Roses

Roses

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

BLIND VOTERS' RIGHT TO VOTE SECRECY


One great thing about having stood for elections in GE 2011, is that I got to meet people that I would never have met in my ordinary course of life.

A few days before Polling Day, I got a telephone call from a blind voter living in Mountbatten. He introduced himself to me as RON CHANDRAN-DUDLEY.

Ron called me that day because he wanted to tell me how much he objected to the way blind voters had to cast their votes under current voting procedures. (A more accurate description will be "visually handicapped voters" and these will include those who are totally blind or who suffer from defects of vision, either at birth, or subsequently due to illness or accidents. Not all blind voters can read Braille, e.g. an elderly person who becomes blind as a result of illness. Some have been writing before losing their sight.)

According to Ron, a blind voter like him who is able to hold a pen, would not be able to write or mark his vote on the ballot paper by himself. Instead, he would be required to tell the Officer which candidate (or which party) he wishes to vote for, and the Officer would then write the cross for him on his ballot paper.

Ron said that in other countries, besides getting the Officer to mark his vote for him, blind voters had 2 other options:

1. He is allowed to have a relative or friend of his choice accompany him to the voting booth to mark the ballot paper for him.

2. He can ask for and be provided with a template (or stencil) with windows (openings) matching the places where to mark his vote on the ballot paper.

A template is a simple device which serves to give the blind voter privacy. The Officer would tell the blind voter which box is for which candidate/party, but after knowing that, blind voter can then align the ballot paper against the template and mark his vote on the ballot by himself in private at the voting booth.

I thanked Ron for his feedback. I kept his telephone number as I felt he sounded like an interesting person whom I would like to talk to again.

Subsequently, I found out that Ron is a famous man who has done quite a lot in his lifetime. He used to be the President of the Disabled People's Association and was also the President of the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped (SAVH). Here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0T2twepn6w is a 6 min documentary about him entitled "Asians of the Year". He was going to be a doctor but met with a rugby accident and became blind at age of 19.

On Polling Day, while visiting a Polling Station, one of my Polling Agents (Ong Suping) came up to me to raise her concern about how blind voters were made to cast their votes. I recalled my telephone chat with Ron about this. It just so happened that Lim Biow Chuan was also present at that Polling Station and so the 3 of us (Suping, myself and Biow Chuan) had a brief discussion about this issue. The conclusion of the brief discussion was that present procedures had to be followed.

Subsequently, I asked Suping to write me a note about her concerns as a Polling Agent. Here is her note to me:

When a blind voter comes to the polling station, he/she will be led to the correct queue by either a family member or a presiding officer if no family members are present. The presiding officer will then let the senior presiding officer know that this person is blind and that he/she will need assistance to mark out their vote on the ballot paper. What the senior presiding officer will then do is to announce to the polling agents that this person is blind and that a presiding officer will be assisting him/her in marking their vote on the ballot paper. The presiding officer will then accompany the person to the booth to make their selection.

The problem I am seeing is on 2 levels:

1. What comfort can the blind voter get that the presiding officer is marking the correct ballot box according to his/her wishes? A family member should at least be allowed to be present at the voting booth to witness and be the eyes for the blind voter. At least someone they trust is with them or is marking out the box for them.

2. How do polling agents (who are meant to be there to ensure votes are cast under no undue influence and is fairly conducted) ensure that there is no incongruous activity in this instance?

What the senior presiding officer told me when I raised the point that we have all taken the oath of secrecy and should therefore be allowed to witness this since we are all under oath and it is the job of the polling agent to make sure things are conducted in a fair manner, she told me that presiding officers have taken different oaths allowing them to see a person’s vote while our oath as polling agents only allow us to be present at the polling station and not to see a person’s vote. I am not sure if that really is the case or not. Are there really different oaths?

I don't believe there are clear guidelines today with regards to blind voters as when I asked for a copy of these guidelines saying that this is the way it is supposed to be conducted, the senior presiding officer could not give it to me.

My suggestion is for the blind voter to elect or authorize a person of their choice beforehand to accompany them on polling day to mark the ballot paper with them. Just because they are the minority doesn't mean we don't protect their rights as voters. And as a polling agent I can take greater comfort that the vote is rightly cast since the person marking the vote on behalf has been chosen by the voters themselves.

I must thank Suping for raising her concerns to me.

