SINGAPORE: Singapore faces significant challenges that will need to be dealt with for possibly over the next 10 years, and the sooner the next General Election is held, the sooner Singaporeans can be rallied together to deal with those issues and uncertainties ahead, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in an interview with CNA on Wednesday (May 27).
"I would say that, yes, elections are coming nearer by the day," said Mr Heng, in response to a question on whether Singaporeans will have to wait until Phase 3 after Singapore exits the "circuit breaker period" for the General Election to be held.
"The sooner we get it done, the earlier we can rally everybody together to deal with these very significant challenges ahead, and also to deal with these very significant uncertainties in the months and years ahead," said Mr Heng.
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Singapore's next General Election must be held before Apr 14 next year, and Parliament has to be dissolved in January.
"A long runway" will be required for Singapore to tackle the economic and structural challenges, and a united Singapore will help the country emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is not a set of issues that we deal with over the next six to nine months or one year, but a set of issues that we need to deal with over the next five and even 10 years for us to emerge stronger, for us to manage this crisis of a generation as best as we can,” said Mr Heng.
“So it is important for all Singaporeans to begin to focus our minds on how we can come together to overcome this crisis of our generation and how we can then rally together to emerge stronger.”
Mr Heng brought up the example of how South Korea went to the polls with "serious" COVID-19 precautions during the pandemic, and achieved a record turnout.
South Korea, which held its elections last month, implemented measures such as screening temperatures, ensuring safe distancing and requiring voters to wear masks and plastic gloves.
When Singapore holds its General Election, "public health considerations and public safety will be a foremost consideration", said Mr Heng.
"It means that even the way in which elections are to be conducted will be different from before,” said Mr Heng.
Singapore passed a Bill earlier this month to allow provisions for Singaporeans who are on stay-home notices for acute respiratory infections to vote in the General Election.
The Parliamentary Elections (COVID-19 Special Arrangements) Bill will allow voters who are under COVID-19 stay orders at designated facilities to vote outside of their electoral divisions.
An aspiring candidate who is on a COVID-19 quarantine order or stay-home notice, hospitalised or ill may also authorise a representative to file his nomination paper on his behalf. Currently, the Parliamentary Elections Act requires potential candidates to file nomination papers in person.
On Wednesday, Mr Heng also gave his take on the Government's response to the pandemic so far, in response to a question about mixed reactions to the handling of the outbreak.
"I take a very simple approach, which is that right at the moment, we have a very big battle ahead. I want to focus my mind fully on this battle.
"This is not a time to ask for a report card. This is a time to focus all our minds. If people have great ideas on how we can do it better, we are prepared to consider any great idea.”