Singapore has to dissolve Parliament by January next year and there’s “not much time” left for the Government to hold its next general election (GE), said the Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing during his interview with Bloomberg TV on Wednesday (20 May).
Since March this year, many opposition leaders have vehemently urged the Government to hold off on calling for the GE until the coronavirus outbreak subsided.
But the Elections Department (ELD) announced on 3 April that the next GE must be held by 14 April 2021, plus a Bill – that sets out contingency plans to ensure a safe election during the COVID-19 outbreak – has also been passed on 4 May.
“A lot of people think that we have all the time in the world until next April to call the election,” Mr Chan told the Bloomberg reporter.
He continued, “That’s technically correct, but what people do not remember is that Parliament will be dissolved in January because Parliament has to be dissolved five years after the first sitting for this term of Government.”
Looking at the tight deadline to hold elections, Mr Chan noted that there’s actually “not much time”.
“We would like, when the opportunity arises, to have a strong mandate because the challenges that we are going to face in the coming years will indeed be the challenge of an entire generation,” he said.
When the elections come, the minister believes that Singaporeans “are wise enough” to judge the ruling party based on its long-term performance, not just based on its performance in “an episodic event” during the pandemic.
It’s not so much whether “we are in a crisis or not, but how we get through a crisis and emerge stronger,” said Mr Chan. “That would be how we will go to the polls and I think that will be how Singaporeans will judge us over all these years.”
Opposition leaders urged Govt to hold off GE until COVID-19 pandemic subsided
In early March, many opposition leaders have urged the Government to hold off the next GE until clear signs of COVID-19 subsiding arise. They raised concerns that the elections would be too risky for public health.
Progress Singapore Party (PSP) had on various occasions called for the delay of the GE.
PSP’s secretary-general, Dr Tan Cheng Bock said that the choice is obvious between holding an early election and potentially causing a far worse health crisis; and delaying the upcoming GE to 2021 and face a possible constitutional problem if the election cannot be held by April 2021.
“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 Dr Tan.
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) had also previously said that calling for an election at this stage would “take away valuable resources needed to combat the virus outbreak and jeopardise the public’s health and well-being”.
Similarly, the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) urged the Government to hold off the GE at this time, as this is “not the time for partisan politics”.
“As the ruling party, PAP should focus on managing this crisis instead of distracting itself with GE,” the People’s Power Party (PPP) chief Goh Meng Seng remarked.
In fact, 67.55 percent of 11,635 people disagreed on holding an election during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, based on a poll by Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao – Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) daily newspaper – website and 85% of 3292 who voted on a similar poll at Yahoo News.
Singapore will exit the circuit breaker in three phases
As of 20 May, the country recorded 570 new cases of COVID-19, taking the national tally to 29,364 and 22 death tolls to date. Singapore has now emerged as one of the countries with the highest infection rates in Asia.
Nevertheless, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce announced on 20 May that Singapore will exit the circuit breaker when it ends on 1 June 2020, with the assurance that the daily number of new community cases has declined significantly and the migrant worker dormitory situation has been stabilised.
With that said, the country will exit the circuit breaker period in three phases starting on 2 June 2020. In Phase One, more economic activities – that do not pose a high risk of transmission – will be allowed to resume operations.
However, as more economic activities and social interactions resume, the Taskforce warned that the country will likely see a rise in new community cases.
“What is critical is our ability to detect and contain these cases quickly, and prevent large clusters from forming,” it noted, while reminding people that the re-opening plans will not be a return to life before the outbreak.
“We must get used to a new normal, with the widespread adoption of safe management measures and technology so we can carry out our daily activities safely,” it added.
The country will move on to Phase Two if the community transmission rates remain low and stable over the subsequent few weeks, and the dormitory situation remains under control. This phase may last several months.
Only when the country reaches Phase Three that social, cultural, religious and business gatherings or events would be resumed. But the Taskforce states that this would require an effective vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is developed.
Singapore may resort to digital campaigning as COVID-19 vaccine takes months to be ready
Earlier on 5 May, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said in Parliament that it is “still some way off” for a vaccine to be developed. Thus, it is better to focus on the immediate task at hand of dealing with community infection first.
“It’s still very early days. I think there are a lot of news, media report about progress made. In fact, there is progress made. But from here to testing to eventually being approved for use by population, I think that is still some way off,” he responded to a question from Workers Party’s (WP) Non-constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera.
Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore and United States-based Arcturus Therapeutics have joined hands and are now carrying out pre-clinical studies on a vaccine candidate it created, but Mr Gan noted that it will take some time to be ready.
“We are tapped into the progress and we hope that the vaccines will come out soon but I think it will still take some time. Better for us to focus on the immediate task that we need to address,” Mr Gan added.
Moreover, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 13 May stated that it will take around 18 months for the COVID-19 vaccine to be developed, and this would be a super fast-tracked process.
With the COVID-19 vaccine is still months away from sight, public gatherings of any kind will be barred by the country’s safety measures. This would mean that the next GE may very likely be a digital campaigned one.