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Singapore’s Political Donations Act prohibits political associations and candidates from accepting donations from foreigners and restricts the receipt of anonymous donations. Evasion of these restrictions on donations may constitute an offense and be punished by imprisonment for up to twelve months, a fine, or both.

The Parliamentary Elections Act and Presidential Elections Act prohibit foreigners from conducting election activities or knowingly publishing or displaying, or knowingly causing or permitting to be published or displayed, any election advertising.

The Public Order Act was amended in 2017 to make it clear that the police can refuse to grant a permit for a public assembly or procession “directed towards a political end” that is organized by or involves the participation of any foreigners or foreign entities.

I. Prohibition of Foreign Donations

Singapore’s Political Donations Act went into effect on February 15, 2001, and aims to prevent foreigners from interfering in Singapore’s domestic politics through funding. The government explained the rationale for enacting this statute as follows:

It is no more legitimate for foreigners to pay money to support a political association or candidate than it is for them to support the association’s cause or to vote for the candidate. . . . Politics in Singapore should be for Singaporeans only.[1]

A. Permissible Donor

The Political Donations Act prohibits political associations and candidates from accepting donations from foreigners. According to the Act, donations must come from permissible donors.[2] A “permissible donor” is defined by the Act to mean

(a) an individual who is a citizen of Singapore and is not less than 21 years of age;
(b) a Singapore-controlled company which carries on business wholly or mainly in Singapore; or
(c) in relation to a candidate, any political party he is standing for at an election[.][3]

A “Singapore-controlled company” under the Act means

a company incorporated in Singapore, the majority of whose directors and members are citizens of Singapore or, in the case of any member being another company, where that other company is incorporated in Singapore and the majority of whose directors and members are citizens of Singapore, and where that other company has a member who is a company which in turn has a member who is a company and so on, where each of those member companies are companies incorporated in Singapore and the majority of whose directors and members are citizens of Singapore.[4]

The Act restricts the receipt of anonymous donations to less than SG$5,000 (approximately US$3,650) in total per reporting period. According to the Act, political associations may accept anonymous donations less than SG$5,000 during any one financial year of the association.[5] A candidate at an election and his election agent or a candidate at a presidential election and his principal election agent may also accept anonymous donations less than SG$5,000 during the relevant period.[6]

B. Definition of “Donation”

Donations may be in the form of money, property, services, or facilities provided other than on commercial terms, sponsorship, or subscription fee, as provided by article 3 of the Act:

3.—(1) In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires, “donation”, in relation to a candidate at an election or at a presidential election, means —

(a) any gift of money or other property to the candidate or his election agent;

(b) any money spent (otherwise than by the candidate as permitted by any other written law) in paying any expenses incurred, directly or indirectly, by the candidate or by his election agent or any person authorised by his election agent;

(c) any money lent to the candidate or his election agent otherwise than on commercial terms;

(d) the provision otherwise than on commercial terms of any property, services or facilities (including the services of any person) to the candidate or his election agent; or

(e) the provision of any sponsorship in relation to the candidate,

which is given, spent, lent or provided (whether before or after he becomes a candidate) for the purposes of the candidate’s election.

(2) In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires, “donation”, in relation to a political association, means —

(a) any gift of money or other property to the political association;

(b) any money spent (otherwise than by the political association or a person acting on its behalf) in paying any expenses incurred, directly or indirectly, by the political association;

(c) any money lent to the political association otherwise than on commercial terms;

(d) the provision otherwise than on commercial terms of any property, services or facilities for the use or benefit of the political association (including the services of any person);

(e) the provision of any sponsorship in relation to the political association; or

(f) any subscription or other fee paid for affiliation to, or membership of, the political association. [7]

C. Donation by a Trustee

For the purposes of the Political Donations Act, any donation received by a candidate, election agent, or political association by way of a donation by a trustee, in his capacity as such, shall be regarded as a donation received by the candidate, election agent, or association from a person who is not a permissible donor.[8]

D. Penalty

An evasion of the restrictions on donations may constitute an offense and be punished by imprisonment. According to the Act, entering into or knowingly doing any act in furtherance of any arrangement that facilitates the making of donations to a candidate, election agent, or political association by any person or body other than a permissible donor is an offense, which is punishable by a fine not exceeding SG$3,000 (approximately US$2,200), imprisonment for a term not exceeding twelve months, or both.[9]

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II. Prohibition of Foreigners Conducting Election Activity or Advertising

A. Election Activity

Singapore’s election laws prohibit foreigners from conducting any election activities. The Parliamentary Elections Act and Presidential Elections Act provide that no person who is not a citizen of Singapore shall take part in any election activity.[10]

“Election activity” under the Parliamentary Elections Act and Presidential Elections Act generally includes any activity that is done for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election, except for clerical work wholly performed within enclosed premises.

