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Tuesday, 14 August, 2001, 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK
Singapore net law dismays opposition
Singapore skyline
Internet use in Singapore is one of the highest in Asia
Opposition politicians in Singapore have criticised a new law that restricts election campaigning on the internet and bars the publication of opinion polls during general elections.

Critics say it curbs the country's freedom of speech, and is a ploy by the ruling party to stop the opposition making gains.


On the internet, once a false story or rumour is started, it is like water that has been spilled

Lee Yock Suan, Information Minister
A general election must be held by August 2002, but the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) is expected to call it later this year or early next year.

Internet use is widespread in the city-state, with 48% of the population logging on.

Under the new rules, non-party political web sites will not be allowed to campaign for any party.

Official party sites will still be able to publish posters and manifestos, candidate profiles, party events and some moderated chats and discussion forums. Full details are to be released when the regulations are finalised.

'Frivolity'

The Minister for Information and the Arts, Lee Yock Suan, told parliament the law was intended to guide responsible use of the web.

"A free-for-all internet campaigning environment without rules is not advisable," he said.


It's another way the government is trying to crack down on the use of the internet

Chee Soon Juan, opposition politician
"The seriousness of logical debate may be cluttered by noise, mischief or frivolity during the election period.

"On the internet, once a false story or rumour is started, it is like water that has been spilled. It is almost impossible to rein in the matters, especially in the limited period of an election campaign."

But opposition leaders said the law, which was passed in parliament on Monday, was damaging to democracy.

"It's another way the government is trying to crack down on the use of the internet," said Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). "They know it is one way the opposition can use it and be on level playing field with the ruling party."

Anyone publishing a poll of voter intentions during an election will face a fine of up to US $568 (Singapore $1,000) or a maximum prison sentence of 12 months.

Singapore has already banned political advertising using films or video and singing is not allowed at political rallies.

The last election, in 1997, was before internet use took off in Singapore. The new law was amendment to the existing legislation.

Although a multi-party nation, the PAP has been the dominant political force since independence.

See also:

28 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Singapore holds rare political rally
03 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Singapore launches internet extravaganza
27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Singapore
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