While speaking in an interview with Channel News Asia on Wednesday (27 May), Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said that Singapore may have to go through difficult challenges over the next 10 years. As such, holding the next General Election (GE) as soon as possible will help Singaporeans to join hands to tackle those issues and uncertainties that lie ahead.
When asked if the next GE will be held after the start of Phase 3 of Singapore’s exit strategy from the “circuit breaker”, Mr Heng said: “I would say that, yes, elections are coming nearer by the day.”
He added, “The sooner we get it done, the earlier we can rally everybody together to deal with these very significant challenges ahead, and also to deal with these very significant uncertainties in the months and years ahead.”
Singapore’s next GE has to be conducted before 14 April 2021, and the Parliament must be dissolved in January next year.
On 13 March this year, the Elections Department released the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) report to reveal the revised electoral map, indicating that the next GE will be called very soon.
In order for Singapore to handle the economic and structural challenges that is ahead, “a long runway” will be needed, along with unity among its people to come out stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Heng said.
“It is not a set of issues that we deal with over the next six to nine months or one year, but a set of issues that we need to deal with over the next five and even 10 years for us to emerge stronger, for us to manage this crisis of a generation as best as we can,” said Mr Heng, who is also the country’s Finance Minister.
He continued, “So it is important for all Singaporeans to begin to focus our minds on how we can come together to overcome this crisis of our generation and how we can then rally together to emerge stronger.”
During the interview, Mr Heng cited South Korea on how the country managed to conduct a national election in the midst of the pandemic by implementing “serious” COVID-19 precautions, which resulted a positive turnout.
Last month, South Korea went ahead with its elections, and implemented measures like screening temperatures, making sure safe distancing is observed and ensuring all voters wear masks and plastic gloves.
As such, when it is Singapore’s turn to hold its GE, Mr Heng said that “public health considerations and public safety will be a foremost consideration”.
“It means that even the way in which elections are to be conducted will be different from before,” the Minister noted.
In the beginning of this month (4 May), the Parliament passed a Bill which will enable Singaporeans serving Stay-Home Notices (SHNs) and Quarantine Orders at designated isolation facilities to vote outside their electoral divisions, either at the said facilities or at dedicated polling stations.
The Parliamentary Elections (COVID-19 Special Arrangements) Bill is part of the Government’s “contingency plans” in holding Singapore’s next General Election during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.
Provisions in the Bill will also allow candidates to authorise a representative to file their nomination paper for them on Nomination Day if they are unwell and/or bound by a COVID-19 quarantine order or SHN.
Currently, the Parliamentary Election Act requires aspiring candidates to file nomination papers in person.
Separately, Mr Heng also addressed on Wednesday about the Government’s response to the pandemic so far, given that mixed reactions have been received from the public in response to how the outbreak is being handled.
“I take a very simple approach, which is that right at the moment, we have a very big battle ahead. I want to focus my mind fully on this battle,” he said.
“This is not a time to ask for a report card. This is a time to focus all our minds. If people have great ideas on how we can do it better, we are prepared to consider any great idea.”
Previous reports on the next GE
After EBRC report was released in March, TOC reported in April about receiving several tip-offs that the Elections Department (ELD), which comes under the Prime Minister’s Office, has been preparing for an election in May or June, based on job advertisements relating to elections preparations on various job-seeking platforms.
ELD, however, said that these are merely annual preparation work conducted by its contractors.
Previously, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 27 March told reporters in a doorstop interview at the Istana that Singapore has to “weigh conducting an election under abnormal circumstances, against going into a storm with a mandate which is reaching the end of its term”.
“I would not rule any possibility out,” he added.
PM Lee also hinted in a Facebook post on 14 March that election will be held early so as to “elect a new government with a fresh mandate” and the government “will take all the precautions necessary, so that parties can campaign effectively, and people can vote safely.”