Key to get timing right in issuing Singapore GE guidelines: Chan Chun Sing

The Elections Department had said it would release the information with enough lead time for all parties to make the necessary preparations.
The Elections Department had said it would release the information with enough lead time for all parties to make the necessary preparations.PHOTO: ST FILE

Finding a "Goldilocks position" to release the guidelines on campaigning and voting during the Covid-19 pandemic is the challenge facing the Elections Department (ELD).

This need to get the timing right - neither too early nor too late - was underlined by Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing in an interview with The Straits Times.

Meanwhile, the Workers' Party and other opposition parties have called on the ELD to give a clearer idea of how campaigning will be affected by safe distancing rules.

Mr Chan said the release of the guidelines has to be sufficiently early for candidates and voters to prepare for the polls.

But if it is done prematurely, they may be overtaken by changes in the Covid-19 situation, he added.

The next general election, which must be held by April 14 next year, is almost certain to happen before the worldwide pandemic abates.

To prepare for it, a law allowing special, temporary arrangements to be implemented was passed by Parliament earlier this month and took effect on Tuesday.

The Parliamentary Elections (Covid-19 Special Arrangements) Act addresses the issue of how some voters and aspiring candidates affected by the virus situation - for example, if they are on a stay-home notice - can cast their ballots and file nomination papers.

It does not spell out the precautionary measures the ELD is planning to implement at the hustings and voting centres.

 
 
 

When asked about this, Mr Chan said the ELD would let people know the guidelines in good time.

Should they be issued too early, they "might be out of context... you don't know when the election will be". The health situation may change as well, he said.

But he added: "You also cannot be too late (such that) people don't have enough time to prepare. So that's the ELD's challenge."

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said on CNA on Wednesday that "elections are coming nearer by the day", sparking the call by the opposition parties.

The ELD had said previously it will take into account the Ministry of Health's prevailing advisories and release the information with enough lead time for all parties to make the necessary preparations.

 

When asked about preparations for the general election, Mr Chan said the Government was focused on bringing down Covid-19 infections and saving jobs.

"Now, we are very focused on four things: lives, livelihoods, lifelines, and way of life. If we can get these four sorted out, we'll be okay," he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2020, with the headline 'Key to get timing right in issuing election guidelines: Minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe