Vote secrecy

Charles Chong calls out Workers' Party on issue

When the issue of voting secrecy was raised in Parliament last week, Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang said he could not remember his party ever saying the vote is not secret.

But former WP secretary-general J.B. Jeyaretnam had harped on the issue multiple times since writing a letter to then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1976 to seek confirmation that the ballot is secret, said Mr Charles Chong (Punggol East) in a post on the People's Action Party website on Sunday.

And in 1998, Mr Jeyaretnam had moved an adjournment motion where he highlighted the "fear of voting for the opposition, even to cast their vote" - a motion Mr Low supported, Mr Chong wrote.

Mr Chong said he could not help feeling a wave of "deja vu" when WP Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera called on the Government to educate new citizens that their votes were secret, during the debate on the Prime Minister's Office's budget last Thursday.

Mr Perera said he had met several new citizens who were afraid of losing their citizenship if they voted against the PAP.

"Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same," Mr Chong said.

Mr Perera responded on Sunday, saying that Mr Chong's post "seems to confuse two separate issues - whether or not our votes are secret (on which there is no dispute); and whether there is a fear among some voters that it is not, and if so how to counter that fear".

"From the article, it is not clear Mr Chong believes that no such fear exists, or such a fear exists but there is no need to counter it," Mr Perera wrote in a Facebook post.

Last week, Mr Perera was rebutted by Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who said the PAP and Government had always said the vote is secret.

Mr Chong said the exchange reminded him of the letter Mr Jeyaretnam wrote to Mr Lee in 1976. Mr Lee had replied the next day to confirm that "ballot has always been and is secret". Mr Jeyaretnam continued to press the issue, doing so again in 1979 when he called for the removal of the serial number on ballot papers.

"After 40 years, Singapore has progressed, but Mr Leon Perera is still parroting what Mr Jeyaretnam had said in 1976," Mr Chong said. "Where will we be, 40 years from now?"

Mr Perera added that Mr Chong did not explain why the Government does not expose new citizens to the concept of voting secrecy in Singapore. 

"For example, a short write-up could be inserted into the handbook for new citizens. In Parliament, I asked why this could not be done, since this is relatively easy and not costly to do," he said. 

This story has been updated to reflect Mr Leon Perera's perspective.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2017, with the headline 'Charles Chong calls out Workers' Party on issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe