Right to vote in Singapore law

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The right to vote in Singapore is not explicitly stated in Singapore's Constitution, but the Government has expressed the view that it may be inferred from the fact that Singapore is a representative democracy and from specific constitutional provisions, including Articles 65 and 66 which set out requirements for the prorogation and dissolution of Parliament and the holding of general elections. Speaking on the matter in Parliament in 2009, the Minister for Law, K. Shanmugam, said that the right to vote could not be a mere privilege as this would imply the existence of an institution superior to the body of citizens that is empowered to grant such a privilege, but that no such institution exists in a free country. In 1966 a Constitutional Commission chaired by Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin advocated entrenching the right to vote within the Constitution, but this was not taken up by the Parliament of the day. When this proposal was repeated during the 2009 parliamentary debate, the Government took the view that such entrenchment was unnecessary.

In Taw Cheng Kong v. Public Prosecutor (1998), the High Court suggested on an obiter basis that voting is a privilege rather than a right. It has been suggested by law academic Thio Li-ann that, if called upon to decide the issue, the court might infer the existence of the right to vote in the Constitution from its text and structure, and from the fact that it is an adaptation of the Westminster system of democracy. If the right to vote were to be found to be implicit in the Constitution, the judiciary would be better able to protect the right when issues arise before the courts.

The Parliamentary Elections Act and Presidential Elections Act regulate the exercise of the vote and set out the procedures for parliamentary and presidential elections in Singapore. These are ordinary statutes which can be changed by a simple majority in Parliament. All Singapore citizens not less than 21 years old on the cut-off date for the registration of electors (1 January of a particular year), and ordinarily resident in the country, are entitled to vote in both parliamentary and presidential elections. A one person, one vote system is currently in operation, though in 1994 Senior Minister and former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew suggested that people aged between 35 and 60 who were married with children should be given two votes each due to their greater responsibilities and contributions to society. Overseas voting was introduced in 2001, and first carried out during the 2006 general election.

A person is disqualified from voting in certain circumstances, which include engaging in acts incompatible with being a Singapore citizen, being of unsound mind, or being in prison for committing a criminal offence. The constitutionality of the statutory provisions denying prisoners the right to vote has not yet become an issue in Singapore, though it has been controversial in some foreign jurisdictions.

Introduction[edit]

A c. 1876 portrait of Thomas Paine (1737–1809) by Auguste Millière, based on an earlier work by George Romney. Paine, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, called the right to vote one of an individual's personal rights, which are "a species of property of the most sacred kind".

The right to vote forms the foundation of representative democracy, that is, democracy based on the principle of citizens electing a group of people to represent their interests. The various models of government that fall under the general term "representative democracy", namely, the protective, participatory and elite models, are all based upon the underlying principle of equality of rights, including the right to vote.[1]

"Popular government" was referred to by John Stuart Mill as "where the supreme controlling power ... is vested in the entire aggregate of the community",[2] while Edmund Burke argued that it has the desirable consequence of establishing a government that has a unified public interest, with its citizens absent of personal prejudices except for that of the public good.[3] The right to vote then provides the means for individuals to voice their support of or opposition to government. Their aggregated choices enable the will of the people to control the extent of power and perpetuity of governments, thus protecting society's rights and interests.[4]

Thomas Paine, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, said that the right to vote is critical in the protection of individual freedoms. He called it one of an individual's personal rights, which are "a species of property of the most sacred kind", and expressed the view that "[t]o take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, ... subject to the will of another ... [T]o disfranchise any class of men is as criminal as the proposal to take away property".[5] Paine's view was that there is no justification for one part of a community to deny another its right to vote on any basis, whether class, race, religion or political creed. His view survives in various international instruments such as Article 21(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[6]

In the United States Supreme Court case Reynolds v. Sims (1964),[7] Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:[8]

The right to vote freely for the candidate of one's choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government. ... Undoubtedly, the right of suffrage is a fundamental matter in a free and democratic society. ... As long as ours is a representative form of government, and our legislatures are those instruments of government elected directly by and directly representative of the people, the right to elect legislators in a free and unimpaired fashion is a bedrock of our political system.

The term representative democracy does not appear in the Constitution of Singapore.[9] However, an analogy may be drawn from the approach taken by the High Court of Australia to the Australian Constitution. In Lange v. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (1997),[10] the Court inferred that the Constitution embodies a system of representative and responsible government from various provisions, including those requiring periodic elections to choose the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives.[11] Similarly, the Singapore Constitution prescribes that Parliament may be dissolved by the Prime Minister under certain conditions,[12] and will be automatically dissolved by operation of law five years from its first sitting.[13] A general election must be held within three months after each dissolution of Parliament.[14] The Constitution also states that "[t]he President shall be elected by the citizens of Singapore in accordance with any law made by the Legislature",[15] and requires a poll for the election to be held not more than three months before the incumbent's term of office expires, or, if the office is vacated before the expiry date, within six months of the date when it becomes vacant.[16] In addition, in the Proclamation of Singapore contained in the Independence of Singapore Agreement,[17] which was entered into by the Governments of Malaysia and Singapore to effect Singapore's separation from Malaysia, the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew proclaimed on behalf of the people and the Government that as from 9 August 1965 "Singapore shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent nation ...".

