SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (Jun 23) he has called General Election 2020 to "clear the decks" for a fresh mandate for the Government.
In a televised address to the nation, Mr Lee said he has advised President Halimah Yacob to dissolve Parliament and issue the Writ of Election.
An election now will give the new Government a fresh five-year mandate to focus on the national agenda and the difficult decisions it will have to make, the Prime Minister said.
“The alternative is to wait out the COVID-19 pandemic. But we have no assurance that the pandemic will be over before this Government’s term must end next April,” he said.
In a statement after Mr Lee's speech, the Prime Minister's Office said Madam Halimah has dissolved Parliament, and that Nomination Day will be on Jun 30.
Polling Day will be on Jul 10, a Friday, the Elections Department said, adding that Polling Day in any General Election is a public holiday.
Before deciding to proceed with the election, Mr Lee said he had to be certain of two things – that voters can vote safely, and political parties can campaign effectively.
“I am satisfied that both of these can be done,” he said.
The Elections Department (ELD) has issued measures on ensuring people can vote safely amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The measures include dedicated time-bands for seniors to vote, setting up more polling stations and having voters wear gloves before entering polling booths.
No physical rallies will be allowed. Instead, constituency political broadcasts will be aired on Mediacorp’s Channel 5 with each candidate given three minutes of airtime. These are on top of two party political broadcasts which will be aired on 19 TV and radio channels.
Political parties doing walkabouts and door-to-door campaigning have to cap their groups at five people, and they should also take other precautions advised by the health authorities such as wearing masks and avoiding physical contact, said ELD.
“LONG STRUGGLE LIES AHEAD”: PM LEE
The COVID-19 outbreak has taken a heavy toll around the world, said Mr Lee.
Singapore detected its first COVID-19 cases in January. Most of the initial infections were imported cases, but the number of locally transmitted cases grew and the virus spread among migrant workers in dormitories.
As of noon on Tuesday, the country has reported 42,432 COVID-19 cases and 26 deaths.
Singapore imposed a “circuit breaker” period for two months to stem the transmission of the virus. It has also passed four Budgets, drawing upon its reserves and injecting nearly S$100 billion into the economy.
“After great effort, we are now in a stable position,” said Mr Lee. “We are cautiously resuming social activities and progressively reviving our economy.”
But Singapore should be “under no illusions” it has defeated COVID-19, he said.
“A long struggle lies ahead. COVID-19 will be with us for at least a year and most probably longer, until a vaccine is developed and becomes available.”
In full: PM Lee's speech on advising President Halimah to dissolve Parliament, issue Writ of Election
Many other countries have successfully brought their cases down, only to experience fresh outbreaks after opening up again, Mr Lee said.
Singapore must be psychologically prepared for more ups and downs in its fight against COVID-19, the Prime Minister said, adding that the country has not yet felt the full economic fallout from the pandemic.
Singapore also faces external uncertainties, such as US-China tensions, the US presidential elections, border clashes between China and India, and political developments in Southeast Asia, he said.
“We do not know what surprises may be in store for us within the next year. But as dangers materialise, we must navigate safely through them and protect Singapore’s security and national interests. The Government must be able to respond promptly and decisively to the COVID-19 outbreak and the economic situation, and to external developments.
“We need a capable Government, with the strong backing of the people, to do all that needs to be done on your behalf, and see us through the tumultuous times,” he said.
COVID-19 TASK FORCE WILL CONTINUE ITS WORK
During the election period, the Government will continue to govern, said Mr Lee, adding that the Cabinet remains in charge even after Parliament is dissolved and the public service will continue to function, as in every General Election.
The ministerial task force leading Singapore’s response to COVID-19 will also continue its work, and businesses, workers and families will receive help and support, he said.
This General Election will be like no other that Singaporeans have experienced – not only because of the special arrangements to deal with COVID-19 but the gravity of the situation and the issues at stake, the Prime Minister said.
“The government that you elect will have critical decisions to make. 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,” he said.
“Soon, you will have the chance to decide whom to entrust with the responsibility of working with you to take our country forward.
“I have every confidence that you will think carefully, and vote wisely, to secure our lives, our jobs, and our future,” said Mr Lee.