Singapore General Elections: Must I Vote? What’s the Process?

Last updated on December 22, 2023

If you are unclear about the stages involved in the Singapore general elections and want to find out more about your role as a voter, this guide aims to clarify the details of the general elections for you.

What are the General Elections?

The general elections refer to the election of new Members of Parliament (MPs), based on the votes cast by eligible voters. These newly-elected MPs will assume office in the respective electoral division, or constituency. 

MPs act as a bridge between the residents of their constituency and the government, ensuring that the community’s concerns are addressed in Parliament. 

The Parliament of Singapore is established by the Constitution and its functions involve making laws, critiquing and investigating the Government’s policies and actions, and examining the State’s finances.

General elections must take place within 3 months of the dissolution of the Parliament. Such dissolution may occur at any time before the Parliament’s 5-year term expires, by the President upon the advice of the Prime Minister (PM). 

Once Parliament has been dissolved, the President will issue a Writ of election to the Returning Officer  – the official in-charge of overseeing the election process – to direct them to hold a general election. The writ specifies the date and venue(s) of Nomination Day (see below).

Who can vote in the General Elections? 

To be able to cast a vote during the general elections, your name must be in the certified Register of Electors (RE) for an electoral division (i.e. constituency). Your name will be included in the RE before polling day if you are:

  • A citizen of Singapore (holder of pink NRIC);
  • Not less than 21 years of age;
  • Not disqualified from being an elector under any prevailing law; and
  • Have a Singapore residential address on your NRIC; or
  • If you are residing overseas, and have changed your NRIC address to an overseas address, have a contact address in Singapore registered with the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority  (Local Contact Address).

Is it compulsory to vote in the elections? What happens if you do not vote despite being eligible to do so?

Yes, it is your civic responsibility and a fundamental right of your citizenship to vote. 

Under section 43 of the Parliamentary Elections Act, eligible voters (i.e. all Singapore citizens whose names are in the Registers of Electors have to vote). If you failed to vote at a previous election, your name will be expunged from the certified Register of Electors of the electoral division that you belong to. In addition, you will not be able to vote at subsequent presidential and parliamentary elections.

You may apply to restore your name to the register. However, a fee of S$50 will be imposed if you do not have a valid reason for not voting. Some valid reasons for not voting are:

  • Working overseas (including being on a business trip) on Polling Day;
  • Studying overseas at the time of the poll;
  • Living with your spouse who is working or studying overseas;
  • Overseas vacation which was planned before the poll; or
  • Illness or childbirth.

You are strongly encouraged to make an early application for restoring your name to the Registers of Electors. Do note that no restoration can be made once a Writ for an election is issued.

What if you’re residing overseas during the voting period? 

If you are a Singaporean Citizen who is residing overseas and your name is on the Register of Electors, you may register to vote as an overseas elector either by post or at an overseas polling station if the country that you reside in has one.

Do note that if you wish to register as an overseas elector, in addition to the qualifying criteria to vote, you must also have resided in Singapore for an aggregate of at least 30 days within the 3-year period prior to the date of your application to be registered as an overseas elector.

If you meet the qualifying criteria and wish to vote overseas at the next election, you can apply to register as an overseas elector using your Singpass.

While registrations as overseas electors are open all-year round,  registrations will not be processed during the period from the third day after the Writ for an election is issued to Polling Day.

You can refer to this diagram for an overview of the relevant details and other elections-related procedures for overseas voters. 

What are Electoral Divisions? 

Electoral divisions, or constituencies, are areas within Singapore that have been demarcated by the Prime Minister by law for the purposes of Parliamentary elections and Presidential elections.

Each electoral division is further subdivided into many smaller areas known as polling districts and each polling district will have its own polling station. A register of electors is prepared for each electoral division.

There are 2 types of electoral divisions in Singapore:

  1. Single Member Constituencies (SMCs): electoral divisions that have a single MP. The Parliamentary Elections Act requires that there must be at least 8 SMCs at any time.
  2. Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs): comparatively bigger electoral divisions, by both area and population, and have 3 to 6 MPs. At least 1 MP in a GRC must be from a minority racial group such as the Malay or Indian communities, or other minority communities. 

