PM Lee: GE date hinges on how best to see through crisis

All necessary precautions will be taken if polls have to be held before Covid-19 is over, he says

(From left) Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong at ITE College Central on March 14, 2020. PHOTO: LEE HSIEN LOONG/FACEBOOK

The date of the next general election will depend on what will best see Singapore through the major crisis posed by the coronavirus pandemic, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Singapore faces grave and extended challenges, he said in a Facebook post, noting that the Covid-19 outbreak will likely persist through this year, and quite possibly longer.

"I fully expect things to get more serious before they start getting better," he said, adding that the country has two options ahead.

The first is to hope and pray that things will stabilise before the end of the Government's term so that elections can be held under more normal circumstances. "But we have no certainty of that," he said.

"Or else call elections early, knowing that we are going into a hurricane, to elect a new government with a fresh mandate and a full term ahead of it, which can work with Singaporeans on the critical tasks at hand."

If elections have to be held before Covid-19 is over, all necessary precautions will be taken so that parties can campaign effectively and people can vote safely, he added. "At stake are jobs, businesses and lives."

The timing of the election depends on the situation and the outlook, PM Lee said.

He noted that the GE can be called only after the electoral registers are updated, which will take about a month. The general election has to be held before April 21 next year.

The Prime Minister's remarks came a day after new electoral boundaries were unveiled. The announcement prompted multiple opposition parties to call on the Government to delay the election until the Covid-19 pandemic is contained.

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh from the National University of Singapore said PM Lee's post "makes it quite clear" that the GE will be held very soon - within the next two months, or latest by June.

It is advantageous for the ruling party to do so, notwithstanding the Covid-19 crisis, he added, pointing to how it has won plaudits for its handling of the outbreak.

PM Lee said in his post that he held a dialogue yesterday morning with grassroots leaders on Covid-19 and what lies ahead for Singapore.

"Fighting Covid-19 is difficult enough. But we also need to deal with Covid-19's enormous impact on our economy," he said. The economic fallout will likely be more serious than the global financial crisis, and longer-lasting too, even beyond the end of the pandemic, he added.

"Covid-19 may well turn out to be the crisis that defines this generation of Singaporeans. We must gird ourselves to overcome this together, and show the world what Singapore can do," he said.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health announced that Singapore had 12 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 212. Eight more patients were discharged.

With the release of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee's report, the next step is for Parliament to be dissolved and the Writ of Election issued. Nomination Day must take place at least five working days from the date of the writ. From Nomination Day, there will be at least nine days of campaigning and one Cooling-Off Day before Singaporeans head to the polls.

In its report, the committee recommended increasing the number of elected Members of Parliament from 89 to 93. There will be 14 single-member constituencies (SMCs) and 17 group representation constituencies (GRCs), up from 13 SMCs and 16 GRCs in the 2015 GE.

Former People's Action Party (PAP) MP Inderjit Singh noted that if the ruling party waits too long, it could face a situation where the polls have to be held when the outbreak is more severe than it is now.

And the Government's assessment is that things will likely get worse, he said. So the thinking is to quickly hold the election and put a strong government in place with a new five-year term to tackle the fallout from Covid-19, he added.

"From the PAP's perspective, this is the best time (to have an election)," he said. "When people have a siege mentality, they will go for safety and a proven government."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 15, 2020, with the headline PM Lee: GE date hinges on how best to see through crisis. Subscribe