by Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss
Today, Singaporeans are facing the closest thing to war since our nation gained independence. We are fighting an invisible enemy which moves in stealth and strikes in unpredictable ways. Our everyday lives are disrupted. We are hunkering down in preparation for a siege of uncertain duration.
In this unprecedented time, we are looking towards our government to lead us. We will have to trust in the judgment of our elected leaders.
I only have good things to say about how our leadership has been managing the COVID-19 crisis – until now.
For despite the fact that we are in the midst of battle, the PAP Government has all but announced that the next General Election (GE) will be held within the next two months. This is crazy. Why the rush to hold the next GE?
The PAP Government is giving the explanation that the COVID-19 crisis is not going to be resolved anytime soon, so we better hold the GE now than later.
I beg to differ. Two weeks ago, I would have been prepared to go along with the “let’s do this now, rather than later” rationale. Looking at what is happening as we speak, I think the window – the figurative “calm before the storm” – has closed. We are now not only in battle mode but also bracing for the battle to escalate in the days ahead. Holding the GE at this juncture cannot but serve as a distraction when all efforts must be focused on managing and coping with the COVID-19 crisis.
General election is a defining event in a democratic society. Leaders and citizens are required to give their due attention and focus on the electoral process. Once elected, our leaders have authority over our lives and livelihood for the next four to five years. It would be a betrayal of our nation’s values as enshrined in our Constitution for the Prime Minister’s Office to relegate the GE to a passing formality, to treat such a crucial event as something that we need to “get out of the way”. If neither the incumbent nor the citizenry have the bandwidth to give sufficient attention to the electoral process, then the responsible thing to do is to defer it to a better time.
Many concerned citizens have already spoken out against holding the next GE and to urge the Prime Minister to defer the GE until the crisis has abated. They have also said that they would not fault the PAP Government if the next GE is deferred beyond the statutory deadline of April 2021. With so much as stake, I feel compelled to add my voice in support of such views.
I do believe that we will eventually prevail over this crisis. It is only a matter time that we learn more about and understand better the enemy and its ways. Effective mitigating techniques and countermeasures like vaccines will eventually be developed. The element of surprise can only be used once. So, I think the better wisdom is to defer the GE for at least another year.
Our nation identifies itself as being a democracy. Democracy is all about the citizenry being able to choose our leaders. If we go to the polls within the next two months, I feel it will be tantamount to the incumbent holding our citizens to ransom: vote us back, or else you will be at the mercy of COVID-19. The incumbent is already in the driver’s seat in the COVID-19 battle and we are depending on them to lead us out of the woods. For anyone wishing to capitalize on the reluctance to change the status quo and to leverage on the fear of succumbing to the physical and economical impact of COVID-19, now is the best time.
When votes are cast in fear of life and livelihood, is the election free and fair?
Are we upholding the tenets of democracy to hold the GE at the time when Singaporeans are facing their worst crisis in the history our nation?
Is it conscionable for the PAP Government to hold the GE at this time?
Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss is a practicing lawyer with 30 years of experience who specialise in Family Law. She is also a former politician who has previously contested in Mountbatten SMC in General Election 2011 and 2015. In 2019, she resigned from Singapore People’s Party.