Singapore GE: Tan Cheng Bock defends proposal to delay election by having president form caretaker government

Progress Singapore Party secretary-general Tan Cheng Bock said that delaying the GE would lead to a constitutional problem but it was still better than having an election during the outbreak. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM PROGRESS SINGAPORE PARTY/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - A constitutional problem caused by delaying the next election is better than a health crisis, said Progress Singapore Party (PSP) secretary-general Tan Cheng Bock on Saturday (March 28).

He was defending his earlier proposal for the president to form a caretaker government if elections cannot be held by the April 2021 deadline.

In a video message on the party's Facebook page, the former PAP MP and presidential candidate said the main point of his proposal was that calling an election early will expose over 2.6 million Singaporeans to the coronavirus, and runs the risk of creating a health crisis.

"My message to the Government is very clear: Concentrate on doing your job well for the next 12 months, and let's keep everybody safe."

Earlier this week, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean had been asked in Parliament for the Government's view on Dr Tan's call for the president to form a caretaker government in the event the pandemic had not faded by the election deadline.

Mr Teo said he had consulted the Attorney-General's Chambers and was told that delaying the polls in such a manner was unconstitutional.

"To suggest this shows a disregard for or lack of understanding of the Constitution. Putting forward constitutionally unworkable proposals at a time of serious national crisis can only confuse and mislead Singaporeans to the detriment of Singapore and Singaporeans," he said, noting that the only way to delay an election was the unprecedented step of having the president to declare a state of emergency.

He added that such a move would also weaken the mandate of the Government at the time when a strong one is needed.

"When you are sailing into a storm, you want to be certain who your captain is and that he will not be changed halfway. You want to make sure that he's there together with you, working with you, guiding you through the storm."

In his response, Dr Tan said that delaying the GE would lead to a constitutional problem but it was still better than having an election during the outbreak.

"The risk here is but a legal constitutional problem as to whether a caretaker government can be formed. However, a constitutional problem does not infect people with Covid-19. A constitutional problem will not take away the lives of loved ones. A constitutional problem can be overcome."

"Senior Minister Teo also said in Parliament that an early general election will allow Singapore to decide who they want to captain the ship into the future," added Dr Tan.

"But can he accept that an early general election means that the ship will potentially carry many more Singaporeans infected with Covid-19, and is this the risk he is prepared to take with our overtaxed health crisis?"

He said that Singapore's ministers and ministries are already hard pressed - and would have to spread themselves out even thinner if an election were to occur - figuring out how to safely carry out the electoral process.

He said that the focus over the next 12 months should be solely on fighting the outbreak, or else the $48 billion Resilience Budget package would be a futile exercise.

Dr Tan added that he is not making the suggestion lightly, and also shared a list of countries that have postponed their elections in the light of the Covid-19 outbreak, such as local elections in France and the UK.

On Friday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an interview that he had not yet made a decision on when to call the elections.

He said it was a very difficult decision because Singapore is going into a very big storm and "you want to have the strongest team and mandate, and the longest runway so that Singapore can have the best leadership to see it through this storm".

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