Partyforumseasia: Like in a few countries in Southeast Asia and many more world wide, voting in Singapore’s parliamentary elections is compulsory. As the Elections Department (ELD) announced last week, 155,180 voters did not vote in the recent election. That is 6.3 % of the eligible voters, whereas the voter turnout was 93.7 % out of 2,462,926 voters, a dream turnout compared to most countries, even those with compulsory vote. But casting your vote is easy in a small city state where polling stations are normally well in walking distance from your home.
The non-voters are automatically struck from the registers, but have an easy way of being restored to the voters’ list by explaining their missed opportunity to the Election Department. Acceptable reasons are living overseas or traveling, illness or delivering a baby. Voters can do that online via http://www.eld.gov.sg.
But even if you don’t have an acceptable excuse you can still apply for being restored to the register by paying a fee of S$ 50 ( approx. US$ 36 ). It may be difficult to find out how many Singaporeans have completely dropped out because they did not apply for their restoration to the list, but the high turnout is an argument for the compulsory voting regime. For the tens of thousands of citizens living and working abroad the embassies offer local voting facilities, but only in places like London, Sidney etc. with a sizable number of eligible voters.
Regionally and internationally compulsory voting is not very common. Here is a world map from Wikipedia (Link)
The enforcement is normally as lenient as in Singapore, though the list looks tough for countries like Egypt, Australia and Fidschi, where imprisonment is possible, and Bolivia where the non-voter risks to lose his or her identity card and closure of bank accounts. Doubts about the real enforcement may be allowed, though.
Most countries impose a relatively small fine, but in Luxemburg it can reach up to 250 and in Turkey 130 Euros. Older voters over 70 or 75 are exempted, but all countries remove the non-voters from the registers.
In the overview Wikipedia lists 19 countries with sanctions and 13 with compulsory voting but no sanctions.
Since some countries have given up on compulsory voting one can assume that the decision depends on the expectations of the ruling parties or coalitions, whether they can count on better results with or without. Considerations about how to develop and improve democratic behavior might play a role in the debates but less so in the final decision of the parliaments.
For more details on Singapore’s political system see: Tan, Netina, Institutional Sources of Hegemonic Party Stability in Singapore, in: Sachsenröder, Wolfgang (ed.), Party Politics in Southeast Asia, Singapore 2014.
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