SINGAPORE — The fourth generation leaders of Singapore have “gained in trust and rapport” with Singaporeans during the COVID-19 outbreak, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (27 March).
Lee was speaking to reporters at the Istana about the Resilience Budget delivered by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Thursday. He was responding to a question about how Singapore’s 4G leaders are coping with the crisis.
Citing Lawrence Wong and Gan Kim Yong, the co-chairs of the multi-ministry task force on COVID-19, and Heng, Lee said, “I think people have seen them and they have watched them respond. They have watched them answer questions, deal with emergency situations – runs on food, runs on toilet rolls, big outbreaks, bad news – I think that they have gained experience and confidence.”
Lee was also queried on how the general elections, if called, would proceed given the current situation.
A reporter asked how nomination and voting would proceed and if large-scale campaigning would be “out of the picture”.
Lee described the call as a “very difficult decision” as Singapore is going into “a very big storm”. He said, “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.”
“If we were sure that the thing could settle within the next six months, I think we can say well, let us wait for six months, let things calm down, then we carry on.”
However, he added no one could tell about the current COVID-19 situation, which might worsen before it picked up.
“You have to make a judgement in this situation with an outbreak going on with all sorts of exceptional measures implemented in Singapore – is it possible for us to conduct an election and to get this done, so that we clear the decks and we can go through and deal with whatever lies ahead of us. That is a question.”
Lee noted that an election would be hard in a state of general shutdown, such as in the United Kingdom, as the logistics of getting ballot boxes in place and voting would be difficult.
“But short of that situation, even when you have restrictions and some safe distancing measures, life still goes on. People are working, people can travel, people can conduct the poll, and countries have been conducting elections.”
Lee pointed out that Israel had an election recently and that primary elections in many US states have gone ahead.
“I think that we have to weigh conducting an election under abnormal circumstances, against going into a storm with a mandate which is reaching the end of its term. We have to make a decision on that. I would not rule any possibility out,” he said.
Singapore saw a total of 683 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday even as the government ramped up measures to curb the spread of the virus.
As of Thursday 11.59pm, all entertainment venues were required to shut until end-April and all events, regardless of size, were also required to be deferred or cancelled. Gatherings outside of work and school now have to be limited to 10 people or fewer at any time.
In light of the worsening situation, Finance Minister Heng delivered the Resilience Budget to help workers and families cope with the economic fallout of the pandemic. Commenting on the supplementary Budget, Lee stressed that the package was designed to last for three-quarters until the end of the year, and that the government will consider having it extended or modified if necessary.
“That we have prepared for, but we must also be psychologically prepared that if things actually get worse during the next few months before the end of the year, we may need to do something even before that. If it comes to that, we will go to the reserves,” he said.
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