No decision yet on General Election amid COVID-19 outbreak, says PM Lee

No decision yet on General Election amid COVID-19 outbreak, says PM Lee

No decision has yet been made as to when a General Election will be called, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Mar 27).

SINGAPORE: No decision has yet been made as to when a General Election will be called, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Mar 27).

When asked about a possible General Election amid the current COVID-19 outbreak, Mr Lee said that the Government needs to consider if it is possible for them to conduct an election at this time, among other factors. 

“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,” Mr Lee said during a door stop on the Resilience Budget at the Istana.

“I would not rule any possibility out.”

A General Election must be held by Apr 14, 2021, which marks the end of the term of the 13th Parliament.

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament on Wednesday that based on advice from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), to “delay an election beyond the required date in such a manner is unconstitutional”.

The only circumstances in which the elections can be put off is when a state of emergency has been declared.

READ: Unconstitutional to delay General Election and have president form caretaker government: Teo Chee Hean

Singapore General Election 2015 voters queuing at a polling station
Presiding officers check the voter details at a polling station in Singapore on Sep 11, 2015. (Photo: AFP / ROSLAN RAHMAN)

Mr Lee said it is a “very difficult decision” on whether an election is called during the current situation.

“We are 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," said Mr Lee.

“That is a very desirable, and in fact, an essential requirement for us to see through this together.

“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. But nobody can say.”

He said he expects matters to “easily get worse before it gets better”.

READ: COVID-19 Resilience Budget: ‘Landmark’ S$48 billion package to tide Singapore through ‘unprecedented’ crisis

“You have to make a judgment 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,” Mr Lee added.

He noted that "nothing can be organised" should there be a lockdown, citing the situations in the UK and in Wuhan previously. Local and mayoral elections in the UK that were set to take place this year have been postponed until May 2021.

Mr Lee also pointed to the American primary elections in several states and the recent election in Israel and said that an election "can be done" if solutions are provided for issues that crop up.

Voters at Bukit Batok Sec School polling station for the Bukit Batok by-election on May 7, 2016.
Voters at a polling station in Singapore. (File photo: Ray Yeh)

“If you are shut down like the UK is shut down or like Wuhan was shut down, everybody stays at home, then nothing can be organised. How do I get ballot boxes, how do I count the ballots, and how do people come up to vote? It cannot be done," said Mr Lee.

"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,” he said.

"So these are, to a large extent, solvable problems. You have to think of solutions for them, but it can be done," said Mr Lee. 

“Once all the requirements are cleared, and that includes the electoral boundaries which has been reported, the electoral rolls have to be certified and republished. Once that is done, that means all possibilities are there. I will have to judge the situation,” he added.

“IT IS NOT MASAK MASAK”

On Wednesday, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong teared up in Parliament as he thanked healthcare workers and other Singaporeans who have contributed to the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak.

When asked about the 4G leadership, Mr Lee said he was “very happy” Mr Wong and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong are co-chairing the multi-ministry task force.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat is advising the task force and was “instrumental” in putting together the Budget and supplementary Budget, which was announced on Thursday, he added.

“People have seen them and they have watched them respond,” Mr Lee said.

“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.

“I believe that they have also gained in trust and rapport with people. It is a formative experience for the population and the leadership.”

READ: COVID-19 Budget: Unemployment benefits increase; higher cash payouts for adult Singaporeans

He said Singapore has seen generations of citizens who have overcome difficult times.

“The first generation, they were born in the crucible of fire,” said Mr Lee.

“They came in, the world was upside down and they were part of a fight. They went fully into the fight and they brought us through that – independence, separation and forward. That was the Pioneer Generation.”

The Merdeka Generation built and played a big part in bringing Singapore forward and they knew “what life was about”.

While Singaporeans have had stable circumstances for “quite a long time”, it is difficult to imagine when “things are turned totally upside down”.

READ: COVID-19 Budget: Self-employed people, firms, first-time jobseekers to receive more support

“We regularly tell people Singapore is fragile, what we have achieved is precious, we have to continue to work hard, it can disappear in a moment if you take your eye off the ball,” Mr Lee said.  

“People listen to us, but in the back of their mind they do wonder if it is true or not. After all, the show has gone on for so many years. Maybe you can go on autopilot.

“This shows everybody that it is quite serious – it is absolutely existential – life and death. It is not masak masak.

“If you come through this, you have more than one generation settled, knowing what Singapore is about.”

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Source: CNA/mi

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