On Wednesday (18 March), Singapore’s National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that the country’s upcoming General Elections (GE) will “very likely” happen while in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. At the latest, the GE has to be held by 15 April 2021.
Speaking to CNBC’s Squawk Box Asia, Mr Wong explained that a number of medical experts have revealed that the virus may not go away any time soon. This means that the world’s fight against the deadly novel coronavirus could “drag on for a year and beyond a year,” he said.
“So, whatever the timing of the election, because it has to be held by April 2021, it is very likely that it will have to be held when COVID-19 is still circulating in our midst – that’s the reality,” said the Minister, who is also Singapore’s second finance minister and co-chairs a multi-ministry task force to combat the spreading of the novel coronavirus in Singapore.
Last Friday (13 March), the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) report was released on the revised electoral map, arousing speculation that the next GE will be called very soon.
Historically, the GE is usually held about two months after the EBRC report is released. That’s what happened in the last three elections in 2015, 2011, and 2006. In 2001, the report was released on 17 October 2001 and elections were held less than a month later on 2 November 2001.
Adding to this, it appears that activists from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) said to The New Paper yesterday (17 March) that the next GE could be held as early as May. An anonymous senior party activist speaking to The Straits Times said that the stabilisation of coronavirus cases would impact the timing of the polls, adding that he doesn’t think the elections will happen next month.
The 30-day period is in reference to National Development Minister Lawrence Wong’s announcement on Sunday (15 March) in which he issued a travel advisory for Singaporeans to defer all non-essential travel abroad in light of the COVID-19 crisis.
During Sunday’s announcement, Ministry of Health (MOH) said that all travellers entering Singapore who have visited other ASEAN countries, Japan, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom in the past two weeks will be issued a 14-day stay-home notice.
The stay-home notice – which will include Singapore residents, long-term pass holders, and short-term visitors – took effect starting 11.59 pm on Monday (16 March).
Another indication that the GE might be held in May is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Facebook post on Saturday (14 March) in which he said that the GE can only be called after the electoral registers have been updated, which can take up to a month.
“My sole preoccupation is tackling the virus” – Mr Wong
Although Mr Wong told CNBC that the GE will be called in the middle of COVID-19 outbreak, he had earlier said to a media doorstop on Sunday that his main focus right now is not the upcoming general elections. In fact, his priority at the moment is to curb the spreading of COVID-19 in the country.
“My sole preoccupation is tackling the virus,” the Minister said.
He continued, “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 includes the move to cancel ticketed events with more than 250 attendees.
When asked if GE will be called soon and how it will be carried out, the Minister said that this is something that is for “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.
Opposition parties call for GE not to be held in the middle of COVID-19 outbreak
A number of opposition parties have called for the Government to not hold a GE while the country is combating to curb the spreading of the deadly coronavirus.
Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Secretary-General of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) asked in a Facebook video, if it is wise to hold a General Election (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.
Dr Tan went on to say that there is a potential mass exposure to the virus and so holding a GE at this time, should not be considered.
“We should put politics aside, take care of our people’s health and welfare first” urged Dr Tan.
Separately, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan also said in a Facebook post that “it would be the height of irresponsibility” if the ruling party, People’s Action Party (PAP), goes ahead with an election “when public safety is at its most vulnerable.”
“The PAP cannot place its own political interest over the health and safety of the Singaporean people. It would be the height of irresponsibility if it goes ahead with the GE at a time when public safety is at its most vulnerable,” he wrote.
He added, “The mandate it thinks that it secures in a GE held at a time of a health crisis when people are naturally working together will be hollow and meaningless. To claim endorsement of an agenda based on such opportunistic politicking will further divide the people rather than unite us.”
As such, Mr Chee reiterated the party’s call that “the GE cannot and must not be called until there are clear signs that the Coronavirus situation has clearly turned around and Singaporeans are no longer under serious threat.”