这是我在获悉选举局已经向警方投诉报案有关不同的新闻网站《新加坡独立网站》（The Independent Singapore）和个别人士张素兰和鄞玉林所提出的问题（question）。
张素兰在这些帖子在网上时，她根本就没有思考过有关哪天或者哪个时候是否适合与否 的问题。因为，首先他就认为有关冷静日当天的条例并不适用于她。请大家阅读选举局网站刊载的有关豁免的说明！大家就可以理解为什么张素兰会得出这样的结 论。所以，张素兰触犯有关条例在哪儿呢？
How should one interpret the Cooling-Off Day rules?
The investigations into Singapore citizens for the alleged breach of Cooling-Off Day rules – where election advertising is banned on the eve of Polling Day as well as Polling Day itself – has prompted more questions over who can or can’t post the day before an election.
Who gets to speak on Cooling-Off Day?
That was a question I asked days after the news broke that the Elections Department had lodged police reports against alternative news website The Independent Singapore and individuals Teo Soh Lung and Roy Ngerng.
In filing the police report, the Elections Department was alleging that Teo and Ngerng had broken the law governing election advertising on the eve of the Bukit Batok by-election.
This accusation triggered some confusion: if the rules were targeted at election advertising from political parties, candidates and related organs, why were two individuals – not running the elections or campaigning for any party – being accused of breaking the law?
Section 78B of the Parliamentary Elections Act says that no person shall, on the eve of Polling Day and on Polling Day itself, “knowingly publish, or knowingly cause or permit to be published, any election advertising in or among any electors in the electoral division”.
However, subsection (2) of that section lists certain exemptions, including: “the telephonic or electronic transmission by an individual to another individual of the first-mentioned individual’s own political views, on a non-commercial basis”.
In 2012 Dr Jack Lee, an Assistant Professor of Law at the Singapore Management University, explained how subsection (2) could be interpreted:
“Unfortunately, the way the provision is drafted suggests that you are only permitted to communicate your personal political views to another individual, perhaps by e-mail or by SMS. If you use some medium such as Facebook or Twitter that allows your message to be read by third parties (including, potentially, Hougang voters), then it might be said that this is not a “transmission by an individual to another individual”.”
Yet if one looks at the Election Department’s website, the wording of the exemption with regard to individuals is different from what is stated in subsection (2):
The wording of the exemption as listed on the Elections Department website appears to invite a different interpretation. By saying “individuals to other individuals”, it seems to say that one person could transmit his or her personal political views to more than one other person, using the Internet, telephone or electronic means. Surely a Facebook post – a transmission of personal views to a number of people using the Internet – would fall under this exemption then?
So what is the law actually trying to do?
The amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Act that introduced the Cooling-Off Day regulations were first tabled in 2010. This was what the Law Minister K Shanmugam said during the second reading of the amendment bill:
“…instead of allowing only individual transmission of personal political views on the Internet (on a non-commercial basis), we have widened the exception to cover any form of telephonic or electronic transmission of personal political views by individuals to other individuals (on a non-commercial basis). This is to take into account new forms of individual personal communication.“
Looking at his speech, Shanmugam had said this to explain that the exceptions to election advertising that previously applied to Polling Day – which allowed for the “individual transmission of personal political views on the Internet, on a non-commercial basis” – had been also applied to Cooling-Off Day, and extended to allow for telephonic or electronic transmission of personal political views, to take into consideration new methods of communication, perhaps like instant messaging services such as WhatsApp.
But if that particular subsection was meant to be a widening of the exception, then why is the transmission of personal political views on the Internet no longer included in the wording of the law?
I’m no lawyer, so I’ve been trying to find an answer to this question in the hopes of gaining more clarity on the issue. It would not only shed light on the investigations into Roy Ngerng and Teo Soh Lung, but would also be vital to Singaporeans’ understanding of the Cooling-Off Day regulations in relation to the sharing of their personal political views online.
The lack of answers would also have the opposite effect – more confusion among the populace over the rules, potentially leading to unintentional breaches in the future. If the law is unclear, could we really blame people for getting it wrong?
Teo Soh Lung – herself a trained and formerly practising lawyer – believed that the Cooling-Off Day rules only applied to political parties, candidates and their campaigns, and not to individuals like herself. She therefore told the investigating officers that she had simply been exercising her constitutional right to express her opinion on politics. She hadn’t thought about the day or the time when she posted on her Facebook page, as she didn’t think the laws applied to her in the first place. Looking at the exemption as written on the Elections Department website, one can see how she could have arrived at that conclusion. Was she wrong?
I had first raised this question in my Yahoo! Singapore blog post on 29 May 2016, even before the investigations began. No one (that I saw, anyway) came up with an answer. Hoping for some explanation, I sent the following questions to the Elections Department at 5:35pm on 1 June, Wednesday:
– The wording of the exemption of individuals in the statutes is this: “the telephonic or electronic transmission by an individual to another individual of the first-mentioned individual’s own political views, on a noncommercial basis”.
However, if one looks at the ELD’s website, the wording of the exemption is different: “the transmission of personal political views by individuals to other individuals, on a non-commercial basis, using the Internet, telephone or electronic means”.
The different wording of the text could suggest different interpretations. My question is: why is the wording different? Would it not give the public a mistaken understanding of the law?
– What is the name of the Assistant Returning Officer who had lodged the police report? Why was this person not identified?
– Why was the report lodged so late, rather than closer to the time of the by-election?
– Why does the ELD believe that individuals like Roy Ngerng and Teo Soh Lung have breached the law, considering the exemption in relation to individuals?
I have not yet received a response.
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