After receiving Suping’s note, I did some research, and I found out that in April 2011, the current SAVH President wrote to the Elections Department about Singapore’s blind community frustration that it does not get enough privacy when voting. Blind voters would like to have a family member or friend to help them mark their ballots, rather than have an electoral officer do it for them, as has been the case in past elections. However, the Elections Department replied SAVH, saying that under the law, family members are not allowed to help a blind voter mark his ballot as that ‘may compromise the secrecy of the vote cast and may subject the voter to undue influence or pressure’.

After I found out about this, I spoke to Ron. Ron told me that in 1991, he himself wrote to the Elections Department saying the exact same thing, and got the exact same reply from them. He said he is very disappointed that nothing has changed since 1991 till now. There is been no progress in the last 20 years on the rights of blind voters. But meanwhile, other countries were making changes to their voting procedures for blind voters. I checked and found that Ron is right. This is how blind voters cast their votes in UK: http://www.rnib.org.uk/livingwithsightloss/yourrights/Pages/voting.aspx



I also found out that Maruah has also written to the Elections Department on this issue on 5 May 2011.

I thank Ron for helping me to understand how a blind voter feels. A Blind voter does not want the Officer (who is a stranger) to know his vote. SAVH has asked for the blind voter to be allowed to have a family member or friend accompany him to the voting booth. UK and other countries go a step further. They respect the right of the blind voter to vote in PRIVATE. Hence, the voting procedures allow for the provision of a template for the use of blind voters who are able hold a pen.

I do not understand why the Elections Department rejected SAVH’s request for a trusted person to accompany the blind voter to the booth, yet they do not provide the solution of using a template. So the only way for a blind voter to cast his vote, including one who is able to hold a pen and write, is to inform the Officer, a stranger, who he wants to vote for.

I agree with Ron that I would like blind voters to be given a choice of either being assisted by a relative or friend of his choice or alternatively, be given a template so he can mark his vote by himself without assistance and in private.

The next GE is in 5 years’ time. I hope that some progress will be made before then in improving the rights of blind voters.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Elections are just round the corner. I wonder if it is not too much to ask of the Elections Department to tweak the present voting procedures to provide blind voters with the use of a template?

Postscript:  On 18 August 2011, the Straits Times reported (at Pg 4 Prime) that for the upcoming Presidential Elections on 27 August 2011, the Elections Dept had produced special stencils to enable blind voters to mark their ballot papers on their own. For the first time in Singapore's election history, blind voters would be able to vote on their own and in privacy. My wish had become a reality.  See also this article by Theresa Tan: http://blogs.straitstimes.com/2011/08/19/not-being-blind-to-different-voting-needs/

Sunday, June 26, 2011

TRAGEDY OF MARRIED SINGAPOREANS GOING FOR ABORTION OUT OF FINANCIAL FEARS


Transcript of speech by Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss at “Singaporeans First” event organised by transitioning.org at Hong Lim Park on 25 June 2011 (5pm to 7pm)


I am Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss. I am here in my personal capacity as a concerned fellow Singaporean.

Folks, it has only in the last few years that we have seen an unprecedented number of foreigners arriving to Singapore to take up jobs. Why did the Government invite them? They were invited to come because there are not enough Singaporeans in the workforce to keep the economy going. The natural birth rate of Singaporeans is incredibly low. It is so low, that Singaporeans are not producing enough babies to replace ourselves. We need a total fertility rate of 2.1 to replace ourselves. But our total fertility rate has sunk to an all-time low 1.16. Natural born Singaporeans are dwindling. So this is the reason why our Government says we have no choice but to keep importing foreign labour and foreign talent to cover the shortfall of Singaporeans in the workforce.

As against all this, do you know that in Singapore, about 1 in every 4 pregnancies is aborted? Yes my friends, every year, there are about 12,000 abortions in Singapore. But what is shocking and disturbing to me, is that half of abortions are carried out by married women. Of course, there are many valid reasons why women go for abortions. According to statistics, only a small number of abortions are due to health reasons. So why do married women kill off their unborn children?

A Report by Associated Foreign Press dated 1 May 2009 , told the story of Mazlinda Majlam who had a recurring nightmare every night for a week, of a baby with no eyes sitting down and just looking at her. This horrifying dream began the night she returned home from having an abortion – 2 months after she was retrenched as a result of Singapore’s worst recession in more than 40 years. The mother of 3 said that “bad economic times” prompted her to terminate her pregnancy and she would not hesitate to have another abortion, if necessary. “I can’t afford it,” said the tall, slim Majlam of the prospect of having another child soon.

