Singapore GE: Difficult to say when is a good time for election with Covid-19 outbreak, says Tan Chuan-Jin

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin (third from right) arriving at an SGSecure roadshow outside the Paya Lebar Quarter mall on March 14, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM MIN ZHANG

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 outbreak could last all the way till when the next general election must be held by - April 2021 - and so it is difficult to say when it is a good time to hold it, said Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin on Saturday (March 14).

"If the situation is not going to ease off in the coming months, and before April 2021, then frankly, whether it's now, whether it's half a year or three-quarters of a year later, the conditions probably might be the same.

"In fact, one could think that the conditions might be worse in the coming months," he told The Straits Times on the sidelines of an SGSecure roadshow outside the Paya Lebar Quarter mall.

Mr Tan, who is also an MP for Marine Parade GRC, was asked for his assessment of when the next general election could be held, with the release of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee report on Friday (March 13).

He said that the situation caused by the outbreak of Covid-19 was "a fair consideration" on when the polls could be held.

"But it (the Covid-19 situation) doesn't appear to be a short-term issue that we are grappling with. It looks like this is going to remain with us for some time," he said.

Other Singapore leaders, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, have made a similar assessment with PM Lee saying on Thursday the outbreak could continue for a year or longer.

Political observers have speculated that the GE could be held as early as next month (April). Another possible period was May to June.

At the roadshow, Mr Tan was accompanied by fellow Marine Parade MP Seah Kian Peng and Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan.

Former chief executive of IHH Healthcare Tan See Leng was also present. He has been spotted with Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on a number of grassroots activities in recent months, leading to speculation that he could be a potential candidate.

Asked about the latest changes to the electoral boundaries, which include one more single-member constituency and the end of six-member GRCs, Mr Tan said that while he was not privy to the considerations that the review committee has put in place, the general move was towards greater contestability.

Another factor, he said, was shifts in population. "Usually you would need to then relook at the boundaries and then realign, so in areas where you have new estates popping up, new population movements, invariably, boundaries need to be affected."

As for how campaigning could be done during this period, Mr Tan said that house visits could continue, but adjustments might have to be made for rallies.

But he cautioned that it would be a mistake to see the "key work" as revolving around the minimum nine-day campaigning period, or in the lead-up to an election.

"Frankly, if any party just depends on these couple of days of action to determine whether they gain the support of the residents, I think you have fundamentally failed."

Asked about a possible rematch in his GRC with the Workers' Party, which contested in 2015, Mr Tan said he did not believe it was active on the ground.

"I know that from time to time (they do outreach activities), and I know my ground, I know that (it's done) very rarely. In fact, I'm rather surprised.

"I do block visits, I know it takes a long time to cover these carefully... But I guess it's always good to have a choice presented to the residents."

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