S'pore loosens hold on Net politics

The Singapore government has made some concessions to campaigning in cyberspace, but will still seek to rein in the "anything goes" Net culture via a number of restrictions.

SINGAPORE--The government has made some concessions to campaigning in cyberspace, with political parties being allowed to post their manifestoes, posters, candidate profiles, and even hold discussions and forums on their Web sites.

Parliament passed an amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Act yesterday, allowing for political campaigning over the Internet. "Contrary to what the media has been speculating, the Government has decided to allow political campaigning on the Internet in the upcoming election," Minister for Information and the Arts Lee Yock Suan said.

However, surfers who are used to the "anything goes" culture that prevails in other parts of the Net should be warned that the online campaigning will be subject to a number of restrictions, many of which have not yet been outlined yet.

While private sites will not be able to campaign for any particular party, the rules on mass emails sent by private citizens asking their friends to vote for a particular party or candidate have yet to be finalized, although Lee assured Parliament that the Act was aimed at Internet broadcasters rather than private individuals.

Similarly, the restrictions on Web sites based abroad, such as satirical site talkingcock.com, which often touches on the political, have not been drawn up either.

These questions, and others, will be addressed and all the rules spelled out before the election, Lee promised.

One thing is clear however, both for official party sites and private ones. Rules that bind other media--such as publishing the results of opinion polls and exit polls before the election results are released, as well as banning campaigning on polling day--will stand. The polling day ban means the sites should not post new displays of election advertising on the day.

Lee defended the restrictions as necessary, as "the anonymity of the Internet opens a door for surreptitious elements to mislead, distract and confuse the public."

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