Hard to pinpoint ideal time for next GE, says Tan Chuan-Jin

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin (in red), along with other MPs in the area, viewing an exercise demonstration at an SGSecure roadshow outside the Paya Lebar Quarter mall yesterday.
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin (in red), along with other MPs in the area, viewing an exercise demonstration at an SGSecure roadshow outside the Paya Lebar Quarter mall yesterday.ST PHOTO: LIM MIN ZHANG

The Covid-19 outbreak could last all the way till the time when the next general election must be held - April 2021 - and so it is difficult to pinpoint an ideal time to hold it, said Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

"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 Sunday 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.

He said 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 last Thursday the outbreak could continue for a year or longer.

Political observers have speculated that the general election could be held as early as next month. Another possible timeframe is between May and June.

Also at the roadshow, which was to raise public awareness of the threats posed by terrorism, were Mr Tan's 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 at a number of grassroots activities in recent months, leading to speculation that he could be fielded as a candidate.

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

 
 
 
 

Another factor, he said, was the shift 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 Marine Parade 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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 15, 2020, with the headline 'Hard to pinpoint ideal time for next GE, says Tan Chuan-Jin'. Subscribe