Parliament

Bill to provide for voters, candidates affected by Covid-19

The Parliamentary Elections (Covid-19 Special Arrangements) Bill makes clear that the temporary arrangements being proposed will apply only to a parliamentary election held on or before April 14 next year, which is the deadline for the next general e
The Parliamentary Elections (Covid-19 Special Arrangements) Bill makes clear that the temporary arrangements being proposed will apply only to a parliamentary election held on or before April 14 next year, which is the deadline for the next general election.ST FILE PHOTO

Proposed changes include not penalising those under quarantine who cannot vote in GE

If the general election were to be held during the coronavirus outbreak, Singaporeans who are quarantined over Covid-19 will not get to vote.

That is because they will be deemed to have broken the law on infectious diseases if they leave the place where they are being isolated to go cast their vote.

They will not be penalised for not voting, which is compulsory, and will have their names restored to the electoral rolls unconditionally when the election is over.

This was among the proposed changes to the law in the Parliamentary Elections (Covid-19 Special Arrangements) Bill.

The Bill, meant to provide for the temporary arrangements needed to hold an election safely while Covid-19 measures are in effect, was introduced in Parliament yesterday by Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.

Since it emerged that such a Bill was in the works, speculation has been rife on whether an election is near.

Yesterday, the Elections Department (ELD) sought to dispel this idea when responding to queries on behalf of Mr Chan.

The ELD said: "This Bill forms part of ELD's contingency planning for the next general election. It is not related to the timing of the GE.

"The Prime Minister will decide when to call the election, taking into account the challenges confronting our country, including the evolving Covid-19 situation.

"The Government is fully focused on tackling Covid-19. Our immediate priorities include helping affected Singaporeans and companies, and implementing the 'circuit breaker' measures to slow down the outbreak."

Under the Bill, people on stay orders, who have to remain in their own homes or other boarding premises such as hotels, service apartments, hostels or dormitories, will be able to vote.

Those serving their stay-home notice in their own homes will be allowed to vote in their own constituencies.

 
 

If they leave their home to cast their ballot, they will not be considered to have breached their stay-home orders.

They also have to comply with the directions of the returning officer and are likely to be given specified times and venues where they can vote.

The people serving their stay-home notice in boarding premises which are not their own homes will be allowed to vote at special polling stations.

Such stations may be set up in a constituency as long as a returning officer is aware that there are two or more people serving out their stay orders there and they are eligible to vote.

These special polling stations could be set up in the boarding premises or at other suitable premises.

Under the proposed arrangements, voters under stay orders will also be required to remove their masks for the purpose of verifying their identity.

To ensure their vote is cast in the correct constituency, elections officials will call out the constituency and polling district code where the voter is registered.

Meanwhile, aspiring electoral candidates will be allowed to nominate a representative to help them file their nomination papers if they are unable or unfit to do so because of a Covid-19 quarantine order or stay order, hospitalisation or ill health.

Under current laws, candidates have to file nomination papers in person.

The Bill makes clear that the temporary arrangements being proposed will apply only to a parliamentary election held on or before April 14 next year, which is the deadline for the next general election.

Said the ELD: "The health and safety of voters, candidates and elections officials are paramount.

"ELD is reviewing our election processes and putting in place the necessary precautionary measures, in compliance with prevailing advisories from the Ministry of Health."

The Bill will be debated at the next available Parliament sitting, which is expected to take place next month.

If approved by Parliament, it will take effect before the next general election.

This means Parliament is not likely to be dissolved during the "circuit breaker" period. The latest measures - the strictest to date - took effect yesterday and will last until May 4.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2020, with the headline 'Bill to provide for voters, candidates affected by Covid-19'. Print Edition | Subscribe