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Discerning electorate best defence against foreign influence: Chan Chun Sing

SINGAPORE — As with other small states, Singapore is not immune from foreign interference — from larger and more powerful states — in domestic politics and electoral processes, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday (Aug 1).

A discerning electorate is the best defence against foreign influence on elections, says Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing. TODAY file photo

A discerning electorate is the best defence against foreign influence on elections, says Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing. TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE — As with other small states, Singapore is not immune from foreign interference — from larger and more powerful states — in domestic politics and electoral processes, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday (Aug 1).

Speaking in Parliament, Mr Chan was responding to a question tabled by Tampines GRC Member of Parliament (MP) Cheng Li Hui about the Government’s safeguards against foreign influence in elections.

Calling on Singaporeans to be vigilant about what they read or hear, Mr Chan stressed that a “discerning electorate” that is aware of the existence of “foreign influence campaigns” is critical in guarding against external influences, and protecting the integrity of the electoral process. “Ultimately, our best defence is a discerning electorate,” Mr Chan said.

Given the Republic’s “small size, openness and relatively short history”, it is harder to “mitigate the external influences on our systems”, he said.

These influences take many forms, including “surreptitious contributions, which can be seemingly harmless donations to unsuspecting Singaporeans or local organisations, so that influence and pressure can be exerted over them”, he said.

Mr Chan outlined how the Government is guarding against foreign interference. Singapore’s election laws prohibit foreigners from taking part in election activities. The Public Order Act, which was amended this year, also allows the police to refuse a permit for public assemblies or processions organised by, or involving the participation of, foreigners or foreign groups and directed towards political ends.

There are also safeguards in place to protect IT systems and government networks, in order to prevent misuse to “subvert our election process”. He added that the Government restricts and controls the ownership of newspapers and broadcast media to prevent foreigners from manipulating media platforms to influence domestic politics.

The measures will need to evolve with changes in technology, media platforms and communication channels, Mr Chan said.

As announced earlier, the Government will be introducing laws to address the problem of fake news. Asked by Hougang MP Png Eng Huat if there had been any incidents of foreign interference in the electoral processes here, Mr Chan said it was “not convenient to address (this) publicly”.

But he stressed the Government is not letting its guard down. “We take it as our working assumption that every day ... every moment, we must be careful of potential foreign interference in our processes,” he said.

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