Singapore’s consul-general in Hong Kong Foo Teow Lee, in a letter published in the South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Tuesday (12 May), opposed the view the Singapore government prioritised electioneering amid COVID-19 pandemic, saying that Singapore government has been focused on the COVID-19 response efforts from the beginning.
Ms Foo’s remark was in response to an article on SCMP by Singaporean author Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh last Tuesday (5 May) titled “Is electioneering to blame for Singapore’s teetering pandemic response?”
The Singaporean author claimed that some had believed the “political opportunism” distracted the nation’s leaders from crisis management, which resulted in the massive outbreak of the virus amongst migrant workers here.
In response, Ms Foo commented that the article by Mr Vadaketh was “meant to influence Singapore’s domestic politics”, instead of writing for international audiences.
Ms Foo acknowledged the COVID-19 response efforts by Singapore’s government, saying that the Government has been “open and transparent” about the situation. She added that authorities adjusted their approach as the pandemic developed to align with evidence and expert counsel.
Speaking about the outbreak among the migrant worker population, she also said that the Government already implemented precautionary measures in January to limit communal interactions in migrant workers’ dormitories as part of efforts to contain the virus transmission among workers there.
Ms Foo asserted that not many countries have done what Singapore has to carry out “aggressive testing” on all the migrant workers. This is also the reason why there has been a spike of reported cases among the migrant workers, she added.
The consul-general remarked, “Few countries have tested their migrant populations extensively; far fewer have undertaken to test all their migrant workers, as Singapore has.
“Would we have embarked upon such transparency and testing if ‘electioneering’ had been uppermost in our minds?” she added.
Ms Foo also noted that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has repeated words of advice to the public about COVID-19’s impact on the public health and economic in several national addresses.
“Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has spoken directly to Singaporeans on many occasions, warning about the dangers, and emphasising that the public health as well as economic crises would get far worse before they got better. He has said the same to international audiences,” she said.
As for the updating of electoral registers and boundaries, she explained that these were done because Singapore’s general elections must be held by April 2021.
On that note, she said that the Parliament has passed special laws—the Parliamentary Elections (COVID-19 Special Arrangements) Bill—to ensure that elections could be held safely it has to be held in the midst of the pandemic.
“These are necessary steps for the proper functioning of our democracy. Other jurisdictions have done the same,” she added.
She concluded that Singaporeans will judge for themselves during the elections whether the Government has done its duty and served them well.
As of Tuesday (12 May), Singapore has confirmed an additional 884 cases of COVID-19 infections, bringing the total number cases to 24,706, with 21 death cases in the country.
Of the total cases, 22,334 cases are from the migrant workers’ dormitories, which accounted for 90 percent of total cases.
Indications that the elections may be held in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic
Earlier on 14 March, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hinted in his Facebook post, saying that the GE can only be called after the electoral registers have been updated, which can take up to a month.
“…We have two choices. Either hope and pray that things will stabilise before the end of the term so that we can hold elections under more normal circumstances – but we have no certainty of that.
Or else call elections early, knowing that we are going into a hurricane, to elect a new government with a fresh mandate and a full term ahead of it, which can work with Singaporeans on the critical tasks at hand…”
Following this, during the media interview on 18 March, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong also said it is “very likely” that the country’s upcoming General Elections (GE) will be held in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Mr Wong explained that a number of medical experts have revealed that the virus may not go away any time soon, meaning that the world’s fight against the deadly novel coronavirus could “drag on for a year and beyond a year.”
“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.