GRC) of Jurong and West Coast.  In each section were two head tables of elections officers, in front of which were two blocks of chairs. In the Yuhua section, the all-white PAP team led by Grace Fu was already seated in one block. The SDP group took the other block.

At 11 o’clock sharp, the Returning Officer of the nomination centre announced that they were open to receive nominations and the respective candidates and their proposers stepped up to the head tables to present their forms. Within 5 – 10 minutes, the forms had been checked by the elections officers and the candidates returned to the block of seats.

Looking around me, I was glad to see that every one of the four sections (for the 2 SMCs and 2 GRCs) had an opposition team. I didn’t know it then, but this scene would be repeated in all other nomination centres across Singapore.

At about 11:45 a.m., the elections officers came by to inform us that all forms would be pinned up on a board just outside the entrance to the hall. Candidates, proposers, seconders and assentors were invited to scrutinise all the forms and if they find errors in their opponents’ forms, they should report them promptly.

It may surprise you but the SDP’s forms were the neatest. All the data had been carefully typed in and the necessary signatures placed in the respective boxes. Apparently, the rules are such that no amendments and corrections are allowed. Some of the PAP forms were handwritten (with different handwriting in different boxes, indicating that they had been filled in by different people at different times), which poses a higher risk of error.

The National Solidarity Party’s (NSP) forms for Jurong GRC, also handwritten, did indeed contain an omission — the address box had been left blank — and it looked like their opponents, the PAP team for Jurong GRC, pointed it out to election officials. Fortunately, it did not take more than a few seconds for the NSP team, led by Christopher Neo, to fill it in, but on the wall, the form looked a little messy, with differently-coloured ink.

With the neatest forms, the SDP gave an impression of careful planning, co-ordination and checking behind the scenes.

At 12 noon, nominations closed, but there would be half an hour more for objections to be raised.

Over at the Greenridge Secondary School  nomination centre catering to Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and other constituencies, a serious objection was indeed raised. The SDP team there pointed out that one of the PAP candidates, Sim Ann, had listed her occupation as “unemployed”, when strictly speaking, she had not fully served out her notice period after submitting her resignation from the civil service. Thus, technically, she was still a civil servant and should not be participating in politics.

You will hear Vincent Wijeysingha speaking about it at 1 min 49 secs in this video, recorded at Greenridge:

The Returning Officer at Greenridge overruled the SDP’s objections and accepted her nomination. I find this decision hard to understand. Most people will agree that the ordinary meaning is that if one is still receiving salary, and only clearing one’s accumulated leave, one is still in the employ of the employer.

[Update from Channel NewsAsia:  In a press statement released later, the Elections Department said the Public Service Division has confirmed that PAP candidate Sim Ann is no longer with the civil service. The Elections Department said it was not apparent from the nomination paper that Ms Sim Ann was still in the civil service. Hence, the objection was disallowed. Later at a press conference, Ms Sim Ann called their claims “utterly and completely baseless”. She told reporters she had resigned from the Public Service Division on Mar 18 and her last day of work was April 3. So, she said, she was unemployed from April 4 onwards. She added she had to pay a financial penalty for falling short of the stipulated period of notice.

Dr Balakrishnan also refused to be drawn into comments made against him following his remarks on the SDP questioning whether the SDP had a gay agenda. He said given how the SDP had addressed the issue, they would leave it at that.]

Anyway, coming back to the nomination centre where I was, 12:30 p.m. passed uneventfully and no disputes were in progress. Thereafter, there was a further wait before the candidates were called out to the balcony where the Returning Officer announced to the gathered crowd and media the names of the candidates. The latter were then permitted to make short speeches.

* * * * *

Outside, party supporters had waited patiently under the hot sun for more than two hours. Of course, the PAP supporters, all dressed in crisp white, outnumbered supporters of opposition parties by a ratio of about 30 to one. The PAP had organised coaches to transport them to the centre from assembly points all over.

Nonetheless, two SDP supporters were to have pleasant surprises during the wait. As told to me over lunch, a Chinese man in the PAP’s uniform sauntered over to talk to an SDP supporter, in the course of which the PAP supporter said, in Chinese, “I’m only here because I’ve been told to come.

“But nowadays, voting is quite a separate matter.”

As if one was not enough, another SDP supporter had a similar encounter too, in a different part of the school’s sports field where they were standing. A Malay gentleman drifted by and, pointing to the PAP logo on his shirt, said,  “This is not an indication how I’ll vote.”

2011 is the first general election since independence in 1965 when we’ve had such a high percentage of contested seats. The nearest was in 1988 (the first election in which GRCs were in place) when 5 out of 81 seats were walkovers. The excitement should be more infectious than ever before since this time, more than 94 percent of voters (total number of voters = 2,350,873 minus those in Tanjong Pagar 139,771) will have a chance to cast a ballot.

But it also means that the result will be harder than ever to predict, especially with the rise of new media. And so, we’re likely to hear “beware freak election result” again and again till we’re sick of it.

