Elections Dept vs UMR Research

This Australian company UMR Research carried out a survey between May 3 & May 5. And the result was published by news wire agencies between May 6 & May 7. (Note that polling stations closed at 8pm on May 7!)

But publication of election survey results is prohibited during the period when the Writ of Election is issued till the close of polling. This is according to the Parliamentary Elections Act.

So what would Elections Dept do? Can the long arm of justice reach even the Down Under? It'd be interesting to see.

An election opinion poll conducted and published online before Polling Day has raised questions on the current set of laws which prohibit the publication of the results of such surveys during the hustings.

The survey was conducted between May 3 and May 5 by Australian company UMR Research.

The survey findings were published by news wire agencies such as Associated Press, Reuters and Deutsche Presse-Agentur between May 6 and May 7, before the polling stations in Singapore closed at 8pm on May 7.

According to the Parliamentary Elections Act, publication of election survey results is prohibited during the period when the Writ of Election is issued till the close of polling.

When contacted, UMR reiterated that it has not run afoul of the Singapore laws. Mr David Utting, a spokesperson for the company, said in an email reply: "UMR has not 'published or caused to be published' this opinion poll in Singapore. "It has undertaken a poll which was overseen (by) our German operation ... and released in Germany to AP. AP published it."

According to the survey, 61 per cent of the more than 520 Singaporeans interviewed online said they would vote for the People's Action Party (PAP).

Incidentally, the PAP garnered 60.1 per cent of the popular vote.

In response to media queries, the Elections Department reiterated that no polling - be it online or offline - is allowed "in the period between the issuing of the Writ of Election and Polling Day, by anyone".

Professor Ang Peng Hwa, director of the Singapore Internet Research Centre at the Nanyang Technological University, said that the law was "very broad".

He added that the rules could be made clearer between a person who poses a link of the results and someone who published the results in full on his website or social media account.

It becomes harder to enforce if sharing is done, for instance, on Facebook between a small group of friends and going after an overseas company which does the survey on its own accord without any intention to influence, said Prof Ang.

Political risk consultant Azhar Ghani noted that the issue does not lie in whether the poll was done by an overseas company but on the law which is "silent" on where the publication of survey results could take place: While election advertising regulations specifically mention the Internet, the law on election surveys does not, Mr Azhar noted.

UMR said in its email response that its clients include "blue chip companies and many governments".

It added that its survey was done in the public interest and it has done thousands of opinion polls in "many countries and has a very strong reputation for accuracy and methodological strength".

From Channel NewsAsia, "Election poll raises questions".

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