The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) has once again cautioned the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) against holding the next General Election (GE) during the COVID-19 pandemic, citing public safety and the need to prioritise reopening the economy after the circuit breaker ended on Monday.
In a statement on Wednesday (3 June), SDP reiterated that there is no pressing need for the next GE “to be squeezed in July 2020”, suggesting that it can “still be comfortably held in the last quarter of this year”.
The SDP’s statement today came after rampant rumours in the market that the election will be held soon in July, as there had been movement in the Election Department (ELD).
Citing long-term economic challenges that Singapore may face in the next five to 10 years, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on 27 May that the sooner the general elections are held, “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”.
Calling for an election in a period where the pandemic is still “evolving”, said SDP, will “needlessly jeopardise the safety and health of Singaporeans”.
The PAP, said SDP, “committed a grave error in March when it ignored the SDP’s warning against preparing for an election which led to tens of thousands of infections” as well as the implementation of the circuit breaker “which has caused enormous damage to our economy including business closures and job losses”.
“The SDP again calls on the PAP to focus on getting the reopening of the economy right before recklessly calling the GE in July,” said the party.
“Ministers and government agencies need to focus all their attention and resources to ensure that another breakout of the virus does not occur as it did in some other countries,” SDP added.
Earlier in March, SDP expressed its hope that PAP “will not capitalise on the crisis” by holding the GE during this period, and that it will choose to instead “categorically rule out” calling an election during the pandemic.
Holding an election at this time, said SDP, “take away valuable resources needed to combat the virus outbreak and jeopardise the public’s health and well-being”.
Given the varying expert opinions on when the pandemic will end, the party said that there is “no urgency to hold an election in the midst of this crisis”.
To “prematurely” call for an election at this stage, said SDP, would “signal that the PAP is putting its own interests over the people’s safety”.
“The situation in Singapore has flared up again and could worsen considerably in the coming weeks and months … Our priority is to rid ourselves of this health threat. Elections can come later,” added the party.
Other opposition parties have previously criticised prospect of holding GE during COVID-19 pandemic
Other opposition parties such as Progress Singapore Party, Singaporeans First Party, People’s Voice Party and People’s Power Party have also spoken out against the prospect of holding the next GE during the outbreak and urged PAP to wait until clear signs of COVID-19 subsiding arise.
Workers’ Party (WP), the only opposition party to have representatives in Parliament currently, however did not comment on whether the timing of the upcoming GE is reasonable.
WP said that on its part, it “will decide on the areas where it can best serve Singaporeans, and make its announcement when the elections are called”.
The party, however, questioned the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) decision to carve out some new SMCs while dissolving Sengkang West, Fengshan and Punggol East SMCs — areas where WP has been active for many years.
With the announcement of the new electoral boundaries in March, President Halimah Yacob is expected to dissolve Parliament on the advice of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s advice.
Previously in 2015, the EBRC released its report on 24 Jul, a month prior to the dissolution of Parliament. Voting took place on 11 Sep that year.
Tip-offs on ELD preparations raise speculation on impending election
TOC previously reported receiving several tip-offs in April that the ELD, which comes under the Prime Minister’s Office, was already preparing for an election in one or two months’ time, fanning speculation that an election is just around the corner.
One of the tip-offs was regarding a job advertisement for “event assistants” relating to elections preparation on various job-seeking platforms.
Our findings on different job-seeking websites also revealed that the advertisements required applicants to be available “between May to June to locate in various locations”.
A participant to the training session had also confirmed that the job was meant to provide logistic support for the election.
The temp job seeker told TOC that trainees are told to keep themselves free between May and June. 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 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 for the actual event.
Responding to TOC’s queries, ELD referred to a Lianhe Zaobao report in which it said in response to media queries that ST Synthesis started preparations on their own accord.
“In order to fulfil the requirements of the contract, and to be prepared for the election at any point of time, ST Synthesis begins its seasonal preparation work on its own initiative, which includes hiring and training of temporary workers. ELD will not intervene in how ST Synthesis fulfil its contractual obligations,” said ELD.
However, the aforementioned plans — if any — were disrupted due to the announcement of the circuit breaker in April after Singapore saw a massive hike in COVID-19 infection cases.