Status of the right[edit]

Judicial view[edit]

In Taw Cheng Kong v. Public Prosecutor (1998),[18] the High Court expressed the obiter view that the right to vote does not have constitutional status but is a privilege:[19]

Constitutional rights are enjoyed because they are constitutional in nature. They are enjoyed as fundamental liberties – not stick-and-carrot privileges. To the extent that the Constitution is supreme, those rights are inalienable. Other privileges such as subsidies or the right to vote are enjoyed because the Legislature chooses to confer them – they are expressions of policy and political will. [Emphasis added.]

Government's view[edit]

The juridical status of the right to vote was subsequently debated in Parliament on 16 May 2001 upon an adjournment motion introduced by Non-constituency Member of Parliament Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam. Jeyaretnam argued that since "the marking of a ballot paper is an expression of the voter", the right to vote is protected by the freedom of expression clause set out in Article 14 of the Constitution of Singapore.[20] Responding, the Minister for Home Affairs, Wong Kan Seng, stated:[21]

While the Constitution does not contain an expressed declaration of the right to vote, I have been advised by the Attorney General ... that the right to vote at parliamentary and presidential elections is implied within the structure of our Constitution. We have a parliamentary form of government. The Constitution provides for regular general elections to make up Parliament and establishes representative democracy in Singapore. So the right to vote is fundamental to a representative democracy, which we are, and that is why we have the Parliamentary Elections Act to give effect to this right.

Minister for Law K. Shanmugam, who stated in Parliament on 13 February 2009 that the right to vote is an implied constitutional right

The heading of section 38 of the Parliamentary Elections Act ("PEA")[22] is "Registers of electors to be conclusive evidence of right to vote". Subsection (1) provides that the current register of electors is conclusive evidence for determining whether a person is entitled to vote at an election, and subsection (2) states that a person's "right and duty of voting" is not prejudiced if there is an appeal pending as to whether his or her name is properly on the register.

The status of the right to vote was again considered in Parliament in 2009. During debates on the Ministry of Law's annual budget on 12 February, Nominated Member of Parliament Thio Li-ann asked if the right to vote is "a constitutional right and part of the fundamental law of the land, or merely a statutory right, regulated by ordinary law?"[23] Replying to Thio the following day, Minister for Law K. Shanmugam referred to the 2001 debate on the matter and confirmed that, having conferred with the Attorney-General, in the Government's view the right to vote is an implied constitutional right arising from various provisions of the Constitution, including Articles 65 and 66.[24] Article 65 sets out the requirements for the prorogation and dissolution of Parliament. Articles 65(2) to 65(3A) explain when the Prime Minister may dissolve Parliament, while Article 65(4) specifically provides that Parliament has a fixed term: "Parliament, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for 5 years from the date of its first sitting and shall then stand dissolved." Article 66 states: "There shall be a general election at such time, within 3 months after every dissolution of Parliament, as the President shall, by Proclamation in the Gazette, appoint." The Minister also said:[24]

The power of our citizens to vote cannot be a privilege, because that would imply that there is some institution superior to the body of citizens which is in a position to grant such a privilege to the citizens. But in a free country, there is no institution that can be in such a position to grant such a privilege to the citizens. In a Representative Democracy like Singapore, voting is therefore a right, not a privilege.

As regards the High Court's view in Taw Cheng Kong, the Minister noted that it could not be treated as a precedent since "[t]he legal nature of the citizens' right to vote was not an issue in that case and was not specifically argued".[24] Thio Li-ann has commented that the Minister's clarification "dealt the quietus est to the High Court's odd pronouncement in Taw Cheng Kong v. Public Prosecutor".[25]

Proposals to express the right in the Constitution[edit]

1966 Constitutional Commission[edit]

On 18 January 1966, shortly after Singapore's independence, the President appointed a Constitutional Commission led by Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin to consider how the rights of racial, linguistic, and religious minorities in the nascent nation should be protected.[26] In its report on 27 August 1966,[27] the Commission recommended entrenching the right to vote as a "fundamental right" in the form of "the right to elect a government of their choice as expressed in general elections held at reasonable periodic intervals by secret vote".[28] The chief justification for this proposal was the relatively infant or immature culture of democracy in a newly independent nation that was "barely one year old".[29] The report noted that citizens had only exercised the right to vote twice in general elections, in 1959 and 1963 respectively. Hence:[28]

The people of Singapore have thus had little experience of general elections nor can it be safely assumed that they have grown up to cherish as an inalienable right, the right to be governed by a government of their own choice, expressed in periodic and general elections by universal and equal suffrage and held by secret vote ... [W]e do not consider it safe to assume that a significant proportion of the people of Singapore will be able to realise, until it is too late to prevent it, that any inroads have been made into the democratic system of general elections by a future government intent on undermining first and ultimately destroying the practice of democracy in Singapore.

