Singapore leader calls for early elections despite pandemic

SINGAPORE (ANN/The Straits Times) – Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday said he has decided to call the general election now, while the COVID-19 situation is relatively stable, to “clear the decks” and give the new government a fresh five-year mandate.

In a televised address to the nation, Lee set out why he has advised President Halimah Yacob to dissolve Parliament and issue the Writ of Election.

A Writ of Election, which specifies the date of the polls, is expected to be issued shortly.

After the election, the new government can focus on the national agenda – which includes handling the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and jobs – and the difficult decisions it will have to make and to carry, he said.

The alternative is to wait out the pandemic, he said, noting however that there is no assurance that the outbreak will be over before the government’s term ends next April. Experts said a vaccine will not be available for at least a year.

Visitors walk along the Marina Bay walkway in Singapore. PHOTO: AFP

This general election will be like no other that Singapore has experienced, he said, not just because of the special arrangements to deal with COVID-19, but also the gravity of the situation and the issues at stake.

“The government that you elect will have critical decisions to make,” Lee said.

“These decisions will impact your lives and livelihoods, and shape Singapore for many years to come, far beyond the five-year term of the next government.”

The Prime Minister noted that under the Constitution the election must be held by next April at the latest.

GE2020 will take place in phase two of Singapore’s reopening after a two-month circuit breaker that was imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Lee said he had to be certain of two things before calling the election – that voters can vote safely, and political parties can campaign effectively. “After studying the issues, I am satisfied that both of these can be done,” he added.

Additional precautions will be in place on Polling Day, he noted, including more polling stations to reduce crowding, specific time slots for voting and safe distancing measures. Election candidates can still go on walkabouts, livestream e-rallies and get more opportunities to speak directly to the electorate on TV in lieu of physical election rallies.

Lee made the point that Singapore is not the first to hold an election during the COVID-19 pandemic – South Korea, Taiwan and several European countries have done so.

“With our arrangements and precautions in place, I am confident we can hold a proper and safe election,” he said.