Singapore GE: Opposition parties criticise timing of boundaries report, say election should not be held during Covid-19 pandemic

In this file picture taken on Sept 10, 2015, an election officer puts up a poster while setting up the polling station at Pei Chun Public School in Toa Payoh.
In this file picture taken on Sept 10, 2015, an election officer puts up a poster while setting up the polling station at Pei Chun Public School in Toa Payoh.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Opposition parties criticised the timing of the release of the new electoral boundaries on Friday (March 13) and called on the Government not to hold a general election during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Party leaders said the release of the report by the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee was a sign a general election was imminent but said that an election during an outbreak goes against all the precautionary measures rolled out to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

"The SDP calls on the PAP to refrain from such an irresponsible act," the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) said in an article on its website.

It said that all state resources should be focused on dealing with the spread of the coronavirus, with the situation possibly worsening considerably in the coming weeks and months, adding that the ruling People's Action Party should not "capitalise on the crisis" and jeopardise public health.

"The SDP, therefore, calls on the Government to categorically rule out the GE until clear signs indicate that we are seeing tail-end of the virus spread."

Similarly, a spokesman for Dr Tan Cheng Bock's Progress Singapore Party (PSP) said that while the party is ready for an election at any time, it is "of the view that we should concentrate on fighting the Covid-19 for now", since there is still over a year to go before reaching the constitutional time limit for the general election. An election must be called by April 2021.

On Friday, eight of the 11 opposition parties, including the Singapore People's Party (SPP), the Singaporeans First party (SingFirst), the National Solidarity Party (NSP), the Peoples Voice party (PV), the People's Power Party (PPP) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had called for the general election to be put off until the outbreak starts to taper off.

Mr Tan Jee Say, secretary-general of SingFirst and leader of a proposed four-party alliance together with RP, PPP and DPP, said in a Facebook post: "Health comes first, Election can wait."

But even as they called for elections to be delayed, party chiefs also made clear that they were ramping up preparations for polls. The gap between the release of a boundaries report and a general election has varied greatly, with a range of less than three weeks to over five months.

Several party chiefs said they have called for emergency meetings this weekend to study the new electoral map, while others have started setting their sights on particular constituencies.

SPP chairman Jose Raymond told The Straits Times that he is looking forward to contesting in Potong Pasir SMC - the constituency where party founder Chiam See Tong was MP for over two decades. ST understands that the party's central executive committee will be meeting on Saturday afternoon.

 
 
 

Meanwhile, Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) chairman Desmond Lim told ST: "We will still contest in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC." The party contested there in the past three elections.

Mr Lim added that the party might also contest in a new SMC or GRC. There were three new SMCs and one new GRC in the boundaries report. Among them, Punggol West SMC was carved out from Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

PV chief Lim Tean said his new party is eyeing contests in at least six constituencies, including Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

RP has declared its intention to contest in the three constituencies it ran in the last elections - Ang Mo Kio GRC, West Coast GRC and Radin Mas SMC. Chairman Andy Zhu told ST the party wants to "pick up where we left off".

SingFirst chief Mr Tan said that member parties of the proposed opposition alliance will likely stick with the constituencies they previously contested, though they are "studying our options".

He said the four parties will meet "in the next few days" to discuss the report and their plans moving forward.

DPP secretary-general Hamim Aliyas, said his party will likely stick to Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC its members have contested before and one SMC. He said the party was eyeing the new Kebun Baru SMC or Marymount SMC. 

PPP secretary-general Goh Meng Seng also said that the decision of where to contest will be made as an alliance, and not as individual parties.

 
 
 
 

"Nothing is firmed up. We have our base constituencies, but it is not non-negotiable," said Mr Goh.

The SDP had announced in August last year, before the boundaries were changed, that it plans to contest Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC, as well as Bukit Batok, Bukit Panjang and Yuhua single seats, in the next general election. It did not make its intentions known on Friday but said it will be speaking to the media in Dhoby Ghaut Bloodbank on Saturday morning.

NSP secretary-general Spencer Ng told ST the party was originally going on a walkabout in Tampines GRC this Sunday, but will now have a “strategy meeting” at its headquarters instead.

Opposition parties have, in previous elections, gathered for a horse-trading meeting ahead of the polls to try and minimise three-cornered fights. No such meeting has yet been arranged.