However, Parliament decided not to entrench the right to vote, instead relegating voting rights to statutory regulation under the Parliamentary Elections Act.[29]

2009 parliamentary debate[edit]

During the 2009 parliamentary debate on the right to vote's status, Thio Li-ann proposed that, to avoid doubt, the right should be specifically set out in the Constitution. She argued that entrenching the right to vote through an Article in the Constitution would provide the opportunity to protect the details of the right. Currently, voting is regulated by the PEA.[22] As it is an ordinary statute, it can be altered with a simple parliamentary majority by future governments seeking to amend or restrict voting rights. Thio said that expressing the right to vote clearly in the Constitution would allow aspects of that right such as voter secrecy and the universality and equality of votes to be protected from unjust manipulation.[23]

A copy of the 1999 Reprint of the Constitution of Singapore

However, the Minister for Law said the Government was of the opinion that as the right to vote is an implied right in the Constitution, it was unnecessary for the Constitution to be amended to expressly mention the right. Articles 65 and 66 of the Constitution would be entrenched once Article 5(2A) is brought into force.[24] That Article, which has remained in abeyance since it was introduced in 1991, provides that a bill that seeks to amend, among other things, Article 65 or 66, must be supported at a national referendum by not less than two-thirds of the votes cast, unless the President consents to the amendment. Shanmugam went on to state that the concerns of the 1966 Constitutional Commission were now moot, as Singapore had since experienced ten general elections with a 95% voter turnout each time. Therefore, it could be assumed that the idea and experience of voting were deeply ingrained in Singaporean voters. Furthermore, some countries choose to draft their constitutions in great detail while others, like Singapore, set out a basic philosophy.[30] He noted that countries such as North Korea and Myanmar were among those that had set out the right to vote within their constitutions. Shanmugam concluded that what was fundamental to protecting the right to vote was a Government committed to the rule of law.[24]

Following the parliamentary debate, in a 2009 article Thio elaborated that entrenching the right to vote in the Constitution would make it significantly more difficult for any corrupt government that came into power to curtail it, as a super-majority of at least two-thirds of all elected Members of Parliament would be needed before a constitutional amendment could be made.[31] Otherwise, with control over a simple majority of Parliament,[32] a ruling party, if it chose to, could direct amendments to the PEA or create new legislation to provide some citizens with, say, double the number of votes and protect this from constitutional challenge using a notwithstanding clause (that is, a provision stated to have legal effect despite the existence of other inconsistent laws). By not protecting such an important right, the freedom of Singapore's electoral system could be progressively curtailed.[33] A similar point has been made by Singapore Management University constitutional law professor Jack Lee who noted that since Article 66 does not define the term general election:[34]

... there does not appear to be anything in the Constitution to prevent a future government from, say, requiring all candidates to have their "suitability" for political office determined by a government-appointed committee meeting in private, the decision of which would be final. There could still be a "general election" of sorts, but clearly a greatly-impoverished version.

Thio also argued that without a constitutionally expressed right to vote, the judiciary is handicapped in interpreting this implied right, given its conservative approach to reading the Constitution and the fact that it is unlikely to appeal to normative ideas such as representative democracy.[33]

Judicial implication of the right in the Constitution[edit]

Despite the Government's unequivocal view that the right to vote is an implied constitutional right, in Singapore it is the courts that ultimately determine the meaning of the Constitution. Thio Li-ann has suggested that since the right's status is not likely to be brought before the courts in a dispute, the Cabinet should refer the matter to the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore Tribunal pursuant to Article 100 of the Constitution for an authoritative opinion.[35]

Thio has argued that a court convened to determine whether the right to vote exists in the Constitution would give serious weight to the Minister of Law's pronouncements on the status of the right, as to agree with it would affirm rather than challenge executive or legislative power. Also, section 9A of the Interpretation Act[36] requires a purposive interpretation of written law, including the Constitution, to "promote the purpose or object underlying the written law".[37] Sections 9A(3)(c) and (d) identify ministerial speeches made at the second readings of bills or "any relevant material in any official record of debates in Parliament" as appropriate aspects of the interpretive matrix.[38] The court might then take one or both of the following approaches.

Originalist interpretation[edit]

The courts may choose to establish an imputed intention or traditional understanding of the existence of a right to vote, derived from the drafting style associated with the drafters of Westminster constitutions rather than the drafted text as it is. Thio has said that the framers of the Constitution worked with certain assumptions which they did not make explicit. In Hinds v. The Queen (1975),[39] the Privy Council said that:[40]

... a great deal can be, and in drafting practice often is, left to necessary implication from the adoption in the new constitution of a governmental structure which makes provision for a legislature, an executive and judicature. It is taken for granted that the basic principle of separation of powers will apply to the exercise of their respective functions by these three organs of government.

The court in Hinds held that, as "a rule of construction applicable to constitutional instruments" adopting the Westminster system, the "absence of express words" did not prevent the judicial powers of the new state being exclusively exercised by the judicature".[40] Similarly, the right to vote was necessarily implied into the Constitution through its genesis as an adaptation of the Westminster system of democracy.[41]

Interpretation based on text and structure[edit]

Thio has also argued that the courts may find that an implied right to vote can be derived from the existing structure of the Constitution and a purposive reading of Articles 65 and 66. According to this reading, a constitutional right to vote must be logically or practically necessary for preserving the integrity of that structure, as constitutionally established. In Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution, the appointment of the Prime Minister requires that he commands "the confidence of the majority of the Members of Parliament". As the Constitution places emphasis on the need for democratic legitimacy as well as general elections, it may be reasonable to infer that the structure of the Constitution provides for a right to vote as a fundamental instrument of democratic legitimacy.[42]

Exercise of the vote[edit]

