SINGAPORE - The High Court next Monday (June 29) will hear a constitutional challenge against holding a general election at this time.
The case, which will be heard on the day before Nomination Day, was filed by human rights lawyer M. Ravi on Tuesday (June 23), on behalf of Daniel De Costa.
Mr Ravi said he did so hours after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday announced in a nationwide TV broadcast that he was calling a general election.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday (June 23), Mr Ravi said he is seeking a court order to stop the Returning Officer from holding an election now.
The Returning Officer is a public officer appointed by the Prime Minister to oversee the election.
Mr Ravi wrote: "The application is premised on the ground that the calling of the election is in breach of the right to free and fair elections under the current circumstances."
The Elections Department has put in place a raft of measures, including safe-distancing and modified campaign rules to ensure voters, candidates and officials are safe during the election period.
When contacted, Mr Ravi told The Straits Times the challenge relates to how "current regulations will inhibit voting".
According to court documents, De Costa wants the court to make two declarations. First, that "the right to vote is a fundamental right guaranteed to all citizens under the Constitution of Singapore".
Second, he wants the court to declare "that the right to free and fair elections is a fundamental right guaranteed to all citizens under the Constitution of Singapore".
In another Facebook post on Thursday (June 25), Mr Ravi said he asked the court to hold the hearing before Nomination Day, instead of on July 2 and July 3, as scheduled earlier.
He said: "The hearing of the case should be conducted before Nomination Day on June 30 as the elections will effectively take place on Nomination Day if certain candidates may have already been elected when their seats are uncontested and are walkovers."
He added that he has also asked the court to let the hearing take place in open court as it is a "matter of public interest".
De Costa in 2018 was charged with one count of criminal defamation and one count of unauthorised use of another person's e-mail account.
He is accused of using the account without the owner's consent to send an e-mail to sociopolitical website The Online Citizen, alleging that there was "corruption at the highest echelons". The case is still pending.
Those convicted of criminal defamation can be jailed for up to two years and fined, while first-time offenders convicted of unauthorised use of another person's e-mail account can be jailed for up to two years and fined up to $5,000.
Mr Ravi told The Straits Times that the right to vote is a fundamental right that should not be taken away.
He cited the recent case involving Singapore Democratic Party vice-chairman John Tan, who was fined $5,000 for contempt of court.
In that case, the Government "has taken the position that the right to vote is not a fundamental right under the Constitution", Mr Ravi said.
Anyone sentenced to at least a year's jail or fined at least $2,000 is disqualified from standing for election.
Mr Ravi said: "It is so sad that Singaporeans do not enjoy the right to vote as a basic right, which is why my client is raising this challenge, apart from the fact that this election is being held in the midst of a pandemic."
PM Lee, in his TV address, said he decided to call an election now, while the Covid-19 situation is stable, so that Government can seek a new mandate. He added that the option of waiting till the pandemic is over was ruled out as there is no way to be sure the outbreak will be over before the Government's term ends in April next year.