YOUth should know: What the entire Presidential Election process is like

Applications for the Presidential Election have opened, and is speculated to take place in the next two to three months.

Dini Qistina Binte Ali

You can find me in record stores even though I don’t own a record player.

Published: 27 June 2023, 3:27 PM

Singapore’s next Presidential Election is expected to take place soon, as President Halimah Yacob’s six-year term comes to an end.

Polls must be held not more than three months before Sep 13 – when Mdm Halimah’s term expires – or within six months after the office becomes vacant.

Unlike the 2017 presidential election which was reserved for Malay candidates, this year’s run will be open to candidates of all races. Already, two individuals – Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and businessman George Goh – have thrown their hats into the ring.

As the race to be the Head of State in Singapore starts heating up, here are four things youths should know about the presidential election process in Singapore.

1. The election timeline

The first indication that the election season is arriving comes when the Prime Minister directs the Elections Department (ELD) to revise the Registers of Electors, or a list of eligible voters.

What happens next is: 

  • ELD will make Registers of Electors available for public inspection 
  • ELD opens applications for Presidential Elections
  • Prospective candidates pick up forms or fill it online until deadline 
  • Prime Minister issues Writ of Election – a public document that sets date and place for nomination of candidates 
  • Cooling-Off Day and Polling Day announced 

As per past Presidential Elections, the Writ is typically issued about two to three months after the Registers of Electors is revised and when applications open. 

For the 2023 Presidential Election, the ELD opened the register for public inspection from Jun 15 to 28, while applications for the Presidential Elections opened on Jun 13. 

Those who qualify for election will be informed before Nomination Day – which will be set when the Writ is issued. 

Once their nominations have been approved, the candidates can start campaigning until the start of Cooling-off Day – the day before Polling Day. If there is only one viable candidate, then the President will be declared on Nomination Day, as was the case for Mdm Halimah in 2017.

If there is a contest, voters will cast their votes on Polling Day, and votes will be counted and processed once polling concludes.

2. Checking of eligibility

To vote, one must be a Singaporean citizen aged 21 and above, not disqualified from being an elector under any prevailing law, and has a Singapore residential address on his NRIC.

Checking of the Register of Electors can be done via the Voter Services on the ELD website, the Singpass app under their profile, or through the Home section on the LifeSG App or portal. Those unable to check their particulars electronically can do so at nearby community clubs and ServiceSG centres. Another way is to check at the ELD office by making an online appointment through the ELD website or call 1800-225-5353.

The list of community centres and clubs as well as ServiceSG centres can be accessed here.

Overseas Singaporeans who do not have a local address can apply for one via the ELD Singapore website. The outcome of the applications can be accessed via poll letter, email, or the ELD website.

Singaporeans who are eligible to vote but did not do so in the past year – also known as non-voters – will have their names removed from the register. Non-voters cannot vote at any subsequent Presidential or General Election, and they are disqualified from being a candidate at any subsequent Presidential or General Election.

However, they can still restore their names by either applying to the Registration Officer via Singpass, over-the-counter assistance at any community centre, or the Elections Department with an explanation as to why they did not vote in the previous election.

Some of the acceptable reasons include being ill, away for vacation, studying and working overseas including business trips, living with a spouse who is working or studying overseas, or delivering a baby during polling time. A fee of $50 will be imposed if a non-voter does not have a valid and sufficient reason for not voting.

It should be noted that an early application for restoration of name to the registers is strongly encouraged as no restoration can be made once the Writ of Elections is issued.

Voting is mandatory for all eligible Singaporeans aged 21 and above. Failure to vote is an offence, and punishable by a fine not exceeding $1,000 or a jail term not exceeding one year.

3. The polling process

Electors must bring along their poll card, which will be sent via mail, and their identification card or passport to the polling station. The poll cards will indicate the designated polling stations for each voter.

Votes can be cast between 8am and 8pm. 

Electors are also advised to observe the Do’s and Dont’s of voting. These include going to the correct polling station as stated in the poll card, arriving on time, and not bringing the ballot paper out of the polling station, which is considered an offence.

At the Polling Station, electors are required to identify themselves to the election official, and receive an official ballot paper. They may be asked to make a declaration of identity and sign the declaration before being given the paper. Those who do not have the identity documents will not be given a ballot paper.

Voters will be ushered towards a booth at a Polling Station, giving them the privacy to cast their votes. They will need to mark their choice clearly with an X in the box opposite the name and symbol of the candidate of their choice. Once done, they will need to fold their ballot paper and drop it into the ballot box.

Overseas Singaporeans who are registered as overseas electors can cast their votes through postal voting.

For the 2023 Presidential Election, eligible Singaporeans living, studying, or working overseas will be able to mail in their votes. They can register to vote by post via ELD’s online Voter Services using Singpass and upload a wet-ink signature for authentication.

After Nomination Day, voters can log in to the ELD Voter Services to download and print their postal ballot paper and prepaid return envelope. They would then need to mark their vote on the postal ballot paper, fold and insert it in the return envelope. Return envelopes must be sealed and signed by voters, and posted before Polling Day in Singapore.

4. Difference between Presidential and General Elections

While Presidential Elections occur every six years, General Elections in Singapore are held every five years within three months after the dissolution of Parliament.

In the Presidential Election, individuals contest on their own and should not be part of any political party. However, in the General Elections, candidates can contest either individually or in groups under political parties, or as independents.

It is crucial to understand that voting for a President does not necessarily mean voting for someone to govern Singapore. That falls under the duties of the Parliament, of which members are elected through the General Elections, with roles decided by the ruling party.

The function of the President is akin to a guarantor against hidden corruption and to ensure that the Parliament remains clean. The discretionary powers afforded to the President include vetoing transactions or budgets should they draw on past reserves, the appointment or removal of key office holders such as Supreme Court Judges and the Chief of Defence, as well as detention orders, investigations, and restraining orders over security matters.

Unlike the politicians contesting in the General Elections, Presidential hopefuls are expected to be politically neutral. This is why Mr Tharman also announced that he will be resigning from the People’s Action Party (PAP) ahead of the Presidential Election Day.

Likewise, Mdm Halimah resigned from her role as Speaker of the Parliament and from the PAP before standing for elections. Former President Ong Teng Cheong – the first elected Singapore President – also took pains to ensure he was politically neutral, going as far to ask the Government then for a detailed audit of past reserves.

The Presidential Election, like the General Election, also adopts the first-past-the-post-system. But where the PAP often wins the General Election with the majority of votes, it is possible for a President to be elected with significantly less than 50 per cent of votes. This happened in the 2011 President Elections, which was contested by four candidates.

The eventual winner, Dr Tony Tan, had garnered just 35.2 per cent of the vote, but was elected because he had more votes than the other candidates, Tan Cheng Bock (34.85 per cent), Tan Jee Say (25.04 per cent) and Tan Kin Lian (4.91 per cent).


More reading: 

President Halimah Yacob not standing for re-election in 2023 Presidential Election

A look back at President Halimah Yacob’s time in office

YOUth Should Know: The duties of Singapore’s President

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