As the speculation of when the general election is actually going to be held rages on alongside the battle against the coronavirus outbreak, some have queried if the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) led government might be using the date of when the general election is going to be to its advantage. And with the COVID-19 pandemic, you have the social-distancing measures in place and potential restrictions on online campaigning that will cause confusion among the other political parties.
Minister for Trade and Industry, Chan Chun Sing, has, in a media briefing on 30 May said that the Elections Department (ELD) cannot “prematurely” announce the rules and regulations relating to the next General Election as these may be “overtaken by events”.
“On one hand, ELD would like to make available the information to the parties and the candidates as early as possible for them to make the preparations…On the other hand, ELD has to work under the challenging constraint that there are many scenarios.”
This still does not answer the question of whether or not the PAP knows what date the general elections will be held on. Regardless of whether or not the date will be “overtaken by events”, the point remains that if the PAP knows when the elections will be held and what will be the measures put in place in response to the existing social-distancing measures but the opposition parties and voters do not, it already has an unfair advantage.
Opposition parties such as the Workers’ Party and the Singapore Democratic Party have rightly asked for clarity in the election campaign rules in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and better access to electorates as it becomes more and more apparent that the general elections are indeed looming.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat has also apparently confirmed that the general elections are indeed imminent when he said in an interview with Channel News Asia on 27 May: “I would say that, yes, elections are coming nearer by the day”. It should be noted that Heng’s statement appears to indicate that he might already have a date in mind although the date is not yet released.
Secondly, why can’t the tentative rules and regulation for the GE be issued by the ELD with the understanding that this could change if circumstances change? At least then, the opposition candidates have a worst case scenerio to work towards. As it stands, the opposition candidates are working in a vacuum.
A commentator on TOC’s Facebook page, made a prescient observation when he compares Chan’s views on “investment commitments” with his reasoning on not committing to an an election date (copied below) . After all, everything is subject to change right? It doesn’t mean that we cannot make plans? Could Chan’s explanations on the general election dates be seen as self serving?
If Chan is trying to justify why rules and regulation of GE cannot yet be released, his reasoning is not convincing or be seen conflicting with his other stance of counting the eggs before they hatch. Remember how the Government went and bragged about British technology company Dyson’s entrance into Singapore and how the company later announced that it has decided to kill its project to build electric cars here?
Further, Heng has said (in relation to the general elections) that “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”
If that is the case, why not just announce the date and we can all get cracking? If you want to get it done as soon as possible, it makes sense to set a date as soon as possible no?
By consistently hinting at the general elections while refusing to set a date, the government runs the risk of giving the impression that it is indeed using its knowledge on the timing as an unfair advantage while hiding behind the shield of COVID-19 to justify this.