The Parliamentary Elections Act[22] regulates the exercise of the vote and sets out the procedures for parliamentary elections in Singapore. The right to vote in Singapore extends only to Singapore citizens who are ordinarily resident in Singapore and not less than 21 years old[43] on the cut-off date for the registration of electors. This is known as the "prescribed date", and is currently 1 January of a particular year.[44] A person is considered to be ordinarily resident in Singapore on 1 January in a year if he or she has lived in the country for a total of 30 days during the three years immediately before that date, even if on 1 January the person is not resident in the country.[45] Whether people are entitled to vote at a presidential election also depends on whether they are entitled to have their names entered or retained in a register of electors maintained under the PEA.[46]

Singapore has a one person, one vote system: plural voting – that is, voting more than once in the electoral division that one is assigned to, or voting in more than one electoral division – is illegal.[47] Following a relative swing in votes against the ruling People's Action Party government in the general election of 1984, the Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew raised the possibility of modifications to the one person, one vote system and said: "It is necessary to try and put some safeguards into the way in which people use their votes to bargain, coerce, to push, to jostle and get what they want without running the risk of losing the services of the government, because one day, by mistake, they will lose the services of the government."[48] Subsequently, in an interview to the US magazine Foreign Affairs in January 1994, Lee, now Senior Minister, suggested that a person between the ages of 40 and 60 with a family should be given two votes because "he is likely to be more careful, voting also for his children. He is more likely to vote in a serious way than a capricious young man under 30. But we haven't found it necessary yet. If it became necessary, we should do it. ... I'm not intellectually convinced that one-man, one-vote is the best. We practise it because that's what the British bequeathed us and we haven't really found a need to challenge that."[49] In a later media interview published in The Straits Times on 8 May 1994, Lee said:[50]

It is not necessary to change our system at present. But, later, we may have to give more weighting to the people whose views should carry more weight because their contributions are greater, and their responsibilities are greater; in which case, we should consider giving those between the ages of 35 and 60, married and with families, one extra vote. Their contribution to the economy and to society is greatest at this stage of life. Also, they need to vote for themselves and also for their children. Their children have an interest that needs to be protected. Once past 60, their children would have grown up, and would vote for themselves. Then the parents should drop back to one vote. But during those critical years, 35–60, people who carry twice as much responsibility should have two votes. This will make for a more viable system and a more stable society.

Lee suggested that such a change should perhaps be implemented "in 15 to 20 years" if Singapore's birth rate had not increased, as policies might then be disproportionately influenced by people aged 60 and over. However, he emphasized that these were his personal views and had not been discussed by the Cabinet.[50][51] To date, no such modification to the voting system has been made.

Overseas voting[edit]

Prior to May 2001, voters who were overseas on polling day could not vote. Operational concerns such as insufficient Singapore missions around the world, the possibility that the last known addresses of Singapore citizens overseas might not be current, and the difficulty of keeping track of citizens who were abroad, were cited for this restriction.[52] Some commentators took the view that such logistical issues should not deprive Singaporeans of their "sacred right to vote".[53]

The Embassy of Singapore in Washington, D.C., which is one of the venues used as a polling station for overseas voting in Singapore elections

Overseas voting was eventually introduced for both parliamentary and presidential elections with effect from 15 May 2001.[54] Speaking during the Second Reading of the bill that led to the change in the law, the Minister for Home Affairs, Wong Kan Seng, said that the Government recognized that increasing numbers of Singaporeans studied and worked abroad due to economic globalization. Thus, it had decided to introduce overseas voting on a small scale at the next general elections.[55] At that time, the law generally required overseas voters to have resided in Singapore for an aggregate of two years during the five-year period before the prescribed date. However, Singaporeans whom the Government had posted abroad were exempted from this requirement and so were their families.[56] The Minister explained that this requirement for residence in Singapore was a "necessary pre-condition to constituency representation and to prevent plural voting".[57] J.B. Jeyaretnam criticized this restriction as discriminating against overseas voters.[58][59]

However, following the terrorist attacks that occurred in the United States on 11 September 2001 and American military action in Afghanistan on 7 October, the Government decided to temporarily suspend overseas voting at the 2001 general election as having large numbers of Singaporeans congregating at known locations at known times could put them at risk of further terrorist attacks.[60] Therefore, overseas voting first took place at the 2006 general election. The number of Singapore citizens who registered to vote overseas was 1,017, and of these, 553 resided in the 16 constituencies that were contested in the election. Eventually, 335 electors voted at eight polling stations around the world.[61]

With effect from 3 March 2009, the residence requirement for overseas voters was reduced to an aggregate of 30 days during the three years immediately before the prescribed date, and the special dispensation of the requirement applying to citizens working or studying abroad at the Government's direction and their families was removed.[62] The change was described in Parliament as a measure to "allow more overseas Singaporeans to vote. All an overseas Singaporean needs to do is to come home for 10 days a year to visit his family and friends."[63]

Limitations on voting[edit]

A person is disqualified from voting in the following situations, which include engaging in acts incompatible with being a Singapore citizen, being of unsound mind, or being in prison for committing a criminal offence:

