Elections Department marks 70 years of service

Mr Puteh Mahamood, who has worked at the Elections Department since it was formed 70 years ago, beside an exhibition panel showing the department's key milestones at the Fullerton Hotel yesterday.
Mr Puteh Mahamood, who has worked at the Elections Department since it was formed 70 years ago, beside an exhibition panel showing the department's key milestones at the Fullerton Hotel yesterday.ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE
Perforators (above) and registers of elections (left) were among the artefacts on display at Fullerton Hotel.
Perforators (above) and registers of elections were among the artefacts on display at Fullerton Hotel.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Mr Puteh Mahamood, who has worked at the Elections Department since it was formed 70 years ago, beside an exhibition panel showing the department's key milestones at the Fullerton Hotel yesterday.
Perforators and registers of elections (above) were among the artefacts on display at Fullerton Hotel.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

DPM Teo lauds ELD staff for their efforts to ensure reliable, fair, trusted election system

Singapore's only national referendum was a gruelling affair that left some election officers in tears.

Polling on the terms on which Singapore would enter the Federation of Malaya started at 8am on Sept 1, 1962, and a few hundred officers started the count after 8pm.

Early next morning, just before the results were announced, Barisan Sosialis founder Lee Siew Choh demanded a recount.

This lasted till about 11am, with the election officials battling fatigue and hunger, said Mr Puteh Mahamood, who has worked at the Elections Department (ELD) since it was formed 70 years ago.

"It was one of our toughest polls. Those days, we didn't have enough people. We worked for 36 hours straight, some of us without food, counting and counting all the slips," said the 84-year-old in Malay. "Some of us counted till we cried."

Mr Puteh - who began at the ELD as a peon, or low-ranking worker, and now helps in areas such as operations and logistics - has worked behind the scenes in 69 elections and met political pioneers like David Marshall and Lim Yew Hock.

He received a special mention in Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean's speech at the ELD's 70th anniversary celebration yesterday.

Mr Puteh exemplifies the dedication and commitment of ELD staff, said Mr Teo, as he lauded the department and its officers for their efforts in ensuring a fair, reliable and trusted election system.

As custodian of the election process in Singapore, it has contributed to 70 years of free and fair elections, and upheld the integrity of the democratic process, he added.

"The processes and procedures ELD has put in place for all the elections in Singapore have not been called into question, and this reflects the strong trust of candidates, political parties, voters and Singaporeans in ELD's work," Mr Teo said at the celebration in Fullerton Hotel, a former government building that housed the ELD's first office.

Since it was set up in 1947 under the Colonial Secretary's Office, the ELD has conducted 69 elections.

Among them were the historic first legislative council election in 1948, with just 14,000 voters taking part as only British subjects could contest and vote, and the dramatic 1962 referendum, "a milestone that shaped the history of Singapore".

Of these, 48 elections - from by-elections to presidential polls - were conducted after Singapore gained independence in 1965, Mr Teo said.

At the last general election in 2015, over 2.3 million people cast their votes to elect 89 MPs, he noted. It was the first election since independence in which all constituencies were contested.

ELD, which has 28 regular staff, does not conduct elections alone.

The returning officer leads 35,000 election officials from across the public service to help conduct elections smoothly and efficiently and in accordance with Singapore laws - "truly an example of One Public Service working together", said DPM Teo, who is the minister in charge of the civil service.

In the 70 years, ELD has refreshed the election process to ensure convenience and keep up with the times. For instance, overseas voting was rolled out in the 2006 polls and now there are 10 polling stations in major global cities, including London and Tokyo.

Since the 2011 Presidential Election, candidates and counting agents have been given sample counts. These were released to the public for the first time in the 2015 General Election to give an early indication of the possible outcome and "prevent speculation and misinformation from unofficial sources", he said.

The ELD is getting ready for an ageing population, and ensuring barrier-free access to all polling station.It will also expand its e-services and website and implement e-registration at polling stations to slash waiting times. It has said e-registration will be rolled out for all constituencies by the next general election.

Mr Puteh said: "I'm happy I had the chance to be a part of so many historic events, but I'm even happier now to see everything in our election process improved and so convenient."

He added with a wry smile: "Hopefully no one cries again."

• Exhibits and videos on ELD's milestones can be viewed at its 70th anniversary page at http://www.eld.gov.sg/70th_ anniversary.html

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2017, with the headline 'Elections Department marks 70 years of service'. Print Edition | Subscribe