21 Responses to “At the Jurong Nomination Centre”

  1. 1 Fullofnonsence 27 April 2011 at 19:27

    This Sim Ann episode clearly shows that ANY rule can be skewed toward the MIW’s own agenda. How do we ensure our votes are not rigged?

  2. 2 lxj 27 April 2011 at 20:35

    Technically, there is no legal prohibition on civil servants running for election to parliament so the Returning Officer cannot reject Sim Ann’s nomination.

    Hovever, civil service HR rules prohibit most (but not all) civil servants from sitting in parliament. Hence, Sim Ann and Heng Swee Keat and all the others had to resign from civil service before running so as to comply with civil service rules, not with the law.

    BUT there is a very curious escape clause from this rule. If a civil servant resigns to run for election but is not returned, he can rejoin the service without any loss of salary or benefits. I don’t know if any PAP or opposition candidates have ever taken advantage of this clause, but it would be interesting to see what happens should any of the current crop of civil servants-turned PAP politicians fail to get elected.

  3. 3 Tony 27 April 2011 at 20:56

    Guess the key question would be was Sim Ann still serving her notice or was she already released from the company (practice defers from organisation to organisation)

    • 4 yawningbread 27 April 2011 at 22:11

      I’ve just added an update within the body of the article, taken from a story on Channel NewsAsia this evening, which explains that she paid a financial penalty to shorten her period of notice; so she has indeed been released .

      • 5 Robox 28 April 2011 at 08:04

        “[Sim Ann] paid a financial penalty to shorten her period of notice; so she has indeed been released.”

        But was any documentary evidence to the fact provided, examined and decided upon?

        Or are we falling back on “trust” as a substitute for a proper check and balance?

      • 6 shoutloud 28 April 2011 at 22:37

        come on Robox. You think she is going to commit that kind of perjury.

        rabid accusations at PAP is not going to help the other parties. Most Singaporeans get uncomfortable when the other parties start behaving rowdy and irrational (to them).

      • 7 Robox 29 April 2011 at 02:11


        How different would the procedures for a candidate to prove that s/he is no longer in the civil service be, if that candidate was from an opposition party, and it was the PAP that had raised the objections?

        Are you saying that we should just take Sim Ann’s and the Public Service Division’s word for it, the latter of which has always shown a pro-PAP bias? Or haven’t you not noticed that bias in the past?

  4. 8 Nabil Syafiq 27 April 2011 at 21:03

    Not surprised when the objection was overruled. Obviously election departments are in PAP’s favour!

  5. 9 MN 27 April 2011 at 21:43

    Gosh! Vivian’s Tamil leaves much to be desired…can’t figure out what was said between Vanakam and Vanakam

  6. 11 Excited 27 April 2011 at 21:45

    Today is just the first day of the rally. It is not surprising to see main stream media starting to give PAP candidates and their speeches a lot of air time. The politics observer also gave her very caustious take so as not to discredit the ruling party candidates. It is going to be a very selective and well plotted news so that people only hear the good stuffs of PAP.

    Unfortunately, opposition parties may have to rely on new media to help them push votes.

    This two weeks is Singaporeans most precious moment to decide if they want to have a FIRST CLASS PARLIAMENT. Pro PAP supporters must decide, after listening to all PAP rhetorics, if they want Singapore parliament to continue to be so quiet and predictable when voicing out their concerned. I believe Singapopreans have enough resources and intellect to think outside the threat of freak result constantly chanted by PAP. Such chant is already a threat in itself.

  7. 12 FreedomOfspeech 27 April 2011 at 22:15

    Yellow will be my colour of the month

  8. 13 VerySmart 27 April 2011 at 22:27

    “The Elections Department said it was not apparent from the nomination paper that Ms Sim Ann was still in the civil service.”

    What kind of nonsense is this ? Isn’t the Elections department suppose to take action and investigate as this can be alluded to deceive the electorate rather than dismiss as it is “not apparent”. You mean someone can actually put false information in electorate paper and get again with it because electorate did not detect it ? And now that electorate detect it, it just dismiss it ?

    You mean that if someone commit a crime, and when police fail to recognize the culprit at first and let him get away since it is not apparent, can the police just forget about arresting the culprit since it is “not apparent” at first ?

  9. 14 Alan Wong 27 April 2011 at 22:43

    It’s already a good start to begin with. At the very least the majority of us are now given a choice, a choice to vote for the better.

    Whatever the outcome, it takes a lot of guts and sacrifice for each of the opposition candidates in the first place to offer themselves for nomination. In return we should give all of them our fullest support.

  10. 15 LTK's The Man 27 April 2011 at 22:47

    “Unfortunately, opposition parties may have to rely on new media to help them push votes. ”

    So you say “Excited”.

    However, new media’s reach can only get so far; in fact, not far at all. Let’s be clear: Singapore continues to be populated mainly by idiots with peasant thinking. Literally! They get all their info from MediaCorp telly and SPH controlled newspapers. These state instruments do not encourage independent thought and will feed the masses a load of codswallop, which the latter, devoid of any critical thinking faculties, swallows without too much difficulty.