  • Acts incompatible with Singapore citizenship.
    • Applying for or acquiring citizenship of another country.[64]
    • Voluntarily claiming or exercising rights in a country outside Singapore, such rights being given exclusively to nationals of that country.[65]
    • Taking an oath of allegiance to any foreign power.[66]
    • Applying to another country for a passport of that country.[67]
    • Being a serving member of any foreign armed force, unless the person is domiciled in Singapore.[68]
  • Being of unsound mind.
    • Being found to be of unsound mind.[69]
  • Commission of a criminal offence.
    • Being in prison in any country for an offence punishable with imprisonment for at least 12 months, being under sentence of death, or having been accused or convicted of an offence punishable with at least 12 months' imprisonment and having a warrant of arrest relating to the offence in force.[70]
    • Having been convicted of a corrupt or illegal practice under the PEA or the Presidential Elections Act,[46] or disenfranchised due to a report by an election judge.[71] Voting in an electoral division that one is not assigned to, or engaging in plural voting amounts to an illegal practice.[47]
  • Removal from register of electors.
    • Having had his or her name removed from the register of electors, and not having had it restored.[72]

Voting in foreign elections[edit]

Singapore citizens who vote in foreign countries may lose their right to vote in Singapore. The relevant provisions are section 6(1)(a)(ii) read with section 6(3) of the PEA:

6.— (1) No person shall be entitled to have his name entered or retained in any register of electors if he —

(a) has done any of the following: ...
(ii) voluntarily claimed and exercised any rights (other than any rights in connection with the use of a passport) available to him under the law of any country outside Singapore being rights accorded exclusively to the citizens or nationals of that country; ...

(3) For the purposes of subsection (1)(a)(ii), the exercise of a vote in —

(a) any national, state or provincial election; or
(b) any election for the local government of any metropolitan or urban area,

in a country outside Singapore (but not an election under this Act or a presidential election) shall be deemed to be the voluntary claim and exercise of a right available under the law of that country.

One issue that has arisen is whether a Singaporean who votes in a foreign country where the right to vote is not exclusive to nationals of that country is disqualified from voting in a Singapore election. For instance, the United Kingdom permits citizens of Commonwealth countries, including Singapore,[73] who are resident in the UK and have leave to remain there (or do not require such leave) to register to vote in general elections and local government elections.[74] When queried, the Elections Department stated that since suffrage in the UK is not exclusive to British citizens, Singaporeans who vote there are still eligible to vote in Singapore. However, this interpretation of the PEA has not been tested in court.[75]

Voting by prisoners[edit]

Another potentially controversial provision is section 6(1)(b) of the Parliamentary Elections Act, which denies suffrage to convicted criminals serving jail sentences. The provision states:

6.— (1) No person shall be entitled to have his name entered or retained in any register of electors if he — ...

(b) is serving a sentence of imprisonment (by whatever name called) imposed by any court in or outside Singapore for an offence punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding 12 months, or is under sentence of death imposed by any such court or is serving a sentence of imprisonment awarded in lieu of execution of any such sentence ...

In addition, section 6(1A) provides as follows:

6.— (1A) Without prejudice to subsection (1), no person who is deemed to be ordinarily resident in Singapore under section 5(1A) shall be entitled to have his name entered or retained in any register of electors if he is —

(a) serving a sentence of imprisonment (by whatever name called) in any prison, jail or other place of detention outside Singapore;
(b) accused of an offence against any written law punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding 12 months and a warrant of arrest by a court in Singapore authorising his apprehension in relation to that offence remains in force; or
(c) convicted by any court in Singapore of any offence punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding 12 months and a warrant of arrest by a court in Singapore authorising his apprehension in relation to that offence remains in force.

The issue of the constitutionality of this restriction has not yet arisen in any Singapore court, but during a Parliamentary debate in May 2001, Non-constituency Member of Parliament J.B. Jeyaretnam challenged the provision as unconstitutional.[59]

The Singapore position may be compared with the situation in other jurisdictions. In Malaysia, the right to vote is entrenched in Article 119 of the Federal Constitution, but suffrage is similarly denied to those serving prison terms.[76] In Yazid bin Sufaat v. Suruhanjaya Pilihanraya Malaysia (2009),[77] it was held that while detainees under the Internal Security Act 1960[78] – who have not been convicted of any crime – still enjoy the right to vote in national elections, that right may only be exercised only in the constituencies they are registered in, and does not extend to allowing them to vote while incarcerated elsewhere.[79]

A survey of European countries reported in Hirst v. United Kingdom (No. 2) (2005),[80] a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, found that 18 states allowed prisoners to vote without restriction (Albania, Azerbaijan, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine), while in 13 states all prisoners were not allowed to vote (Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Ireland, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Turkey and the United Kingdom). In another 13 states, the right to vote could be restricted in some way (Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Latvia and Liechtenstein).[81] In Hirst, the UK Government's denial of the vote to prisoners was ruled contrary to Protocol 1, Article 3, of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to regular, free and fair elections. The European Court said that the UK had to justify any deviation from universal suffrage, but the UK Government has so far desisted from applying the judgment after the House of Commons voted on 10 February 2012 to maintain the country's blanket ban on voting by prisoners.[82]

A woman distributing copies of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 3 of the Charter guarantees the right to vote.