Before the general elections, the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) determines the number and boundaries of SMCs and GRCs to contest in the upcoming elections, taking into consideration any changes in the number and distribution of registered voters in the present electoral divisions caused by population shifts and housing developments since the last elections. This is to ensure an even distribution of voters among polling districts.

During the general elections, voters vote for their preferred candidate(s) to be the new MP(s) of the electoral division they reside in. These elected MPs become members of the relevant electoral division/constituency.

Nomination Day 

As mentioned above, the Writ of election states the date and venue(s) for Nomination Day.

On Nomination Day, election hopefuls will present their nomination papers and relevant certificates to the Returning Officer between 11am and 12pm to indicate their interest to be nominated as MP of their chosen electoral division.  

If only 1 candidate for an SMC or only 1 group of candidates for a GRC is/are nominated, the Returning Officer will declare them elected.

However, if more than one candidate or group of candidates is nominated in an electoral division, the Returning Officer will issue a notice of contested election stating the:

  • Date and time of polling for the contested electoral division;
  • Names of candidates, their symbols, proposers and seconders; and
  • Names and locations of all polling stations.

Candidates are allowed to commence campaigning from the moment the notice of contested election is issued up to the start of the eve of Polling Day (otherwise known as Cooling-Off Day). 

Know your SMC/GRC

Before Polling Day, you should be familiar with the candidates representing your electoral division so that you can make an informed choice when voting.

To find out which SMC or GRC you belong to and its current MPs, simply enter your residential address in the “Find My MP” portal on the Parliament of Singapore website.

Polling Day 

Polling Day is declared a public holiday during the general elections. Between 8am and 8pm, registered voters of contested constituencies go to their allotted polling stations, as stated in the poll card mailed to them prior to Polling Day, to cast their vote.

Upon arrival at the polling station, each voter is given a ballot paper on which they indicate their choice of vote. They then fold the paper and insert it into the ballot box before exiting the polling station. 

Due to varying time zones, polling for overseas voters may commence earlier than 8am in some countries. Overseas polling stations will be open for at least 4 hours, but will be closed before the poll concludes at 8pm in Singapore on Polling Day. 

All authorised polling stations officials, ranging from officers to candidates and authorised election agents, must take an oath to maintain voting secrecy at polling stations.

Failure to maintain voting secrecy is considered a criminal offence, and those convicted will be liable to a fine of up to $1,500 and/or imprisoned for up to 9 months. 

Post-Voting 

When the voting period ends at 8pm, ballot boxes are sealed and transported to counting centres for the Returning Officer to count the votes in the presence of the candidates.

Ballot boxes of an overseas poll must arrive in Singapore within 10 days from Polling Day, or up to a maximum of 17 days in the case of delays.  

If after counting the local votes, the Returning Officer finds that the overseas votes will have no impact on the outcome of the election, he/she will declare the candidate or group of candidates with the highest number of votes as elected for that SMC or GRC.

Candidates may ask for a recount of votes if the margin of difference between votes is 2% or less of the total number of votes cast in Singapore (excluding rejected votes and tendered votes) at the election.

The election results and a poll statement are published in the Gazette by the Returning Officer immediately after declaring the results. The newly elected MPs then assume office in their respective Town Councils.

What is section 49, subsection 7E, paragraph A of the Parliamentary Elections Act?

This section concerns itself with the counting of votes of overseas electors. It was brought to the public’s attention during the 2011 General Elections over the counting of votes for the Potong Pasir Single Member Constituency, which saw the PAP emerge as the victor by 114 votes.

Under this section, given that the number of overseas voters in a constituency is x,

the number of votes garnered by the PAP is y, and

the number of votes garnered by the opposition is z

If x is less than the difference between y and z, then the Returning Officer can do away with waiting for the results of the overseas voters and declare the winner.

What happens after all the votes have been counted?

The ballot papers and other official documents used in the election are placed into separate boxes and sealed. This process is witnessed by candidates and their counting agents who are present, and they may place their own seals on these boxes. 

These boxes are then conveyed by Police escort and retained in safe custody at the Supreme Court for 6 months after the end of the general elections. After 6 months, these boxes are destroyed by incineration, unless directed otherwise by the order of the President.

Confidentiality is of utmost importance during the general elections voting process.