GE2020 - why a new mandate is needed: PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his televised address yesterday explained why the elections need to be called, given the Covid-19 challenges and other uncertainties ahead. The text of his speech follows.

My fellow Singaporeans, good afternoon.

Earlier today, I saw President Halimah Yacob, to advise her to dissolve Parliament and issue the Writ of Election. Let me explain why I have decided to call the general election now.

We are approaching the end of the five-year term of this Government. Under the Constitution, elections must be held at the latest by April 2021.

That is less than a year away.

We have been fully occupied with the Covid-19 outbreak since the beginning of the year.

The pandemic set upon the world suddenly. It quickly grew into a global crisis, spreading across many countries.

Around the world, nearly half a million people have died, and countless more have seen their lives disrupted.

Singapore detected our first cases in January. At first, most were imported cases.

But soon we observed a growing number of local cases, with no links to infected visitors.

In March, the numbers grew, especially later when Covid-19 started spreading among migrant workers in dormitories.

We responded decisively. We imposed a circuit breaker for two months. We made strenuous efforts to care for our migrant workers.

In the dormitories, we are making steady progress, though it will take a few more months to resolve the problem.

At the same time, new community cases have come down sharply. Most importantly, we have kept the number of fatalities very low. Right now, we only have one patient in the ICU, in hospital.

Still, the virus has taken a heavy toll on livelihoods. Around the world, the lockdowns and the public health measures have caused a deep economic crisis.


Shoppers in Bugis Street on Monday afternoon. Singapore has not yet felt the full economic fallout from Covid-19, but it is coming, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. An election now – when things are relatively stable – will clear the decks, and give the new government a fresh, full five-year mandate. It can then focus on the national agenda and the difficult decisions that need to be made. PHOTO: GIN TAY


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. PHOTO: MCI

In Singapore, we have mitigated this with massive fiscal action.

We passed four Budgets, injecting almost $100 billion.

We are drawing from our reserves to support workers, businesses and households.

These decisive emergency actions have kept retrenchments and company closures low.

They have helped Singaporeans take care of their families and see through the immediate crisis.

After great effort, we are now in a stable position. We are cautiously resuming social activities, and progressively reviving our economy.

Life can now become more normal than it was during the circuit breaker, provided we all continue to take the precautions seriously.

COVID-19 UNCERTAINTIES

But we should be under no illusions that we have defeated Covid-19. This is just the end of the beginning phase. A long struggle lies ahead.

Covid-19 will be with us for at least a year and most probably longer, until a vaccine is developed and becomes available.

It is a very difficult and tricky disease to deal with, so we have to continue keeping a close watch on the situation.

Many other countries have successfully brought their cases down, only to experience fresh outbreaks after opening up again.

For example, in South Korea, from nightspots in Itaewon in Seoul, or China from a market in Beijing, or Germany in an abattoir, or the United States, in the southern Sun Belt states.

Therefore, we must be psychologically prepared for more ups and downs in this fight against Covid-19.

Economically, we must brace ourselves for a very tough period ahead. Singapore has not yet felt the full economic fallout from Covid-19, but it is coming.

Despite all the measures we have taken, there will be more business closures, and more retrenchments in the coming months.

Unemployment will go up. But we are determined to save as many jobs as we can, and create new jobs, too.

And we will do our utmost to help businesses and industries survive and restructure themselves.

That is how we can keep our capabilities and livelihoods intact through the storm, and pick up again when the sun shines once more.

EXTERNAL UNCERTAINTIES

Covid-19, the economy and jobs are domestic concerns. But we also face external uncertainties.

Major regional and global developments can affect us.

US-China tensions over many issues, now including Hong Kong; the US presidential elections in November; border clashes between China and India; political developments, nearer home, in South-east Asia.

We do not know what surprises may be in store for us within the next year. But as dangers materialise, we must navigate safely through them and protect Singapore's security and national interests, and this will require diplomatic skills and a deft touch.

To overcome these challenges, we must stand completely united as one people. Singaporeans and the Government must work closely together, with full trust and confidence in each other.

The Government must be able to respond promptly and decisively to the Covid-19 outbreak and the economic situation, and to external developments.

We need a capable government, with the strong backing of the people, to do all that needs to be done on your behalf, and see us through these tumultuous times.

ELECTIONS

An election now - when things are relatively stable - will clear the decks, and give the new government a fresh, full five-year mandate.

It can then focus on this national agenda and the difficult decisions it will have to make and to carry.

The alternative is to wait out the Covid-19 pandemic. But we have no assurance that the pandemic will be over before this Government's term must end next April.

And that is why I have decided to hold the general election now.

We are still in the midst of Covid-19, so it will not be a normal election campaign.

Before deciding to proceed, I had to be certain of two things.

First, that voters can vote safely, and second, that political parties can campaign effectively. After studying the issues, I am satisfied that both of these can be done.

On voter safety, the Elections Department will be implementing additional precautions on Polling Day.

We are setting up more polling stations than in previous elections, to reduce crowding. There will be safe distancing measures practised at the polling stations.

Voters will be allocated specific time slots to vote, and seniors will be given priority to vote before others.

On effective campaigning, the Elections Department has also made arrangements and issued guidelines. Candidates can still go house-to-house campaigning, in person, provided they observe the safe distancing precautions.

Unfortunately, physical election rallies will not be possible, but we will make up with more opportunities for candidates to speak directly to voters on television, and of course online, for example via live streaming.

Singapore is not the first to hold an election during Covid-19.

Others have done so too: South Korea, Taiwan and several European countries.

With our arrangements and precautions in place, I am confident we can hold a proper and safe election.

GOVERNING

During the election period, the Government will continue to govern. The Cabinet remains in charge even after Parliament is dissolved. The public service will function normally.

This is so in every general election, but I particularly emphasise this now, because of the vital importance of ongoing operations against Covid-19, sustaining the economy and protecting jobs.

Therefore, over the next few weeks, you can expect the ministerial task force still to lead our response to Covid-19.

On the economic front, the National Jobs Council will create jobs and training places.

Businesses, workers and families will receive help and support.

All this essential work, on your behalf, will go on, uninterrupted, throughout the election period.

CONCLUSION

This general election will be like no other that we have experienced, not just because of the special arrangements to deal with Covid-19, but because of the gravity of the situation, and the issues at stake.

The government that you elect will have critical decisions to make.

These decisions will impact your lives and livelihoods, and shape Singapore for many years to come, far beyond the five-year term of the next government.

Soon, you will have the chance to decide whom to entrust with the responsibility of working with you to take our country forward.

I have every confidence that you will think carefully, and vote wisely, to secure our lives, our jobs, and our future. Thank you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2020, with the headline 'GE2020 - why a new mandate is needed: PM Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe