While answering questions to a group of media on Sunday (15 March), National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that Singapore’s upcoming general election is not his main focus right now. He said that his priority at the moment is to curb the spreading of COVID-19 in the country.
“My sole preoccupation is tackling the virus,” Mr Wong said, who is also the co-chair of the Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) which looks at tackling the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
He added, “We don’t hold back on what we think I necessary to protect Singaporeans,” he said in reference to the latest measures announced to contain the spreading of the virus, which include the move to cancel ticketed events with more than 250 attendees.
After the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee report was released on Friday (13 March), many opposition parties have called on the ruling government, People’s Action Party, to not have a general election (GE) amid the pandemic.
For instance, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Secretary-General of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) asked in a Facebook video, if it is wise to hold a GE in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The former People’s Action Party Member of Parliament who is also a doctor with fifty years of experience, said that more than 2.6 million voters will be exposed to the virus because voting is compulsory and everyone will need to go to the polling stations to cast their votes.
“During the campaign period, there will be rallies and many large group activities being held, is this a risk we want to take?” said Dr Tan.
As for Mr Wong, when he was asked if GE will be called soon and how it will be carried out, the Minister said that this is something that “other parties to worry about”.
In terms of organising events, such as election rallies, organisers must “take guidance from the advisories we have put out, or adjust their event formats in line with the advisories, in order to ensure that they are safe”.
“If the prime minister decides (to hold an election), given the prevailing guidance on events, advisories and social distancing, then I’m sure (Event) organisers will have to make adjustments accordingly,” he explained.
Mr Wong also said at MTF press conference on Friday that some flexibility will be given to the crowd limit for events. For example, if the event is held at large venues where people are given enough space to keep distance with each other, then that event can have a bigger audience.
However, for private events, organisers are encouraged to limit their number of participants to below 250, where possible.
Besides this, other precaution measures highlighted include participants do not crowd; ventilation be improved by seating guests at least 1m apart; conduct health screening measures; and paying attention to help with contact tracing, such as getting attendees’ contact details.
“Peak” not known yet
At the media doorstop, Mr Wong was asked when the Singapore authorities were expecting the number of COVID-19 in the country to “peak”.
As a response, he said, “When is the peak in Singapore? This is a question I ask our experts all the time. And, frankly, no one can give a definitive answer at this stage.”
He also said another wave of cases is expected to occur from countries outside of China. He noted this based on the epidemic curve data.
“The worrying thing is that some of these countries have already given up on containment,” the Minister said, citing the United Kingdom as an example.
“The next peak that comes may well be higher than what we have faced in the initial wave, when the virus was from just one epidemic centre. Now we’re facing multiple epidemic centres,” he noted.
Due to this, the Singapore authorities are worried that the country will be affected by a new wave of infections which could be “potentially larger” than what was previously seen, said Mr Wong.
Netizens urge GE to be conducted after COVID-19 situation resolves
Upon reading Mr Wong’s stand on this matter, many online users urged him to advise Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to not hold a GE given the COVID-19 situation in the country.
Commenting in the Facebook page of Yahoo News Singapore, they said that they hope Mr Wong is “brave enough” to advise his “boss” to not change his mind in holding a GE soon. However, a few online users also pointed out that they don’t think Mr Wong would be able to convince PM Lee.
However, other praised Mr Wong for putting the issue of tackling the virus ahead of the GE. They added that he is a good minister.
But, a Facebook user named James Hos said that if a GE is held within the next 6 months, then Singaporeans will know that Minister Wong “is just a liar”. He added, “Politics is more important then public health and safety”.
On the other hand, Abdul Rahman Bin Abdul Rahim slammed the Goverment as they have previously asked people to avoid going to crowded places in order to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus, but now they have hinted a GE. “Ppl arnd the world are trying to avoid the pandemic..here we are busy abt GE..well done,” he wrote.
Although some netizens praised Mr Wong for worrying more about COVID-19 than the GE, however others said that the Minister’s statements are contradicting each other. One user called SnapShot pointed out that Mr Wong first said that the Govt will do everything it deems necessary to protect the people, but then he went on to state that he leaves it to PM Lee to decide when the next GE will be held. “If he meant what he said about protecting Singaporeans, he should be advising PM to reconsider about holding an election in the near future. So please don’t say one thing but end up doing something totally different,” the user wrote.
Another user named Breeke echoes the same sentiment. However, user Anonymous felt that PM Lee’s only concern is “winning his vote”, and he “don’t care about anyone”. As such, the user warned people to not “trust PAP” as they will end up facing “huger GST, tax and other burdens that they impose to make themselves rich by squeeze very drop of your blood”.
Separately, user Jacob slammed Mr Wong for passing the problem to opposition parties. The user referred to the Minister’s statement which stated “other parties to worry about”. In response to this, Jacob said that it is “irresponsible for you (Mr Wong) to make such remarks as you are supposed to solve the problem and not pass it to others to solve”.
Meanwhile, others questioned the rush to hold a GE at this moment given the COVID-19 situation. They suggested that all organised events should be cancelled or postponed, and safety measures like wearing face masks, temperature checking, social distancing and non-stop hands washing should be strictly enforced.
User Samuel said, “Unfortunately, double standard are being practised, as some organised events are still go ahead, even though it may pose a danger to the participants. Wonder who will shoulder the full responsibility if they get infected?”