Govt to table Bill to facilitate steps for safe Singapore GE amid Covid-19

If passed, it will allow for temporary arrangements to ensure health and safety of voters, candidates and officials

A voter at Teck Ghee Primary School on Polling Day on Sept 11, 2015.
A voter at Teck Ghee Primary School on Polling Day on Sept 11, 2015.PHOTO: ST FILE

A Bill will be introduced in Parliament next week to facilitate the temporary arrangements necessary for holding a safe general election while Covid-19 measures are in effect.

Responding to media queries about the Parliamentary Elections (Covid-19 Special Arrangements) Bill yesterday, the Elections Department (ELD) said that the health and safety of voters, candidates and election officials are paramount.

ELD thus "must make contingency plans to put in place precautionary measures to ensure a safe election, should the next GE take place amid the Covid-19 situation".

"The Bill contains the necessary legislative provisions to allow ELD to implement temporary arrangements to ensure the safety of voters, candidates and election officials during parliamentary elections held on or before April 14, 2021," it added.

The next general election must be held by April 14 next year.

The Bill, if approved by Parliament, will take effect before the next general election.

Details of the precautionary measures are not yet available.

However, the latest Covid-19 measures, which require most to stay home, mean traditional forms of campaigning, such as rallies, will not be feasible should these rules still be in place when the hustings begin.

MPs The Straits Times spoke to earlier said that they would turn to social media, messaging apps and even real-time video streaming to reach out to voters.

 
 
 

Political observer and former nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin told The Straits Times yesterday that it is important to ensure people's safety and the transparency of the election process.

"Safety and health cannot be compromised," he said, adding that Singaporeans must be assured that they can cast their votes in a way they feel is secret.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan expects measures to include safe distancing, limiting the number of participants, and staggered times for polling.

"There will likely be provisions for more online election activities such as party broadcasts on free-to-air TV, and radio broadcasts," he said.

He noted that the Parliamentary Elections Act provides for a "direct recording electronic (DRE) voting system", such as the use of machines that can process and record votes by means of a computer program.

"But any alternatives to the usual ballot system will require a high level of confidence in the integrity and robustness of the DRE voting system. The issue is whether there is time to test and certify the system," he said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that he would not rule out calling an election during the pandemic, noting that the coronavirus situation may take a year or two before it normalises. He said that an early election would allow the Government to deal with critical tasks at hand with a fresh mandate and a full term, and that the necessary precautions would be taken.

 
 
 

According to the agenda for the sitting - or Order Paper - issued by the Clerk of Parliament yesterday, the $48.4 billion supplementary budget that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat unveiled on March 26 will be up for debate next Monday.

Additional measures for households and businesses will also be announced.

To be introduced are new legislation to ensure that landlords pass on property tax rebates in full to their tenants, as well as the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill to provide temporary relief to individuals and companies that are unable to fulfil their contractual obligations due to the pandemic.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2020, with the headline 'Govt to table Bill to facilitate steps for safe GE amid Covid-19'. Subscribe