On 19 March 2011, the Straits Times published a letter from a Wendy Tan who decided to abort her twins. This is what the working mother of 2 she said in her letter to the Forum Page:

“So, when I was expecting for the third time two years ago, we made a very hard decision to terminate the pregnancy. We just did not have the energy to cope with a third because the first two had taken up all the energy we had. So far, we have had six years of interrupted sleep and we are not prepared for more. Finance was also a big consideration as I was almost out of a job then. If I had seen through the pregnancy I would not have been able to get another job. Relying on a single income was simply too tough because we had to care for our parents as well. Having two children was more than we could manage and having two more was just too much. Yes, my third pregnancy involved twins. The decision not to have them was doubly difficult.”

You know, my father used to tell me that in the olden days of China, it was common for married women to drown their newborn babies in a bucket of water immediately after giving birth, because of poverty. No way to feed another mouth.

My own grandma came from China to Malacca in the 1920s. When she gave birth to her 7th child, it was a girl and her husband forced her to give the baby away. He refused to support another child. My grandma reluctantly handed the newborn baby to a convent. Unfortunately the newborn girl soon died. My grandma was very sad and never forgot about this child which she had to give away.

I never would have thought that in this day and age, and after 46 years of nation building, Singaporean married mothers have to make the difficult decision to terminate their pregnancies because of economic hardships. At the same time as thousands of babies are destroyed by married Singaporean mothers out of economic necessity, the number of native Singaporeans is ever decreasing, our birth rate keeps falling and we having to rely more and more on foreigners to make up the workforce for our economy. What is going on here? I don’t understand it!

Folks, I can understand if women are forced to go for abortion because of health reasons or because of social stigma. But where we have married women going for abortion due to financial hardship, surely this is an area the Government can and must do something to help. After all, the Government has made it an aim to do something about the falling birth rate.

So, instead of focusing on importing more and more foreigners to cover the labour and talent shortfall, I want to see the Government pay more attention to alleviating the financial hardships of Singaporeans. I do not want to hear of married women having to go for abortions out of financial fears. The primary duty of the Government of Singapore is to take care of its citizens. Let us remind the Government of this.

Folks, Singaporeans are worried about their future. Singaporeans worry that they cannot find a job or that they may lose their job. They also worry that they don’t earn enough from their job to pay for their homes or to look after their aged parents, wife and children.

Until Singaporeans feel safe and secure about their future, Singaporeans will be reluctant to get married; if they are married they will be reluctant to have children; and if they get pregnant they will immediately think of aborting. Such is the tragedy of our modern day living in Singapore.

Folks I am glad you and I are here today. Today, by being here, we are taking a step to making things right for Singaporeans.

Watch excerpts of speech:

"...there were 12,222 abortions in Singapore in 2008, compared to 11,933 in 2007. No official figures are available for 2009. During the same period there were 39,935 babies delivered indicating that roughly 1 in 4 pregnancies are terminated. While a small proportion of pregnancies are terminated for health reasons, most terminations are due to financial or social concerns." (http://www.aware.org.sg/resources/information/abortion/)




Saturday, June 4, 2011

MY DAD (27 February 1936 - 4 June 2011)


My father, Dr John Chong Yean Chiong, passed away at 3 am this morning. He fought a long and valiant battle against prostate cancer. In his last days, he succumbed to urosepsis. He leaves behind his loving wife, Aileen Chong, four children (myself, Jacqueline, John and James) and 10 grandchildren aged 5 months to 21 years.

I brought my father to SGH on 27 May 2011 (coincidentally it was my birthday) for emergency treatment. Early this week, he seemed to stabilise. His blood pressure and temperature returned to normal. So on 2 June 2011, I decided to take the risk and join my family to attend my church camp being held in KL over the weekend.

But yesterday 3 June 2011, while I was in KL at the church camp with my family, I received a telephone call at 63o pm from my mother that my father's condition had worsen and he might only have a few hours left. I immediately rushed to KLIA to catch the next flight back to Singapore. On the way back to Singapore, I regretted leaving Singapore and prayed that my dad would not go before I reach him. I arrived at SGH just after midnight. He passed on at about 3am this morning. I thank God I was able to make it before he went. Myself, my mom, sister, brother and uncle were at his bedside till the end.

I also thank God that his suffering is over and he is now in a better place.

"Do not be afraid, I am with you
I have called you each by name
Come and follow Me
I will bring you home
I love you and you are mine"


http://www.lyricsoncall.com/lyrics/david-haas/you-are-mine-lyrics.html (lyrics probably inspired by Isaiah 43:1)

Click here and scroll all the way down this post for the last photo taken of of my father: http://jeannettechongaruldoss.blogspot.com/2011/05/normal-0-false-false-false-en-sg-zh-cn.html