The countdown to the Singapore general election has officially started.
The next general election is known to take place before April 21, 2021, but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has determined that it could take place earlier.
In addition, the People & # 39; s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled Singapore continuously for 61 years, rarely waits until the end of a five-year term to get a new mandate.
On March 13, the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) released the election limits report, signaling that elections are imminent.
Earlier elections ranged from one day, one month to 26 days between the publication of the report and the dissolution of Parliament. The election must take place within three months of the date of the dissolution of the parliament.
In the past, the government often planned elections shortly after the budget was passed to introduce the new policy popular with voters.
Given the time it takes for budgetary measures to reach and benefit voters, April or May is a very likely window of choice. In addition, the 2006 and 2011 elections were scheduled shortly after the May budget.
Will elections take place in the middle of COVID-19?
On March 14, PM Lee said in a Facebook post that the date of the next general election "will depend on the situation (COVID-19) and the outlook".
He predicted that the pandemic is likely to continue for a year or more and that its economic impact is likely to be "more severe than the global financial crisis and longer after the pandemic ends".
We have two options. Either hope and pray that things will stabilize before the end of the term so that we can hold elections under more normal circumstances – but we have no certainty about it.
Or call early for elections, knowing we are going into a hurricane to choose a new government with a new mandate and full term that can work with Singaporeans on critical issues.
If we have to hold elections before COVID-19 is over, we will take all necessary steps to ensure that the parties can campaign effectively and that people can vote safely.
– Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Dr. Tan Cheng Bock, who heads the Progress Singapore Party, proposes the formation of a "caretaker government" that goes beyond the two options.
"If the pandemic is still with us by then (April 2021), the president can exercise her gentle power and form a caretaker government made up of some of the current MPs," he said.
High-ranking minister Teo Chee Hean rejects that a caretaker government lacks the mandate of voters and therefore cannot make important decisions on behalf of Singaporeans.
He added that it was "unconstitutional" to postpone elections without a state of emergency.
Despite the many crises that Singapore has weathered, it has not extended its election term or declared a state of emergency since independence. "It is not a precedent that we should set lightly," said Teo last Wednesday (March 25) in parliament.
Regardless, national development minister Lawrence Wong hinted that Singapore would vote sooner rather than later.
"Whatever the timing of the election, since it must take place by April 2021, it is very likely that it will have to take place when COVID-19 is still circulating in our midst – that is the reality," he said in a CNBC Interview.
Now is the best time for PAP to hold an election
So if we asked for an early election, would it be a good idea to hold it in the midst of the pandemic?
Some bipartisan voices have emerged saying that the government should get over the worst of the crisis before holding elections.
They argued that a choice during an outbreak violates all precautions taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The SDP even said that if the PAP called for elections, it would be an "irresponsible act".
It added that all government resources should be aimed at combating the spread of the coronavirus and that PAP should not "benefit from the crisis" and endanger public health.
Singapore can currently hold the fort because we pay close attention to it. If an election comes into play, there is a risk of distraction and worsening of the current situation.
In addition, holding the GE during this time threatens the entire nation, which is contrary to our previous efforts to contain it.
However, now is a good time for the PAP to request a choice. They can use the goodwill from their skilful handling of the COVID 19 crisis as an electoral advantage – even the World Health Organization (WHO) has called Singapore the “gold standard”.
"If people have a siege mentality, they will work for security and a proven government," said former PAP MP Inderjit Singh.
In addition, the PAP is strongly preferred during this recession, as no one wants to change government in the middle of a crisis. The prospect of a shaky transition period will only deter potential critics.
However, if you think ahead, the ruling party could face a situation where the polls must take place if the outbreak is more serious than it is now if it waits too long.
Since the government has estimated that the situation is likely to worsen, it is best that the elections be held quickly and that a strong government be used to combat the aftermath of COVID-19.
Why a COVID 19 election will be detrimental to the opposition
With social distancing and a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people, there can be no political rallies.
Photo credit: Abdul Rahman via flickr
Opposition parties like the WP traditionally relied on door-to-door visits to get in touch with voters. In the 2011 elections, the party leaders even said that home visits made the difference.
Opposing parties face major hurdles when it comes to public relations work when eliminating tours or home visits. The reduced opportunities for interaction severely disadvantage the opposition because it has to stimulate the electorate and bring it to a vote.
But it's not just the local conditions that make the COVID-19 GE a walkover. With virus clusters emerging every day, most of the campaigns will likely take place online, where the competitive conditions are even more one-sided.
With a COVID 19 election, speeches and rallies are likely to be broadcast live. The downside is that it is very different from a Facebook video to be physically in a crowd and hear powerful speeches during a rally.
All of this goes well with our ruling party because it is a well-known entity. As many have pointed out, PAP rallies are rarely visited anyway.
While attendance at such rallies is never a barometer of support for the ballot box, it is vital for the opposition to reaffirm its promise to control the ruling party once it makes it into parliament.
Since direct political advertising on Facebook is severely restricted, opposition parties will be exposed to the major media, which are all strong for PAP.
During the election day itself, the authorities have to take measures such as temperature control, social distance in queues, hand disinfectants for voters and expressways for the elderly.
You would also have to think about how Singaporeans who stay at home or are in quarantine should vote. Is it time for us to turn to online voting?
It is also unclear how the electoral department plans to run road shows to keep voters informed about newly introduced aspects of the voting process, including an electronic registration mechanism and the use of a self-inking pen.
While a COVID-19 election is not ideal, the advent of social media and the Internet definitely allows an election to continue.
As PM Lee said, "These are largely solvable problems."
However, it is also clear that no one will be able to "effectively advertise," as PM Lee promised, especially for opposition parties who need to be heard.
As COVID-19 cases increase and stricter regulations are introduced, GE 2020 will most likely only be in the name of a non-rally election, with minimal interaction and because voters' concerns are focused on other areas.
Selected image source: Reuters