Barely six months after the death of late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 2015, the government called for a general election. To no one’s surprise, it romped home to a resounding victory.
Critics, supporters and detractors alike attributed it to the Lee Kuan Yew factor, as there was profound lingering sentiment over his passing. Even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong admitted in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that he had “no doubt that founding PM Lee Kuan Yew’s passing earlier that year had an impact on voters.”
Fast forward to 2020 and it appears that we are on the verge of the government calling for a general election. Once again, the timing is opportunistic.
We are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries are in lockdown. National emergencies have been declared. Schools and places of worship are closed. Restaurants and cinemas are closed. Travel is restricted. Crowds and mass gatherings are discouraged, even outlawed. Social distancing is encouraged.
And while all that is happening around the world (and some of it in Singapore too), the authorities here could well be busy planning for, of all things, an election!
With the release of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee report, and not so subtle hints from the government and local media, we may be heading for a general election by May or maybe even before that.
Rather than ask why now, we should look at it from the government’s perspective and ask WHY NOT NOW?
After all, the opposition would be severely handicapped. They have not been active of late, taking a backseat to the COVID-19 outbreak. There would not be crowds at rallies. Door-to-door campaigning, even if allowed, would be restrictive. It could be largely kept to online campaigning, which some opposition parties may not even be geared up for.
And at the end of the day, news on COVID-19 would drown out everything else, with Singaporeans preoccupied with their own health and safety.
So when the government tells Singaporeans that now is the time to give them the strong mandate to steer us through the health crisis and a faltering economy, how do you think voters will respond?
As Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing might put it in Singlish: Singaporeans are sia suay, kiasu and kiasi, so the PAP better hold election now – pau chiak want!
In other words: Singaporeans are a disgraceful lot, afraid to lose and afraid to die, so if we hold an election now, it’s sure win – open and shut case.
The opposition may protest all it wants about the timing of the general election. But as far as the PAP government is concerned, in crisis, in sickness and in death, there is opportunity so why not strike while the iron is hot.