In Canada, the Supreme Court held in Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer) (2002),[83] that a statutory provision prohibiting prisoners serving a sentence of two years or more from voting unjustifiably infringed the fundamental right to vote guaranteed by section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[84] The Court noted that the Government could not demonstrate how denying prisoners the vote helped the stated aims of the relevant statute; a democracy built on inclusiveness, democracy and citizen participation cannot be party to a law that disenfranchises a considerable part of the population. There was also no credible theory why prisoners should be denied the right to vote as a form of punishment, as it is arbitrary and not related to the offender's criminal act nor does it deter crime or rehabilitate criminals.[85]

The foregoing cases may be contrasted with the position in the United States. The Supreme Court of the United States held in Richardson v. Ramirez (1974)[86] that a California statute permanently removing the right to vote from any person convicted of an "infamous crime" unless the right to vote was restored by court order or executive pardon did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court noted that there was explicit constitutional approval for laws disenfranchising felons since section 2 of the Amendment reduced a state's representation in Congress if the state has denied the right to vote for any reason "except for participation in rebellion, or other crime". Thus, it was unnecessary for the statute in question to be narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests to be consistent with equal protection.[87]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Glenn Patmore (1998), "Making Sense of Representative Democracy and the Implied Freedom of Political Communication in the High Court of Australia: Three Possible Models", Griffith Law Review 7 (1): 97–123 at 99–110 .
  2. ^ John Stuart Mill (1861), Considerations on Representative Government (2nd ed.), London: Parker, Son & Bourn, pp. 45–69, OCLC 644467430 .
  3. ^ Edmund Burke (1887), "Speech to the Electors of Bristol, on His Being Declared by the Sheriffs Duly Elected One of the Representatives in Parliament for that City, on Thursday, the 3d of November, 1774", The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke 2, London: John C. Nimmo (reproduced by Project Gutenberg, EBook #15198, last updated 5 May 2006), pp. 89–98 at 96, ... Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole – where not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. ; also published in Edmund Burke (1907–1934), "Speech to the Electors of Bristol, 3 November 1774", The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, World Classics 1, London; New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, pp. 446–448, OCLC 2488347 .
  4. ^ Thomas Paine (1824), "Dissertation on First Principles of Government", The Political Writings of Thomas Paine, Secretary to the Committee of Foreign Affairs in the American Revolution: To which is Prefixed a Brief Sketch of the Author's Life 2, Charlestown, Mass.: George Davidson, pp. 325–344 at 333–341 ; also published in Thomas Paine (1859), "Dissertation on First Principles of Government", The Political Writings of Thomas Paine, Secretary to the Committee of Foreign Affairs in the American Revolution: To which is Prefixed a Brief Sketch of the Author's Life, Boston, Mass.: J.P. Mendum, OCLC 475803868 .
  5. ^ Paine, pp. 334 and 336.
  6. ^ Art. 21(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, General Assembly Resolution 217A(III), U.N. G.A.O.R., 3d Sess., Supp. No. 13. U.N. Doc. A/180 (1948), p. 71, declares: "Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives".
  7. ^ Reynolds v. Sims 377 U.S. 533 (1964), Supreme Court (US).
  8. ^ Reynolds, pp. 555 and 561–562.
  9. ^ Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (1999 Reprint).
  10. ^ Lange v. Australian Broadcasting Corporation [1997] HCA 25, 189 C.L.R. 520, High Court (Australia).
  11. ^ Lange, pp. 557–559.
  12. ^ Constitution, Arts. 65(2)–(3A).
  13. ^ Constitution, Art. 65(4).
  14. ^ Constitution, Art. 66.
  15. ^ Constitution, Art. 17(2).
  16. ^ Constitution, Art. 17(3).
  17. ^ Independence of Singapore Agreement 1965 (1985 Rev. Ed.). The Agreement appears in the Revised Edition of the Statutes of the Republic of Singapore in a section entitled "Constitutional Documents".
  18. ^ Taw Cheng Kong v. Public Prosecutor [1998] 1 S.L.R.(R.) [Singapore Law Reports (Reissue)] 78, High Court (Singapore).
  19. ^ Taw Cheng Kong, p. 102, para. 56 (emphasis added).
  20. ^ J.B. Jeyaretnam (NCMP), "Is Voting a Privilege or a Right?", Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (16 May 2001), vol. 73, col. 1721.
  21. ^ Wong Kan Seng (Minister for Home Affairs and Leader of the House), "Is Voting a Privilege or a Right?", Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (16 May 2001), vol. 73, col. 1726.
  22. ^ a b c Parliamentary Elections Act (Cap. 218, 2011 Rev. Ed.).
  23. ^ a b Professor Thio Li-ann (NMP), "Head R – Ministry of Law: Legal Status of the Right to Vote and Entrenchment", Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (12 February 2009), vol. 85, col. 3111ff.
  24. ^ a b c d e K. Shanmugam (Minister for Law), "Head R – Ministry of Law", Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (13 February 2009), vol. 85, col. 3146ff.
  25. ^ Thio Li-ann (2009), "Westminster Constitutions and Implied Fundamental Rights: Excavating an Implicit Constitutional Right to Vote", Singapore Journal of Legal Studies: 406–434 at 409, SSRN 1543638 . Quietus est means "he is discharged": Bryan A. Garner, ed. (1999), "quietus", Black's Law Dictionary (7th ed.), St. Paul, Minn.: West, p. 1261, ISBN 978-0-314-24130-6, Quit; acquitted; discharged, esp. from a debt or obligation ... .
  26. ^ David S[aul] Marshall (1969), "[The Presidential Council:] Paper II", Singapore Law Review 1: 9–13 at 5 .
  27. ^ Report of the Constitutional Commission, 1966 [chairman: Wee Chong Jin C.J.], Singapore: Government Printer, 1966, OCLC 51640681 , reproduced in Kevin Y[ew] L[ee] Tan; Thio Li-ann (1997), Constitutional Law in Malaysia and Singapore (2nd ed.), Singapore: Butterworths Asia, Appendix D, ISBN 978-0-409-99908-2 .
  28. ^ a b Report of the Constitutional Commission, 1966, para. 43.
  29. ^ a b Thio, "Westminster Constitutions and Implied Fundamental Rights", p. 410.
  30. ^ This view was repeated by Chong Wan Yieng, Press Secretary to the Minister for Law, in a letter to Today newspaper. She stated that Singapore's legal heritage was a broadly worded constitution: Chong Wan Yieng (10 March 2009), "A Constitutional Right: MinLaw", Today: 28 .
  31. ^ Constitution, Art. 5(2).
  32. ^ Constitution, Art. 57(1): "Subject to this Constitution, all questions proposed for decision in Parliament shall be determined by a majority of the votes of the Members present and voting ...".
  33. ^ a b Thio, "Westminster Constitutions and Implied Fundamental Rights", pp. 425–426.
  34. ^ Jack Tsen-Ta Lee (20 February 2009), "Make the implicit explicit: Affirming right to vote in the Constitution would pre-empt the possibility of abuse by future govts [letter]" (PDF), Today: 28 .
