Recently, Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao posted a poll on its website, asking people, “What are your views on holding an election during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic?” Of 11,635 voters, a total of 7,859 voters (67.55%) disagree to hold the election amid the coronavirus pandemic as it would be difficult to hold rallies due to the current restrictions.
While the majority vote to disagree, 2,550 (21.92%) of those polled said that they would be open to having an election at this time as “daily life must go on”. The remaining 1,226 voters (10.54%) said that it didn’t matter to them either way.
In a separate poll by Yahoo Singapore, with the question, “Should Singapore hold a general election amid the COVID-19 pandemic?”, more than 1,100 voters (85%) of the voters answered “NO”, with only 11% answered “YES”, and another 4% said that it doesn’t matter to them.
However, the recent poll on Lianhe Zaobao is no longer on the website as seen by TOC earlier today (31 March), raising doubts on whether the site removed the poll as the results contradicted the government’s hint that an early election might be called.
TOC has reached out to Lianhe Zaobao but has yet to receive a reply.
Meanwhile, chief editor of Lianhe Zaobao, Han Yong Mei, in her article titled, “Merits of holding a GE during an outbreak” that was published on the Straits Times on 20 March, noted that the COVID-19 outbreak period may be a “critical period” for the ruling government to hold GE, “but it also presents the best opportunity”.
On the strategy taken by the government to manage the COVID-19 outbreak, Ms Han remarked that Singapore has gained international recognition, while the government has also “won more praise than criticism” within the country.
She commended the government’s ongoing efforts to contain the outbreak which “is very likely to subside” in about a month though the disease cannot be completely eliminated.
“If it is not possible to put an end to the global outbreak within a year, it will be better to hold the elections while the outbreak remains under control, rather than wait until the April 2021 deadline under the Constitution,” added Ms Han.
PM Lee hints on conducting GE with proper measures in place during ongoing outbreak
During a media interview last Friday (27 March), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned that the election can still be conducted with social media and the Internet as long as the proper measures are in place, although it might not be the most ideal solution.
PM Lee remarked, “You have to make a judgement in this situation with an outbreak going on, with all sorts of exceptional measures implemented in Singapore, is it possible for us to conduct an election and to get this done so that we clear the decks and we can go through and deal with whatever lies ahead?”
The countries that have a complete lockdown will find it difficult to hold an election as there would be many logistical issues, stated PM Lee, while adding that if a country is not on lockdown, then life can continue with heightened safety measures.
“But short of that situation, even when you have restrictions and some safe distancing measures, life still goes on: People are working, people can travel, people can conduct the poll,” he noted.
While citing the example of Israel and the United States proceeding with their elections during the coronavirus outbreak, he said, “You have to think of solutions for them, but it can be done, and I think that we have to weigh conducting an election under abnormal circumstances, against going into a storm with a (government) mandate which is reaching the end of its term.”
How do things turn out when elections are held during the ongoing pandemic?
Following the primary elections that carried on in most of the states in the United States, it appears that the COVID-19 cases have seen a five-fold increase in one of those states – the state of Florida – as revealed by Facebook user Victor Teoh in a Facebook post yesterday (30 March).
Mr Teoh shared a screenshot of two articles from The Intercept and USA Today. The Intercept reported that two poll workers who were stationed at polls in Broward County were tested positive for the COVID-19 virus after the state’s primary election on 17 March.
As a result, the supervisor’s office had contacted all 16 poll workers who worked alongside the workers who tested positive, said a spokesperson of Broward County Supervisor of Elections.
As for the USA Today report on 28 March, it noted that the death tolls in Florida have reached 56 in total and the COVID-19 cases surged to 4,038 cases, a five-fold increase from the week before.
Singapore’s opposition parties urge government to hold off GE to protect the public health and safety
The opposition parties and politicians also called out the government to hold off calling the next GE until the COVID-19 pandemic has cleared.
Instead of holding an early election in the midst of crisis, they urged the government to prioritise stemming the spread of the outbreak and protecting the health and safety of Singaporeans.
“We are now talking about life and death. Real lives are at stake. We must put all our energies and resources to fight COVID-19. The GE can wait,” said Secretary General of the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Dr Tan Cheng Bock, adding that the choice is obvious whether to hold an early election or delay it which may cause a far worse health crisis and a legal constitutional problem.