The Elections Department (ELD) has made police reports against a website and two individuals for “for allegedly publishing online articles and postings on Cooling-Off Day and Polling Day of the Bukit Batok By-election.” The two individuals are Roy Ngerng and Teo Soh Lung.
The posts by Teo Soh Lung range from a prosaic summary of final rallies of both PAP and SDP to one that quite explicitly encourages people to vote for Dr Chee.
To be fair to Ms Teo, the second “offending” post is actually a repost of a “photo” that Dr Ang Yong Guan posted on his own Facebook page the day before cooling off day.
As for Roy Ngerng, his posts were quite overt in calling for people to support Dr Chee.
Be that as it may, these two are individuals. Even if they have posted things which explicitly try to drum up support for Dr Chee, did they breach the ELD regulations about cooling off day? Let’s see what the regulations say. The regulations say that the following activities are prohibited on cooling off day and polling day:
“Knowingly publishing, or knowingly causing or permitting to be published, any election advertising in or among electors in the electoral division”
Perhaps what Ms Teo and Roy posted on their personal Facebook pages and website can be considered election advertising. But wait. The ELD regulations also cites certain exceptions to the prohibitions of knowingly publishing or displaying election advertising on Cooling-off Day and Polling Day. The include:
“Reports in the newspapers, on radio and television relating to election matters;”
but more pertinently:
“The transmission of personal political views by individuals to other individuals, on a non-commercial basis, using the Internet, telephone or electronic means (emphasis mine)”
Ms Teo used to be a member of SDP. But she apparently quite “a long time ago”. Roy was never a member of SDP. Is it therefore not reasonable to conclude that both of them posted their views on cooling off day in their individual capacities? That whatever they posted were their personal political views by them as individuals? If that’s the case, then why does ELD think that the exception that they themselves specifically took pains to spell out not apply to Ms Teo and Roy?
ELD tried to explain that “Ms Teo and Mr Ngerng also regularly engage in the propagation, promotion and discussion of political issues”. So? Their own statement about cooling off day and polling day prohibitions specifically said that transmission of personal political views BY INDIVIDUALS are exceptions to the prohibitions.
So… does this mean that ELD doesn’t consider Ms Teo and Roy to be individuals? Perhaps ELD think that they are made up of some collective of nanobots that are linked together via some hive mind.
And then there is poor The Independent Singapore (TISG for short). Their offending posts one post about what DPM Tharman said in PAP’s final rally speech on the night before cooling off day, a post about what WP members had said that had a tangential (but arguably tenuous) link to the Bukit Batok by-election, and a post about Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s statement that “he has not, and will not, express any opinion publicly on the candidates or issues of the Bukit Batok by-election.”
All these posts put together things which are already floating around on the internet. Perhaps TISG’s offence was to package those material and provide commentary that could be interpreted as putting down PAP, while, in a very oblique manner, supporting SDP.
In particular, I find it incredibly baffling that ELD took issue with the post about Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s statement. It was was actually in response to a post by the Facebook group Fabrications about PAP (or FAP for short). And after TISG published that post, FAP actually responded with a post on 7 May:
7 May… hmm… that’s… polling day isn’t it? Eh… so if TISG’s posts, which basically just rehashed things which are already floating around on the internet, contravened ELD’s cooling off day and polling day prohibitions, then FAP’s post on polling day also would be in contravention of those prohibitions too, right? Then how come ELD didn’t make a police report against the people behind FAP?
FAP has about 83,000 Facebook page likes. In comparison, TISG has about 29,000. Comparatively, FAP has a far wider reach. So if TISG contravened the prohibitions, then FAP’s contravention would be even worse, right?
Come on ELD. If you want to take offence with what TISG did, then at least be consistent and make a police report against FAP too! Else it makes you look like terribly partisan! And I’m sure you are not! I’m sure that you, as part of the civil service, is beyond fear and favour! You are not some puppet of any political parties! Right?
And for future clarity, so that mere mortals like us don’t continue to get baffled, I think ELD needs to be clearer about what constitutes election advertising. And what “transmission of political views by individuals” mean. Or more specifically, when would transmission of political views by individuals NOT be considered as an exception to the cooling off day and polling day prohibitions.
Unless and until ELD clarifies, I think a lot of us mere mortals will be quite baffled.
[Featured image: photo of ELD office by Xabryna Kek]