Why is Election Department silent on pro-PAP Facebook page’s post on Polling Day?

eldUnder the Parliamentary Elections Act (PEA), “election advertising” is prohibited on Cooling-off Day and Polling Day.

That much is clear.

What is not so clear is what constitutes “election advertising”.

This was a question raised in Parliament in April 2010, when the Amendment Bill was being debated.

People’s Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament (MP), Ellen Lee, and then Nominated MP, Viswa Sadasivan, had both asked the Law Minister, K Shanmugam, to explain the phrase.

Ms Lee’s question is particularly relevant to the issue being raised in this article.

“The Bill does not clarify exactly what constitutes election advertising and I submit that some clarity on this will be useful,” she told the House. “For example, is expressing one’s opinion(s) on local current affairs be deemed elections advertising and thus prohibited?  How about reader’s comments on blogs and posts on online forums including “status updates”, comments on “Wall” and “photos” on Facebook?”

Do note the mention of “photos” on Facebook as this will be relevant later in this article.

The Law Minister’s response is important.

In a nutshell, Mr Shanmugam said “each case would have to turn on its own facts.”

However, the minister also said “the definition of election advertising is clear.”

And he explained it thus:

“If the material can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success for any party or candidate, or to enhance their standing with the electorate, then it is likely to be considered election advertising.”

Remember that the minister was referring to election advertising on Cooling-off Day AND Polling Day.

Now, we come to the crux of this article – a posting made on the Fabrications About The PAP (FAP) Facebook page on Polling Day.

For those who are unaware, the FAP page is helmed by a pro-PAP supporter, believed to be one Jason Chua.

The page regularly attacks opposition and civil society activists, along with critics of the government.

It “regularly engage[s] in the propagation, promotion and discussion of political issues”, to use the phrase the Election Department and the Police have used to described Ms Teo Soh Lung and Mr Roy Ngerng, both of whom are being investigated for postings on their Facebook pages on Cooling-off Day.

Here is the post by the FAP on its Facebook page on Polling Day:

FAP

Do note the time-stamp on the post – “7 May”, Polling Day.

The post is still published on the page as of 11am, 6 June – a month after the by-election in Bukit Batok.

In the post, as you can see, it published a photo with a quote from former PAP MP and presidential candidate, Tan Cheng Bock.

The quote is apparently from an earlier remark made by Dr Tan about Dr Chee Soon Juan, the candidate from the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) in the Bukit Batok by-election.

Dr Chee was challenging the PAP’s candidate Mr Murali Pillai for the single-member constituency parliamentary seat.

The quote on the FAP page:

“I came out feeling sad and disappointed that a person like CHee, with a doctorate, could act and behave in such a manner unbecoming of a man of his standing… there were attempts after attempts to show data, figures and charts that were obviously incorrect… it is clearly a question of what must be done to a group of people who swear to tell the truth in Parliament but clearly did not.” Dr Tan Cheng Bock.

Let’s look once again at the definition of “election advertising” as explained in the words of Law Minister K Shanmugam in Parliament:

“If the material can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success for any party or candidate, or to enhance their standing with the electorate, then it is likely to be considered election advertising.”

Would the FAP post be considered “election advertising” as described by the Law Minister?

One would think so for the following reasons:

  1. The post, which was critical of the SDP candidate, was made on Polling Day itself.
  2. The post casts negative light on Dr Chee, thus potentially enhancing his opponent’s standing with the electorate.
  3. The post was made on a pro-PAP page, whose postings are at times shared by PAP MPs and ministers, thus lending the page and its content certain weight or measure of credibility with the public.
  4. The use of a quote by someone such as Dr Tan, whom many regard favourably, is clearly intended to lend weight to discrediting the SDP candidate on Polling Day itself.
  5. The post had a photo of Dr Tan above, with a picture of Dr Chee below. One suspects it is done for maximum visual effect, with the intention of discrediting Dr Chee on Polling Day.

The FAP page further added comments that Dr CHee Soon Juan was fined “$25,000 for his contempt of Parliament when Chee fabricated statistics to lie to parliament [sic].”

This, posted on Polling Day, is clearly another instance of trying to discredit Dr Chee and thus lowering his electoral chances.

In order to see if such a post, if it came from non-pro PAP websites, would be frowned on by the Elections Department, let us look at the police complaints filed by the Elections Department against The Independent website.

The Elections Department highlighted two articles which it found had potentially infringed Cooling-off Day rules.

Of particular relevance to our discussion here is the one titled: “Workers Party and the Bukit Batok By-election: What WP Members Said”.

The Independent, in its own statement released after the police started investigation into its actions, said it “published the two articles as we did not believe they contained any new material that is not already in the public domain.”

Indeed, the article was a regurgitation of what WP members had already said earlier during the election itself, before Cooling-off Day.

The “article” was just a simple publication of quotes by WP members.

Yet, a simple re-post of it is deemed to have contravened the rules.

Here is that post, as captured by Google cache, the original having been removed by TISG:

tisgscreen

 

In the same way, is not the FAP’s Facebook post – which is similarly a re-post of what Dr Tan had said years ago about Dr Chee – a contravention of the rules as well?

How is it that one is considered “election advertising” while the other is not, when both seem to be similar?

In fact, given the political bias of the FAP site, which its owner once said was set up to debunk “fabrications about the PAP”, wouldn’t it be more probable that it is the FAP which has a vested interest in putting down the PAP’s opponents during the by-election, and thus gain advantage for the PAP?

And given Mr Shanmugma’s explanation of what would constitute “election advertising”, doesn’t the post by FAP fall squarely within such a definition?

“If the material can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success for any party or candidate, or to enhance their standing with the electorate, then it is likely to be considered election advertising.”

One would submit that the post by FAP was made to discredit Dr Chee – using the political credibility of Dr Tan – and to gain political advantage for the PAP candidate on Polling Day itself.

And thus, the question is raised: Why is the Elections Department not taking the FAP page owners to task, in the same way it has taken TISG to task by making a police report against the latter?

Should not the Elections Department, at the very least, lodge a police report against FAP so the police can conduct a thorough investigation into the FAP’s post?

Otherwise, the Elections Department should explain why it is seemingly taking a biased and discriminatory stance against some as compared to others.

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