PM Lee says Singapore faces 2 choices: Wait out COVID-19 situation before GE, or call it early

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the recording of his remarks on the COVID-19 outbreak televised on 12 March, 2020. (PHOTO: MCI)

SINGAPORE — Singapore faces a decision on whether to wait out the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic to hold a normal general election, or to call the election early to form a government with a full term ahead of it to work on critical tasks ahead.

This is the view of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as he laid down the situation facing Singapore as it tries to elect a new government before the election deadline of 21 April 2021, during a dialogue session with grassroots leaders at ITE College Central on Saturday (14 March) morning.

On Friday, the government had released the completed report of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRM). This was seen as a prelude to a general election being called in the coming months.

PM Lee said that a general election can be called only after the electoral registers are updated, and this will take about a month.

Timing of elections depends on situation, outlook: PM Lee

“When to hold elections? That depends on the situation, and the outlook,” he said in a post put up on his Facebook page later on Saturday.

“Singapore faces grave and extended challenges. We can’t tell when the pandemic will end, but it will likely last at least this year, and quite possibly longer.

“The economic hit will likely be more serious than the Global Financial Crisis, and longer-lasting too, even beyond the end of the pandemic. I fully expect things to get more serious before they start getting better.

“We have two choices. Either hope and pray that things will stabilise before the end of the term so that we can hold elections under more normal circumstances – but we have no certainty of that.

“Or else call elections early, knowing that we are going into a hurricane, to elect a new government with a fresh mandate and a full term ahead of it, which can work with Singaporeans on the critical tasks at hand.”

Government will take all the precautions necessary

PM Lee assures that, if Singapore has to hold the general election before the COVID-19 pandemic is over, the government will take “all the precautions necessary” so that parties can campaign effectively, and people can vote safely.

At stake are jobs, businesses and lives. Which way to go, and the elections date, will depend on what will best see Singapore through this major crisis,” PM Lee said in his Facebook post.

“COVID-19 may well turn out to be the crisis that defines this generation of Singaporeans. We must gird ourselves to overcome this together, and show the world what Singapore can do.”

SDP’s Chee Soon Juan slams timing of release of EBRM report

Earlier on Saturday, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan slammed the timing of the release of the EBRM report, saying that the general election should only be held after there are clear signs that the COVID-19 situation has abated.

Speaking during a doorstop interview at a party blood donation drive at Bloodbank @ Dhoby Ghaut, Chee said it is the “worst of possible times” to call an election at this stage.

“(The EBRC) had seven to eight months to do this. But it waits till the point where this outbreak of the virus is at its worst, pandemic has just been declared,” he told CNA.

"It is the worst of possible times for us to call for elections at this stage ... PAP cannot be more irresponsible to do something like this when we should be focusing our state resources, that the minds of Singaporeans at least on overcoming, conquering this virus.”

Chee said there will be major concerns if the general election were to proceed. According to The Straits Times, he said that voters would be in close proximity to others at polling stations and at rallies. Officials involved in vote counting would also have to manually deal with the ballot papers.

"How is all this going to play out?” he said “So we don't accept that this has to go on. And we want to maintain this line and tell the government that this is a very serious situation.”

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