02 September 2015

Nomination day observations

PAP supporters arriving at a nomination centre via chartered bus
Picture courtesy of The Online Citizen

Up close and personal, the proceedings of Nomination Day are no less theatrical and farcical than the edited version you watch on television: all sound and fury, with candidates and their supporters behaving as though they were at a pro-wrestling event.

Where did all these people come from?

Instead of providing a day for candidates to submit their forms to run in the general elections, Nomination Day in Singapore is for political parties to show that they’re really popular and have vociferous supporters who are willing to stand in the hot sun to shout slogans. And in some cases every year, faint in the hot sun after a few hours of shouting slogans. Is the general election a contest over how many people a party can mobilise on a working day, during working hours, and bus them to different locations on the island?

But of course the People’s Action Party will win precisely such a contest, even if the result of every Nomination Day ‘battle’ has nothing to do with the party’s performance on Polling Day. The PAP is the dominant state party in Singapore. It will always have access to more resources to mobilise more people to turn up at various locations on a working day, during working hours.

Why do some opposition parties even bother to compete in the supporters game?

Just because the PAP makes a big show of turning out its supporters every 5 years at a nomination centre, let’s make sure we too can mobilise our supporters, hire buses to ferry them to nomination centres, where they will also compete in shouting slogans for 2 hours on a hot, sunny working day.

Because clearly, doing so makes my party look as electable, effective, and credible as the PAP. Since having the more popular election rallies during Campaign Week doesn’t really lead to widespread wins on Polling Day.

Because clearly, my party should devote more resources to turning out supporters on Nomination Day than getting my candidates to fill up a form, error-free during Nomination Hour. Or devoting resources for my candidates to campaign in a ward once Campaign Week begins.

The only winning move is not to play

Treat Nomination Day as a day to hand in your duly-completed forms.

It might be far better PR for a party to turn out its supporters at the HQ or a convention centre for celebrations after office hours, after its candidates are officially approved. At least we’ll see that your supporters are ordinary people who lead ordinary lives, who turn up to celebrate and support their party on their own instead of having to be bussed there.

Someone should ask for the Singapore Elections Department to update Nomination Day rules for the 21st century. The last I checked, the UK allows candidates, their proposers, or seconders to submit their nomination papers during office hours during a week. In contrast, Singapore forces candidates to turn up with their papers, together with their retinue of proposers, seconders, and assenters during a 1 hour window on a specific day. The UK’s nomination papers include a very helpful checklist so that it’s very difficult to mis-file your candidacy. And then again, you have several working days to rectify your mistake, if you submit early. Taking the UK nomination forms as a baseline, it appears that the Singapore forms are unnecessarily complicated.

Comparing the rules and guidelines for Nomination in a General Election, I’m convinced that Singapore’s framework is less concerned about fostering a fuss-free nomination process, and more geared towards making Nomination Day a theatrical show for the PAP.

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