    Mind you, a majority of this pro-establishment voting block are the very same people who moan what a terrible deal (little medical help, no social net, long working hours for little pay and next-to-nothing benefits,etc.) they’re getting from the governement. Yet the end up voting for you-know-who time and again.

    The country is getting unhappier; primarily as a result of government-enacted policies, and yet we face the spectre of an utter PAP whitewash come 7 May.

    Singaporeans truly deserve this governement (these sycophantic incumbents) of theirs.

  11. 16 prettyplace 27 April 2011 at 22:52

    As I expected, Vivian wants the matter to rest.
    I find lxj’s comment very interesting.
    Vivian should just stick to his English, then slaugetering the tamil language, just for the sake of saying something. I hope he does not try it again.

    I was at Admiralty Sec today, rows & rows of PAP supporters in busloads. None had the passion and saw many a familiar face.
    I can’t imagine how they managed to leave their day jobs and pop up, simply like that. Perhaps, not knowing why they were there, some, simply fainted.( yes, they did)
    The call for Singapore, Singapore by the WP & SDP, was never reciprocated by the PAP supporters, which sadden me the most.

    It was nice to see the dedicated SDP Team behind their candidates. The well planned WP with their bollies, willingly eager to co-ordinate with the SDP team to cheer and jeer the opponents.

    I wanted to walk with the Reform Party, because I knew the old man and yet Gomez’s pull was too great to resist, especially in my own backyard.

    It was nice to meet Ravi in person, what came across to me was that, somehow deep inside him, he felt an injustice done by him,for the uneventful episode. I hope someone tells him, that it was never a fault in the first place.

    Well, it’s time to be a spartan.

  12. 17 PAP freaked 28 April 2011 at 00:27

    A party that always cry freak is a freaked party. They like to throw questoin at the voters instead of questioning themselves why this has to be a watershed election and what went wrong with their past policies that voters have been grumbling about. Instead of tackling genuine questions head-on, they threatened the people!

    On the other hand, the japan opposition that formed a new governtment did not create a freak event, neither the nature of disaster that tore japan apart via earthearth, Tsunami and radiation leak made the people any less united.

    Goh Chok Tong once said, we should learn from Japan when unexpected event happened, they stay cool and calm.
    So PAP have forgotten its own message and start freaking already?

    If opposition wins, will we face a tsunami, earthquake or radiation leak, will the sky suddenly collapse and our land sink 10 meter under water by the defintion of freak event. Even a heavy flood to PAP is considered a freaked event that happened once in 50 years.

    However, PAP will not freak when they paid themselves huge bonuses and obscene pay packages while Singaporeans are still struggling to make ends meet. That is truly a freak event for an ordinary joe like me.

  13. 18 ThePasserby 28 April 2011 at 00:53

    On the subject of Nomination Day controversies, a certain Uncle Yap, who apparently has had a run-in with the law over speaking without a permit with the SDP, is claiming that the officers in the Nomination Centre for Tanjong Pagar GRC (among others) delayed the processing of the opposition candidates’ papers.

    He said, somewhat incoherently in a video posted on youtube and on his own site, that the leader of the opposition team, Mr Ng Teck Siong, had already submitted his papers at the Nominations table while the other four in his team were still at the Commissioner of Oaths’ table. Mr Ng was then called away from the Nominations table back to the Commissioner of Oaths’ table, which was 15 to 20 metres away. And then before he knew it, it was declared that nomination has ended.

    I’m not sure how much truth there is behind his account, but as a resident in Tanjong Pagar GRC, I’m disappointed that I won’t get to vote, unlike other Singaporeans in other constituencies. And all because of a technicality.

  14. 19 Jameslye 28 April 2011 at 01:26

    “A Malay gentleman drifted by and, pointing to the PAP logo on his shirt, said, “This is not an indication how I’ll vote.”

    Interesting, had the same experience from what i heard from a coworker… Basically they may turn up to “support” the incumbent but their vote might not be going that way.

    I was really surprised. I got the impression these are real grassroot level people, not the ones who are dreaming of making the jump to MP.

  15. 20 Nabil Syafiq 28 April 2011 at 10:56

    I’m a member of a team of bikers, and my team was invited to rally alongside the PAP members. They sponsor us the white uniforms. This Saturday i will be attending the rally bearing the PAP logo, but honestly my heart’s interests is with the opposition, sad but true 😦

  16. 21 evariste 28 April 2011 at 17:14

    I can empathise with them. They want to do good, engage with the community — of course they take the chance. Community work is separate from voting.

    In my school (founded by Mr. Jefferson), I constantly grudge privately against certain student cultural orgs for being conservative, too slow to change, and inhibiting multiculturalism (ostensibly one of their aims), but this does not stop me from joining their committees and campaigning for some of their events because I do want to help make useful change in some way. But this doesn’t mean I will be a yes-man.

    It opened my eyes too. What I thought to be powerful people at the top and responsible for the org’s stagnation, were actually devoted people who too had to fight against inertia. The failures of the group and the individual are different.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: