Singapore GE2020: High Court dismisses constitutional challenge against holding election now; appeal set for Tuesday

The constitutional challenge was filed by lawyer M. Ravi (right) on behalf of Daniel De Costa, both seen here outside the State Courts on Jan 20, 2020. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - The High Court on Monday (June 29) dismissed a constitutional challenge brought by lawyer M. Ravi against holding the general election at this time.

Justice Chua Lee Ming said there is no basis for the Prohibitory Order that Mr Ravi was seeking to stop the Returning Officer from holding an election now.

The judge said the function of the Returning Officer, who is a public officer appointed by the Prime Minister to oversee the election, is a "matter of duty, not discretion".

He also ordered Mr Ravi's client, Daniel De Costa, to pay $8,000 in costs to the Attorney-General.

De Costa is appealing against the outcome, with a Court of Appeal hearing set for tomorrow morning (June 30), before Nomination Day proceedings begin at 11am.

Mr Ravi filed the challenge last week on behalf of his client hours after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in a nationwide TV broadcast that he was calling a general election.

In his submissions on Monday, Mr Ravi said the key provisions under the Parliamentary Elections (Covid-19 Special Arrangements) Act, read together with campaign guidelines issued by the Elections Department, are "disproportionately unfair" to Singaporeans and opposition parties.

The Act was passed in Parliament in May. It allows for those on stay-home notices at designated facilities to vote outside their electoral divisions at special polling stations, while those on quarantine orders or stay-home notices at home will be excused from voting.

For the latter group of people, the Act states they will not be able to violate their quarantine orders claiming their right to vote as a defence, said Mr Ravi, adding that this is a "serious violation" of their rights as a Singapore citizen.

He also argued that the Act provides "wide powers" to the Returning Officer and the director of medical services to prevent a person from voting if he exhibits acute respiratory symptoms or a fever, or if he has been exposed to the risk of being infected with Covid-19.

Mr Ravi also said that while overseas voters will be able to go to one of the 10 overseas polling stations in major cities such as New York, London, and Tokyo, it would be difficult for them to travel to these areas due to various lockdown measures.

Mr Ravi, a human rights lawyer, also argued, among other things, that ELD campaign guidelines are unfair and insufficient to level the playing field between the Government and the opposition parties.

Responding for the Attorney-General, Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair said the case was "completely without legal merit" and is being pursued to make "political and scandalous attacks" in an "egregious abuse of the court's process".

He added that there is no evidence that the pandemic will abate between now and January next year, when Parliament would be automatically dissolved at the end of the Government's term.

Mr Nair also said that the plaintiff's complaints about campaigning rules are based on "outdated facts, misconceptions, speculation and outright falsehoods".

He said: "The plaintiff's attempt to derail this general election is made in contravention of the law and in ignorance of the science and the facts, and is nothing more than a naked attempt at political grandstanding." He also asked for the case to be dismissed with costs.

Correction note: This article has been edited for accuracy.

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