It is crucial for the Government to reconsider its possible decision to hold the next General Election in the midst of an upsurge of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Singapore, said the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP)’s chief Chee Soon Juan.
Speaking to reporters outside the Bloodbank @ Dhoby Ghaut on Sat (14 Mar), Dr Chee reiterated the SDP’s stance that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) should not hold the next general election in the midst of a spike in COVID-19 cases in Singapore.
“You can imagine our outrage – our shock – when the EBRC [Electoral Boundaries Review Committee] announced the boundaries,” said Dr Chee.
“Don’t forget, it had seven to eight months to do this. But it waited until the point where the outbreak is at its worst, and a pandemic has just been declared,” he added.
Noting that there has been “an upsurge” of new cases in Singapore in the past week, Dr Chee said that the SDP has attempted to set aside partisan politics in the current crisis.
“And now the Government has forced upon the nation to do this [the possibility of an election soon] … It is the worst of possible times for us to call for an election at this stage,” he said.
The EBRC report was released last Fri (13 Mar). The Committee was convened on 1 Aug last year and announced by PM Lee the following month.
The Government has accepted the EBRC’s recommendations and will carry them out in the next GE.
With the announcement of the new electoral boundaries, President Halimah Yacob is expected to dissolve Parliament on the advice of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s advice.
Previously in 2015, the EBRC released its report on 24 Jul, a month prior to the dissolution of Parliament. Voting took place on 11 Sep that year.
The PAP, added Dr Chee, “cannot be more irresponsible” in doing so “when we should be focusing our state resources” on overcoming the COVID-19 outbreak.
He emphasised that there is no real necessity to hold elections at this point, given that the deadline for doing so falls in Apr next year.
“There is still time,” said Dr Chee. “Why do it now, unless you want to do this for your own political advantage?”
He argued that it is “wrong” to “capitalise” on the people’s fear and distraction in the midst of a crisis to gain support and win votes in an election.
Dr Chee pointed out that even the SDP have held back certain activities on its agenda such as the party’s 40th anniversary due to the severity of the outbreak.
“It’s a big thing for us, and we wanted to do it towards the end of February or in March. But when this matter hit, we thought the better of it and said no.
“And then what do we find? That the PAP’s Women’s Wing organises this massive activity where – I saw a photo of it – there must have been at least a couple of hundred of people gathered in close proximity,” he said.
Dr Chee also cited the People’s Association-linked Chinese New Year gathering at SAFRA Jurong — which is currently the largest COVID-19 cluster in Singapore — from which many of the new cases have emerged.
“A couple of weeks ago, we were down to one, two, three, zero cases (of new infections) I saw on one day. And all of a sudden, because of the Jurong cluster, we had things bouncing right back up again.”
“Has the PAP dropped the ball?” Dr Chee questioned.
PM Lee in a Facebook post last Sat said that Singapore has “two choices” when it comes to the timing of the election.
“Either hope and pray that things will stabilise before the end of the term so that we can hold elections under more normal circumstances – but we have no certainty of that.
“Or else call elections early, knowing that we are going into a hurricane, to elect a new government with a fresh mandate and a full term ahead of it, which can work with Singaporeans on the critical tasks at hand,” he said.
Responding to a query on how the EBRC’s announcement might have changed the SDP’s campaigning strategy, Dr Chee said: “We’re going to stick to this right now. The elections have not been called yet.”
“There is still time for the Prime Minister to make a declaration” that it is responsible enough not to hold elections when Singapore’s Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level is still on Orange,” he added.
Touching on the anniversary dinner organised by the Bukit Batok Active Ageing Club Committee on 7 Mar, Dr Chee again questioned whether it was a socially responsible thing to do for Bukit Batok Member of Parliament Murali Pillai to allow such a gathering to be held in the midst of this outbreak, particularly when the elderly are more susceptible to the deadly effects of the virus.
Mr Murali told TODAY on Sun (15 Mar) that he had asked Ong Chai, the chairman of the Bukit Batok Active Ageing Club Committee, regarding the matter several hours before the dinner began at 7pm.
He added that he had asked Mr Ong as to how the news of the cluster formed after a Chinese New Year gathering at SAFRA Jurong would influence the organiser’s decision to proceed with the dinner.
Mr Murali also told TODAY that Mr Ong — in addition to shortening the duration of the dinner by one and a half hours from the scheduled end time — had also advised those who have attended the SAFRA Jurong event to excuse themselves.
The dinner, which was attended by over 300 people including Mr Murali himself as an adviser to the Bukit Batok Grassroots Organisations, ended at 9pm instead of the originally scheduled 10.30pm.
“They tried their very best to balance the competing interests of maintaining safety and good health for our seniors … and also ensuring that they have an active social life,” said Mr Murali, adding that he appreciates the organiser’s decision to proceed with the dinner.
Mr Murali’s statement was made in relation to SDP chief Chee Soon Juan’s Facebook post yesterday, in which he questioned Mr Murali’s role as the Bukit Batok MP and leader of the community who “have advised the organisers to cancel the function”.
“Why did Mr Murali gather together, or allow to be gathered, a hall of the elderly at a time when the spread of Covid-19 is at its most critical?
“Note that the participants are seated close to one another and not practicing social distancing. And these are older people who are most vulnerable when it comes to such infection,” said Dr Chee.
He added that Mr Murali had “apparently learnt nothing from the surge of new infections coming from people who attended the dinner function at SAFRA Jurong” last month.
“If an outbreak were to occur as a result of this occasion, all the residents at Bt Batok, and beyond, would be put at risk. Mr Murali has some explaining to do,” said Dr Chee.
Commenting on the SDP’s blood donation activity on Sat, Dr Chee said that donating blood is one of the most essential things Singaporeans could do even during an ongoing crisis.
“No matter what goes on, people continue to need blood if they are injured or if they succumb to a disease, and this is where I think Singaporeans can contribute,” he said.