  35. ^ Thio, "Westminster Constitutions and Implied Fundamental Rights", p. 419.
  36. ^ Interpretation Act (Cap. 1, 2002 Rev. Ed.).
  37. ^ Interpretation Act, s. 9A(1).
  38. ^ Thio, "Westminster Constitutions and Implied Fundamental Rights", pp. 419–420.
  39. ^ Hinds v. The Queen [1975] UKPC 22, [1977] A.C. 195, Privy Council (on appeal from Jamaica).
  40. ^ a b Hinds, p. 212.
  41. ^ Thio, "Westminster Constitutions and Implied Fundamental Rights", pp. 421–422.
  42. ^ Thio, "Westminster Constitutions and Implied Fundamental Rights", p. 423.
  43. ^ PEA, s. 5(1). When preparing or revising a register of electors, a Singapore citizen who has been issued an identity card on or before 1 January is presumed, unless the contrary is proved, to have been ordinarily resident in Singapore on that date, to be at least 21 years old if he or she appears to be of that age based on the records held by the Commissioner of National Registration, and to reside in the electoral division and polling district in which his address is as shown in the Commissioner's records on 1 January: s. 5(2).
  44. ^ PEA, s. 5(4) and the Parliamentary Elections (Prescribed Date) Order 2011 (S 3/2011).
  45. ^ PEA, s. 5(1A).
  46. ^ a b Presidential Elections Act (Cap. 240A, 2011 Rev. Ed.), s. 21.
  47. ^ a b PEA, s. 7.
  48. ^ "PM replies to voters' signal", The Straits Times, 24 December 1984: 1 .
  49. ^ Fareed Zakaria (11 March 1994), "Success – a family affair", The Straits Times ; Anna Teo (11 March 1994), "2 votes each for older people with families a better system – SM Lee", The Business Times ; "People over 40 with children 'should get two votes'", The Straits Times, 11 March 1994 . See also George Wong Seow Choon (14 March 1994), "Should all people really be given one vote each? [letter]", The Straits Times ; David Chan Kum Wah (18 March 1994), "Do not drown out voices of the younger generation [letter]", The Straits Times ; Francis Chong Fu Shin (18 March 1994), "Vote gives sovereign power to people and is a right, not a privilege", The Straits Times ; Tan Sai Siong (20 March 1994), "One man, two votes: Worse than a zero sum game?", The Straits Times .
  50. ^ a b Warren Fernandez (8 May 1994), "SM Lee: Why some Singaporeans should have more than one vote", The Straits Times .
  51. ^ See also Isabella Leung Ning Yim (18 May 1994), "Disappointing if Govt passes this proposal [letter]", The Straits Times ; Leslie Fong (21 May 1994), "Some-men-two-votes proposal deserves informed discussion", The Straits Times ; Yap Kim Sang (24 May 1994), "Don't dilute power of the vote of any citizen [letter]", The Straits Times ; Cherian George (29 May 1994), "Changing the political system a sign of mistrust", The Straits Times .
  52. ^ Lua Ee Laine; Disa Jek Sok Sim; Christopher Theng Jer Koh (1996), "Principles and Practices of Voting: The Singapore Electoral System", Singapore Law Review 17: 244–321 at 279–280 .
  53. ^ Lua, Sim & Koh, p. 279.
  54. ^ By the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act 2001 (No. 19 of 2001) which, according to the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act (Commencement) Notification 2001 (S 272/2001), came into force on 15 May 2001. Overseas voting for presidential elections was effected by changes to the Presidential Elections Act which were made by the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act 2001, s. 27 and the Sch.
  55. ^ Wong Kan Seng (Minister for Home Affairs), speech during the Second Reading of the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill, Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (19 April 2001), vol. 73, col. 1506.
  56. ^ PEA (1999 Rev. Ed.), s. 5(1A)(a), inserted by the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act 2001, s. 3(a).
  57. ^ Wong Kan Seng, speech during the Second Reading of the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill (19 April 2001), col. 1508.
  58. ^ Jeyaretnam, speech during the Second Reading of the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill (19 April 2001), col. 1528.
  59. ^ a b Jeyaretnam, "Is Voting a Privilege or a Right?" (16 May 2001), col. 1722.
  60. ^ Wong Kan Seng (Minister for Home Affairs), speech during the Second Reading of the Parliamentary Elections (Temporary Suspension of Overseas Voting) Bill, Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (15 October 2001), vol. 73, cols. 2448–2449. The suspension was effected by the Parliamentary Elections (Temporary Suspension of Overseas Voting) Act 2001 (No. 45 of 2001), which was deemed to have come into force on 26 September 2001: s. 1. The Act suspended the provisions of the PEA allowing for the registration of overseas electors and providing for overseas voting "until polling day of the first general election after the date of commencement of this Act" (s. 2), and thus ceased to have effect after the 2001 general election.
  61. ^ Wong Kan Seng (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs), speech during the Second Reading of the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill, Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (25 August 2008), vol. 84, col. 3014.
  62. ^ PEA (2007 Rev. Ed.), s. 5(1A), as amended by the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act 2008 (No. 14 of 2008), s. 3(a).
  63. ^ Wong Kan Seng, speech during the Second Reading of the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill (25 August 2008), col. 3014ff.
  64. ^ PEA, s. 6(1)(a)(i).
  65. ^ PEA, s. 6(1)(a)(ii) read with s. 6(1)(3).
  66. ^ PEA, s. 6(1)(a)(iii).
  67. ^ PEA, s. 6(1)(a)(iv).
  68. ^ PEA, s. 6(1)(e).
  69. ^ PEA, s. 6(1)(c).
  70. ^ PEA, ss. 6(1)(b), 6(1A) and 6(2).
  71. ^ PEA, s. 6(1)(d).
  72. ^ PEA, ss. 6(1)(g) and (h).
  73. ^ Representation of the People Act 1983 (1983 c. 2) (UK), ss. 1(1) and 2(1) read with the British Nationality Act 1981 (1981 c. 61) (UK), s. 37(1)(b) and the 3rd Sch.
  74. ^ Representation of the People Act 1983, s. 4(6); see also Who can register to vote?, Electoral Commission, 2008, archived from the original on 24 July 2011 .
  75. ^ Rachel Lin (9 May 2010), "Loophole in S'pore election laws throws up more questions", The Straits Times .
  76. ^ Constitution of Malaysia, Art. 119(3).
  77. ^ Yazid bin Sufaat v. Suruhanjaya Pilihanraya Malaysia [2009] 6 M.L.J. [Malayan Law Journal] 222, Court of Appeal (Malaysia).
  78. ^ Internal Security Act 1960 (Act 82, 2006 Reprint), archived from the original on 22 July 2011.
  79. ^ Yazid bin Sufaat, pp. 229 and 235, paras. 3 and 30–31.
  80. ^ Hirst v. United Kingdom (No. 2) [2005] ECHR 681, (2006) 42 E.H.R.R. 41, European Court of Human Rights (Grand Chamber).
  81. ^ Hirst, para. 33.
  82. ^ Nicholas Watt; Alan Travis (10 February 2012), "MPs decide to keep blanket ban on prisoners' vote: Ministers drawing up compromise proposals after cross-party motion wins a majority of 212", The Guardian (London) .
  83. ^ Sauvé v. Canada (Chief Electoral Officer) 2002 SCC 68, [2002] 3 S.C.R. 519, Canada).
  84. ^ Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Pt. I of the Constitution Act, 1982 (Canada), itself Sch. B of the Canada Act 1982 (1982 c. 11) (UK).
  85. ^ Sauvé, paras. 20–53.
  86. ^ Richardson v. Ramirez 418 U.S. 24 (1974), Supreme Court (US).
  87. ^ Richardson, pp. 54–56.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

