S'poreans urged to be vigilant against foreign interference during elections

Minister in the prime minister's office Chan Chun Sing.
Minister in the prime minister's office Chan Chun Sing.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing yesterday painted a picture of innocuous foreign donations to unsuspecting Singaporeans or local groups turning out to be foreign-influence campaigns in disguise.

Though seemingly harmless at first, the donations can lead to pressure being exerted over those who received them, said Mr Chan.

He cited this scenario in Parliament yesterday as he spoke about foreign campaigns to influence local politics and elections.

Another tactic is by spreading fake news online and through social media, said Mr Chan.

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While the Government has measures to guard against such interference, Singaporeans need to play their part and be vigilant, he added.

"Politics in Singapore is meant only for Singaporeans. We chart our own course and bear responsibility for our choices," he told the House in response to a parliamentary question about the issue asked by Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC).

Mr Chan outlined the measures in place to safeguard Singapore from foreign interference in elections, adding that they are in place for the presidential election next month.

BE WATCHFUL

Each one of us must play our part by being vigilant and discerning about what we read or hear, in order to safeguard our democratic processes from being undermined by foreign influence.

MINISTER IN THE PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE CHAN CHUN SING, on the threat of fake news disrupting local election campaigns and shaping voting patterns.

First, local election laws expressly prohibit foreigners from taking part in election activities.

Second, Singapore protects government networks and IT systems, so that they are not used by others to subvert its election processes.

"If these systems are compromised, they can be exploited to leak information and propagate fake news to disrupt election campaigns and shape voting patterns," he said.

But election candidates and political parties also need to safeguard their own systems, Mr Chan added.

He advised them to approach SingCert, a division of the Cyber Security Agency, if they needed advice on their IT systems' security.

Third, the Government restricts and controls the ownership of newspapers and broadcast media, to prevent foreigners manipulating media platforms to influence local politics, said Mr Chan.

This is done through the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act and the Broadcasting Act.

The Government will introduce legislation to combat fake news, and run campaigns to encourage Singaporeans to be more discerning in what they read, he added.

Said Mr Chan: "Each one of us must play our part by being vigilant and discerning about what we read or hear, in order to safeguard our democratic processes from being undermined by foreign influence."

He declined to reveal whether there had been any incidents of foreign interference in Singapore's elections, which Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang) had asked him about, saying "the details will not be convenient for me to address publicly".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'S'poreans urged to be vigilant against foreign interference during elections'. Print Edition | Subscribe