Speculation is rife that a general election is just around the corner, especially after the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) report was released on 13 March and the Elections Department (ELD) announcing the tabling of a Bill in Parliament this week which sets out contingency plans to ensure a safe election during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Generally, elections are called within a couple of months of the EBRC report being released. Such was the case in the last four general elections. In 2001, elections were called less than a month after the report was released.
However, given the current circumstances, the situation on the ground has certainly changed. Precautionary measures and strict regulations have been put in place since the country reported its first case of the virus.
Stricter “circuit breaker” measures will also come into force tomorrow as the government announced the closure of workplaces and schools and limited operation hours of food and beverage outlets and prohibition on dining in restaurants, on top of previously announced closures of entertainment venues.
The rapidly evolving outbreak has prompted various opposition leaders to vehemently urge the government to hold off on calling for elections until the pandemic is over, raising concerns that campaign rallies and voting booths would be high risk situation involving large crowds and would be too risky for public health.
Despite those measures, the government has yet to explicitly rule out calling for elections which are due to be held by 15 April 2021. Nor have they confirmed if they already have a general time period of when the GE might be held.
On that note, TOC has received several tip-offs that the ELD, which comes under the Prime Minister’s Office, is in fact already preparing for an election in one or two months’ time.
The first one referred to a job advertisement relating to elections preparation on various job seeking platforms. This tallies with the job advertisements we found online looking for temporary ‘event assistants’ posted by a recruitment agency. The listing noted that training will be held between 2 to 11 April.
The listings we found on different job-seeking websites also stated that the applicant has to be available “between May to June to locate in various locations”.
Another tip-off which we got was from a participant to the training session, who confirmed that the job was meant to provide logistic support for the election.
According to the temp job seeker, the trainees are told to keep themselves free between May and June period. The trainees are tasked to help out on setting up of the polling centre and also the operation of the Election Operation Tracking System.
The photographs below shows a setup that is meant to simulate a polling centre. Presumably, this would be where the training is conducted.
The company conducting the training is called ST Synthesis which is a subsidiary of ST Technologies, which itself is largely held by Temasek Holdings whose CEO is Ho Ching, PM Lee Hsien Loong’s wife.
According to government tender records, the company was awarded a tender by the ELD in 2015 for the “provision of total logistics support for elections and warehousing services for six (6) years with the option to extend for another six (6) years”.
This lends weight to the idea that the GE has been planned to be held in May/June as the company is involved in election logistics. The trainees have also been told that they will be only paid for their training session after they have turned up for the temp work in May/June as it is uncertain whether they would turn up eventually for the actual event.
We have written to the ELD and Prime Minister’s Office last week to confirm if any such preparations are being made.
The only response we have received for far is from the ELD which acknowledged our query but merely directed us to the news that have already been reported—about the Bill that will be tabled this week—instead of answering our specific questions.
PM Lee hasn’t ruled out possibility of GE in near future
On Friday (27 March), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, “I think that we have to weigh conducting an election under abnormal circumstances, against going into a storm with a mandate which is reaching the end of its term. We have to make a decision on that.”
“I would not rule any possibility out,” he added, while speaking to reporters in a doorstop interview at the Istana.
Yesterday (5 April), the country recorded it’s highest number of daily increase since Singapore recorded its first case in January. In a statement, the Ministry of Health (MOH) confirming an additional 120 COVID-19 cases, four of which are imported while 116 are local transmissions. Of the local transmissions, 66 are untraceable to previous cases or had recent travel history.