Articles[edit]

  • Lua, Ee Laine; Sim, Disa Jek Sok; Koh, Christopher Theng Jer (1996), "Principles and Practices of Voting: The Singapore Electoral System", Singapore Law Review 17: 244–321 .
  • Tey, Tsun Hang (2008), "Singapore's Electoral System: Government by the People?", Legal Studies 28: 610–628, doi:10.1111/j.1748-121X.2008.00106.x .
  • Thio, Li-ann (1993), "The Post-colonial Constitutional Evolution of the Singapore Legislature: A Case Study", Singapore Journal of Legal Studies: 80–122 .
  • Thio, Li-ann (2002), "The Right to Political Participation in Singapore: Tailor-making a Westminster-modelled Constitution to Fit the Imperatives of Asian Democracy", Singapore Journal of International and Comparative Law 6: 181–243 .

Books[edit]

  • Tan, Kevin Y[ew] L[ee]; Thio, Li-ann (2010), "The Legislature", Constitutional Law in Malaysia and Singapore (3rd ed.), Singapore: LexisNexis, pp. 299–360 at 324–331, ISBN 978-981-236-795-2 .
  • Thio, Li-ann (2012), "The Legislature and the Electoral System", A Treatise on Singapore Constitutional Law, Singapore: Academy Publishing, pp. 285–359 at 293–298, ISBN 978-981-07-1515-1 .