The prospect of holding the next general election (GE) in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis “defies logic”, said Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chairman Paul Tambyah.
Speaking to reporters in a doorstep interview at Bukit Batok Avenue West on Sat (21 Mar), Dr Tambyah said that he finds it mindboggling as to “how the Prime Minister can continue to talk about the general election” at a time when the COVID-19 crisis has yet to show any signs of abating.
“It sounds terrible, but I have to ask, how many people have to die before the Prime Minister can come out with a clear statement that we are not going to have a general election until the COVID-19 situation has stabilised?” Dr Tambyah questioned.
Dr Tambyah, alongside party chief Chee Soon Juan and other members of the SDP, were present in Bukit Batok today for a walk-and-run event with residents of the constituency.
“This is not something that we’re just putting on because of the elections … Again, as you know, Dr Chee has been doing this since 2016. And we’ve been doing this in the Bukit Batok area since way back, when we first took part in Bukit Batok in the 1991 general election,” he said.
Noting that the SDP had also conducted house visits in the Holland-Bukit Timah constituency on Thu (19 Mar) — where two of the residents “insisted on shaking our hands” — Dr Tambyah said that the SDP has been adopting precautionary measures such as social distancing and maintaining strict hygiene practices when meeting residents.
“They all asked us the same question: How can anyone be thinking of a general election at a time like this?” said Dr Tambyah.
“It’s a huge risk … During the last general election, I lost count of the number of people I shook hands with. There must have been thousands of people I shook hands with! Can you imagine if one or two, or three, of them had been infected with the virus?” he said.
Even hand sanitisers are not “a hundred per cent effective”, said Dr Tambyah, who is an infectious disease specialist.
“You actually have to let the disinfectant stay on the surface. There has to be a prolonged contact time in order to kill the viruses or bacteria.
“And when you’re on the road, it’s very hard to maintain that amount of contact time required to kill the virus in this case,” he said.
Elderly people, said Dr Tambyah, are most particularly vulnerable to the complications brought about by viruses such as COVID-19.
“If you have them lining up, queuing up to vote because voting is compulsory in Singapore, there is a high risk that they may end up getting infected or they may get some complications … We think it is the height of irresponsibility to conduct an election at a time like this,” he stressed.
Responding to a query from TOC regarding how he would like PM Lee to announce that an election will not be held during this period, Dr Tambyah said: “All he needs to do is to just come out and say, ‘We are standing with you, the people of Singapore’.
“We respect the work of the healthcare workers, the contact tracers, the Cisco guards – everybody who is trying to keep Singapore safe. We do not want anybody to be distracted from this. We want to focus on bringing the virus under control, protecting our borders, protecting our people, and we will not talk about elections, or even consider an election until the numbers are way down,” he added.
When asked if the uncertainty on whether the next GE will be called during the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the way Singapore’s civil servants expend the available resources in handling the outbreak, Dr Tambyah said: “No, I don’t think so. Civil servants in Singapore are very professional. They are independent of the politicians.”
“It doesn’t matter who is in charge – the civil servants will continue to do their job. I’ve got good friends — infectious disease specialists — who are diehard PAP [People’s Action Party] activists. I’ve got people who are volunteering with PSP [Progress Singapore Party] … We just do our job, because that is the way we are in Singapore,” he added.
EBRC has not explained reasoning behind new electoral map “as usual” — but boundaries of constituencies eyed by SDP remain “relatively unchanged”: SDP chairman Paul Tambyah
Commenting on the new electoral boundaries announced in the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) report released on 13 Mar, Dr Tambyah said in response to a query that an upside of the changes is that the electoral boundaries for constituencies eyed upon by SDP remain “relatively unchanged”.
“There are a few blocks from Sembawang GRC which have moved into Marsiling GRC. And these are areas where we have not visited recently, but the Sembawang GRC is a place where the SDP has been for many years,” he said.
Dr Tambyah also pointed out that “as usual”, the EBRC has not given any explanation on why the boundaries were moved as such.
“It can be Sembawang one day, and then the next day, you’re Marsiling … And then the next day, you’re Sembawang again. But we’ve got to live with it. That’s the way the system is,” he said.
When asked about whether the SDP has been in discussion with the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), led by former PAP cadre Tan Cheng Bock, regarding an overlap of a constituency they intend to contest in, Dr Tambyah said that both parties have engaged each other regarding the matter.
“They’ve notified us ahead of their plans, so we’ll be seeing what is the most appropriate action,” he added, noting that he will inform the press when a solution is reached.
Following a party meeting on Wed (18 Mar), PSP announced its plans to contest 15 constituencies in the next GE, seven of which are Single Member Constituencies (SMCs) and eight Group Representation Constituency (GRCs) in the next election.
Nine of the constituencies have already been claimed by at least seven other opposition parties.
The overlapping ward between SDP and PSP currently is the Yuhua SMC, where SDP’s Benjamin Pwee has been walking the ground and meeting residents.
Replying to a question on whether the SDP has decided on the candidates it would like to field in the next GE, Dr Tambyah said that while the party is “not going to give away any secrets until just before Nomination Day”, he highlighted that SDP has “introduced some faces after the campaign launch” and is currently sorting through the prospective candidates “to see who is the best fit” for the relevant constituencies.
At the beginning of the interview, Dr Tambyah expressed his appreciation for the work of his colleagues at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) and other primary care medical institutions “who have been working so hard for the last two months to try and keep Singaporeans and other people in Singapore safe and healthy”.
Dr Tambyah also conveyed his condolences to the families of the two COVID-19 patients who had passed away on Sat morning (21 Mar).
The two patients were a 75-year-old Singaporean woman with a history of chronic heart disease and hypertension and a 64-year-old Indonesian national who was diagnosed with pneumonia in his home country and a history of heart disease.
The Singaporean woman was linked to the cluster at The Life Church and Missions Singapore. She had been admitted to the NCID on 23 Feb for pneumonia and was confirmed the same day to have COVID-19. The woman passed away after 26 days in ICU, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH).
The Indonesian man was admitted in critical condition to intensive care at NCID on 13 Mar after arriving in Singapore from Indonesia the same day, and was subsequently confirmed the next day to be positive with COVID-19.
MOH confirmed and verified 47 new cases of COVID-19 in Singapore as at 12pm on Sat. Of the 47 new cases, 39 were imported and eight were local.
This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 432 so far.