Singapore tightens rules on election campaigns

Chew Hui Min

SINGAPORE (CNA) – Election candidates will have to abide by more Internet election advertising rules, such as disclosing who paid for the ads, in amendments announced by the Singapore’s Elections Department (ELD) yesterday.

These changes to the subsidiary legislation under the Parliamentary Elections Act will increase transparency and accountability on the use of paid Internet election advertising, said ELD.

Candidates must declare the types of services used for paid Internet election advertising, the publisher of the ad and the period it will appear. They also need to disclose whether money was received for it, from the candidate, his election agent, his political party or any other person.

As before, the online declaration has to be done within 12 hours after the start of the campaign period and these declarations will be put up on the ELD website for public access.

All election advertising already needs to state the name of the publisher, once the Writ of Election is issued. For paid online election ads, it must now also display the person who paid for it. This can be by using words like “sponsored by” or “paid for by” on the advertisement, said ELD.

File photo of voters at a polling station during the 2015 General Election in Singapore. PHOTO: CNA

The election expenses returns form submitted by candidates after the election will now include expenses incurred on paid Internet election advertising.

The amendments came into effect yesterday.

“By strengthening disclosure requirements behind the use of paid IEA, the amendments will enhance accountability and better safeguard the integrity of the electoral process,” ELD said.

It added: “I think we all acknowledge that COVID-19 will result in a lot more campaigning happening online, but the rules themselves were not designed because of COVID-19. This has been in the works for quite some time and is in response to some of the trends we have seen overseas since our last election.”

ELD cited the United Kingdom (UK) and Indonesian elections last year, where there was “widespread proliferation of false information on the Internet, including via the use of paid advertising on social media”.

When asked if newer social media platforms such as TikTok may pose an issue in implementing these guidelines, ELD said that it has been engaging social media platforms on election advertising.

“Many of these platforms take election advertising, election campaigning very seriously and put in place their own forms of guidelines as well as requirements in terms of exposure,” said ELD at a virtual press briefing yesterday.