The Elections Department (ELD) yesterday announced several changes to election regulations, the strongest signal that a general election (GE) could be weeks away.
The changes will raise the maximum spending limit for a candidate from $3.50 to $4 for every voter, and introduce photos of candidates on ballot papers to be used at the polls.
Campaign banners can also be displayed closer to polling stations than they could before. Members of two committees that certify minority candidates contesting a GRC are from those ethnic groups, have also been appointed.
Political observers say the changes are signs of an imminent GE.
Said National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser: "The announcements deal with the nitty-gritty details of election campaigning and the ballot design."
The law imposes a ceiling on a candidate's election expenses to ensure a level playing field, and ELD said the spending ceiling was raised to account for inflation.
The spending limit was last raised from $3 to $3.50 per voter in 2011.
A total of $5.5 million was spent by all parties during the 2011 GE, up from $2.6 million in 2006, when the expense limit per voter was $3.
As for the inclusion of candidates' photos, ELD said it will make it easier for voters, especially seniors, to identify their choice of candidate.
Candidates' photos on ballot papers were first introduced at the 2011 Presidential Election, and the public gave "generally positive" feedback on this move, ELD added.
Political scientist Derek da Cunha sees it as a significant change from the ballot paper's traditional focus on parties rather than candidates.
Singapore Management University Associate Professor Eugene Tan said the move benefits candidates of any party who have consistently worked the ground and are therefore more visible and recognisable.
"It would nudge parties to walk the ground between elections and not move from constituency to constituency on a whim," the law don said. "The People's Action Party's lightning bolt symbol and the Workers' Party's hammer symbol are easily remembered. But if voters see the party symbol but do not recognise the candidate's face, there might well be an element of doubt."
The new ballot papers will also be larger to accommodate the photos.
Other changes to the format of the ballot paper include white boxes against a darkened background, and wider gaps between the boxes where voters mark their vote with an "X" to prevent them from checking multiple rows of boxes at once.
Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser said this could help prevent unintentionally spoilt votes.
The ELD also announced the maximum number of posters and banners for each candidate, or group of candidates, in an electoral division.
In a key change, candidates can also place their posters and banners beyond a 50m radius of a polling station, down from 200m. But a designated radius remains so as to minimise undue influence on voters.
"As there has been a significant increase in the number of polling stations to improve voter accessibility, the current 200m prohibition zone has resulted in limited areas for the legitimate display of posters and banners, especially in built-up residential estates," it added.
An ELD spokesman told The Straits Times the number of polling stations will go up by less than 10 per cent, from the 781 polling stations in 2011, in line with the growth of the voter population.
•Additional reporting by Walter Sim
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