Monday, May 9, 2011

General Elections 2011 And The Fantastic Returning Officer

On 7th May, I voted for the first time ever in the General Elections, and also had the good fortune to work as a Presiding Officer at my polling station where a certain percent rage of the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC residents were assigned to vote. It was a very good experience and I wish more people will volunteer in the next elections to be polling and counting agents. One reason for this is that it will completely dispel the 'your vote is not secret' meme that I've written about some days ago. It's also good to get people more involved in participating in something that has a direct bearing on how the country will be run in the next 5 years.

On that day, the man who was in charge of the elections, Returning Officer Mr Yam Ah Mee, would close proceedings by giving his now-legendary results announcements when he told us the names of the winners meticulously as Counting Night progressed.

He had a demeanour completely different from the frenzy that was found in all the assembly points around the country where supporters awaited the results. Instead, what Mr Yam gave us was deadpan, slow, steady and monotonous to a stop. It was absolutely boring and there was totally no excitement in his voice. He had a template in his script and the names and winners would change every time.

I knew then what was so appealing about what we're witnessing: No drama. 'No drama' was one of the defining characteristics that Obama has and something that won him the elections in 2008. The idea is to remove all other distractions and get to the work at hand, which was what Mr Yam has done. The election is serious business, no drama please! This was also a reflection of the way how the election workers managed the entire Polling Day. Please remove your PAP pin from your shirt, sir, please remove the SDP hat you're wearing ma'am. We're having no drama today, thank you very much.

The whole voting and counting process was very efficient and transparent, and though I can only speak for what I've seen, the accounts online were unanimous: the folks behind the scenes did a very good job. Mr Yam set the tone of impartiality and calm as he announced the first winner of the night...

Parliamentary General Election 2011

Result for the electoral division of Mountbatten. Jeanette Chong-Aruldoss, the NSP: 8436 votes. Lim Biao Chuan, PAP: 11,965 votes. Rejected votes, 418. Total votes cast: 20819. The local votes counted for the electorial division of Mountbatten are conclusive of the results.

Pursuant to Section 49, Subsection 7E, Paragraph A of the Parliamentary Elections Act, I declare Lim Biao Chuan of the PAP as the candidate elected for the electorial division of Mountbatten.

Now for those of who are curious what Mr Yam was saying and what the articles and sections are about, he was refering to the Parliamentary Elections Act. ('Pursuant to...' means 'according to what's written here... I can declare...) This document contains all the rules and regulations that relate to the elections. If you're a true fan, you need to read this document. At the left panel, scroll down to Section 49, and then look for 7E at the right panel.

Paragraph A says:
where the total number of overseas electors lawfully entitled to vote at the election in that electoral division is less than the difference between the number of votes given to the candidates or (as the case may be) groups of candidates with the 2 greatest number of votes, the Returning Officer shall declare the candidate or (as the case may be) group of candidates to whom the greatest number of votes is given to be elected;

This means that in the scenario where even if we count the voting slips of overseas voters, it's not going to make a difference to the results of the counting of the local voting slips. Therefore, we can declare the winner based on the slips we now have.

Overall, I think this election is a watershed not just because the WP has done well, it's also because people's minds have been opened to what's possible. It's quite amazing to see the courage displayed by the candidates and the class act that many, especially candidates in my area, have displayed. The coverage of the press has also improved a lot, and there are many in the MSM who are trying to do the right thing. More good years!

Background reading:
Yam Ah Mee is General Election's overnight star
Counting agent me
My 6 hour tour of duty as a polling agent
Volunteering to be an Polling Agent and a Counting Agent
Yah Ah Mee, Returning Officer Extraordinaire Facebook Community
Forum posts 1, 2