Presidential Election 2017

Presidential Election 2017: New rules to ensure candidates act with dignity

(From left) Presidential hopefuls Salleh Marican, Halimah Yacob and Farid Khan. PHOTOS: BERITA HARIAN, ST FILE

Campaigns for the presidential election on Sept 23 will differ from previous ones, with new rules introduced to ensure that candidates act with decorum and dignity, in keeping with the office of the president.

Televised forums are in while rallies are discouraged, for example.

Also, candidates have to make a statutory declaration that they understand the role of the president as spelt out in the Constitution.

The new rules are meant to keep out unrealistic promises and the rough and tumble of politics during the campaigning process.

The Elections Department (ELD) emphasised this in a statement yesterday, reminding candidates how they should campaign.

Said the ELD: "As the office is the highest position in the land, election campaigning should befit the dignity and role of the president."

It added that the president should remain above the political fray, and it is not his role to support or oppose the Government of the day or to advance his own agenda or policies.

The changes were made to prevent the combative, politicised campaigns that marked the 2011 presidential election. Some candidates had then made promises beyond the ambit of the presidency, in their bid to win the office.

The ELD said the campaigns should focus on the suitability and integrity of candidates to be Singapore's ceremonial head of state and custodian of its reserves.

For the first time, candidates can choose to sign a form declaring that they will campaign in a dignified and decorous manner consistent with the president's position.

The move is voluntary, but whether the candidate signs it or not will be made public with their nomination papers on Sept 13.

Voters can tune in to 17 television and radio channels to listen to candidates make their pitch for the position, four channels more than in the last election.

Each candidate will have two blocks of 10 minutes of free airtime to broadcast his/her messages, in the four official languages.

The first broadcast will be on Sept 14, and the second on Sept 21.

There will also be two 90-minute forums, conducted in English, which will be broadcast over television and radio, or streamed online.

The Straits Times will host the first forum on the morning of Sept 16. Singapore Press Holdings radio personality Arnold Gay will interview the candidates, and the public can submit questions through ST's social media platforms.

The forum will be broadcast live on ST's website, smartphone and tablet apps, as well as on Facebook and YouTube.

On Sept 19, Mediacorp will host the second forum, a townhall meeting at which audience members can ask the candidates questions.

There will be no designated rally sites for candidates in this election.

Those who want to hold a rally need to secure a site on their own, and apply to the police for a permit.

The ELD also warned that publishing exit polls or election surveys is illegal from now until Polling Day.

Those who are not citizens are banned from taking part in any election activity. As the post of president is non-partisan, political parties cannot use party names or symbols in support of any candidate.

Campaign expenses are capped at 30 cents a voter, which works out to $754,982.40 based on 2,516,608 registered voters as of Monday.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2017, with the headline Presidential Election 2017: New rules to ensure candidates act with dignity. Subscribe