According to the Parliamentary Elections Act,

“election  activity” includes any activity (other than clerical work wholly performed within enclosed premises) which is done for the purpose of —

(a) promoting or procuring the electoral success at any election for one or more identifiable political parties, candidates or groups of candidates; or

(b) prejudicing the electoral prospects of other political parties, candidates or groups of candidates at the election.[11]

According to the Presidential Elections Act,

“election activity” includes any activity which is done for the purpose of promoting or procuring the election of any candidate at any election other than clerical work wholly performed within enclosed premises.[12]

B. Election Advertising

The two election laws both specifically forbid foreigners to “knowingly publish or display, or knowingly cause or permit to be published or displayed, any election advertising” during the specified election period.[13] The election period begins with the day a writ of election is issued and ends with the start of the eve of voting day.[14]

“Election advertising” under the election laws may be in the form of a poster, banner, notice, circular, handbill, illustration, article, advertisement, or other material with certain exceptions for items such as buttons, pens, and balloons.[15] The term “publish” is specifically defined by the Parliamentary Elections Act to include making available to the general public by means of broadcasting (by wireless telegraphy or otherwise) and transmitting on the internet.[16]

C. Penalties

Contravening the provisions concerning persons who are prohibited from conducting election activities may constitute an offense. According to the Parliamentary Elections Act and Presidential Elections Act, such an offense is punishable by a fine not exceeding SG$2,000 (approximately US$1,460), imprisonment for a term not exceeding twelve months, or both.[17] There do not appear to be any provisions specifically requiring campaign personnel to inform the authorities of contacts by foreigners offering money, information, or services.

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III. Political Assembly with Foreigners Involved

In Singapore, the government controls public assemblies by granting permits in accordance with the Public Order Act. The Act was amended in 2017 to further tighten the restrictions, by making it clear that the police can refuse to grant a permit for a political public assembly or procession that is organized by or involves the participation of any foreigners or foreign entities. According to section 7 of the Act,

(2) The Commissioner may refuse to grant a permit for a public assembly or public procession in respect of which notice under section 6 has been given if he has reasonable ground for apprehending that the proposed assembly or procession may —

(h) be directed towards a political end and be organised by, or involve the participation of, any of the following persons:

(i)     an entity that is not a Singapore entity;

(ii)    an individual who is not a citizen of Singapore.[18]

An assembly or procession is subject to the Act if its purpose, or one of its purposes, is to: (1) demonstrate support for or opposition to the views or actions of any person, group of persons or any government; (2) publicize a cause or campaign; or (3) mark or commemorate any event.[19]

An “assembly” means a gathering or meeting that may consist of any lecture, talk, address, debate, or discussion, including a demonstration by one person alone. A “procession” means a march, parade, or other movement composed of two or more persons gathered at a place of assembly to proceed together, or a march by a person alone, for a purpose governed by the Act.[20]

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Laney Zhang
Foreign Law Specialist
August 2019


[1] Singapore Elections Department, Political Donations Handbook: Introduction (last updated May 24, 2017), https://www.eld.gov.sg/handbook/introduction.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/FY85-ABKK.

[2] Political Donations Act (ch. 236) (revised Dec. 31, 2001) ss 8 & 14, https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/PDA2000, archived at https://perma.cc/82X5-G29C.

[3] Id. s 2(1).

[4] Id.

[5] Id. s 8(2).

[6] Id. s 14(2).

[7] Id. s 3.

[8] Id. s 2(5).

[9] Id. s 23(1).

[10] Parliamentary Elections Act (ch. 218) (revised Apr. 15, 2011) s 83(1), https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/PEA1954, archived at https://perma.cc/6V69-V454; Presidential Elections Act (ch. 240A) (revised July 15, 2011) s 65(1), https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/PrEA1991, archived at https://perma.cc/KS3U-94EB.

[11] Parliamentary Elections Act s 83(8).

[12] Presidential Elections Act s 65(8).

[13] Parliamentary Elections Act s 83(1A); Presidential Elections Act s 65(1A).

[14] Id.

[15] Parliamentary Elections Act s 2(1); Presidential Elections Act s 2(1).

[16] Parliamentary Elections Act s 2(1).

[17] Parliamentary Elections Act s 83(5); Presidential Elections Act s 65(5).

[18] Public Order Act (ch. 257A) (revised May 31, 2012) s 7(2)(h), https://sso.agc.gov.sg/Act/POA2009, archived at https://perma.cc/3V3Q-V3CS.

[19] Id. s 2(1).

[20] Id.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020