Covid-19 situation likely to worsen and this will affect S'pore GE timing: DPM Heng Swee Keat

When asked whether Singapore will go to the polls sooner or later, Mr Heng said he is still discussing the matter with PM Lee. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 situation and its impact on the economy are likely to worsen, and ensuring that Singapore can focus on overcoming the challenges is a major factor in deciding when to hold the general election, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Wednesday (March 11).

"If you have big challenges ahead, then surely you want to be able to spend time on these challenges. Therefore the key question is, will the challenges be greater now or will the challenges be greater a year from now?"

"So it depends on our assessment of the situation and I'm discussing (this) with the PM. PM will set out his thinking," Mr Heng said, referring to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

DPM Heng, who is also the Finance Minister, was speaking to reporters of Singapore Press Holdings, at a roundtable organised by The Straits Times and The Business Times, and in an interview with SPH radio station Money FM 89.3.

He had been asked about the timing of the next general election, which is due by April 2021.

Political pundits expect it to be called early this year until the appearance of an imponderable in January: the spread of the coronavirus, which originated in China, to Singapore and around the world.

DPM Heng said during the roundtable discussion that with waves of the disease erupting and hitting different parts of the world, it is likely the Covid-19 outbreak will last until at least the end of the year.

"It's important that we have all the management attention to deal with this, and I'm afraid the management attention we need to deal with this will get more challenged in the months ahead because the situation is so fluid, so dynamic.

"We need to be able to respond as fully as we can as a country and as a people to this very major uncertainty to our lives as well as our livelihood because we don't know how the global economy is going to pan out," he said.

He added: "We need to be prepared for the worst, and I hope we will have the conditions to allow us to do that. And that will be a very major factor in deciding when we call the election."

He also said the Government's focus at the moment is on containing the outbreak and its impact on the economy.

When asked whether Singapore will go to the polls sooner or later, he would only say he is still discussing the matter with PM Lee.

In the United States, as the presidential election campaigning unfolds amid the virus outbreak, election officials have rushed to make changes before the November poll. They include relocating polling stations out of nursing homes.

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The Democratic presidential candidates, former vice-president Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders, have also cancelled rallies as cases of Covid-19 continue to climb in the country.

DPM Heng, when asked if Singapore would consider holding an election amid the virus outbreak, and whether the Elections Department is looking at measures to protect public health, said: "We are looking at all possibilities."

He added: "We need to respect our Constitution and make sure that election rules are properly followed. But if there's a need for us to adopt measures to achieve the same objective, then we'll have to look at the appropriate measures that will allow our people to express their views, cast their votes."

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