Saturday, 14 March 2020

Electoral Boundaries Review Committee 2020 report; 14 SMCs, 17 GRCs in next General Election

Singapore GE: Number of MPs to increase from 89 to 93, four new SMCs and a Sengkang GRC created
By Royston Sim, Deputy News Editor (Politics), The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2020

Singapore will increase the number of elected MPs in Parliament by four, and do away with six-member group representation constituencies (GRCs) in changes to constituency boundaries announced yesterday, raising expectations that the next general election could be called within the next few months.

The changes are incremental in nature, with the largest ones taking place in the fast-growing north-eastern part of the island. In all, about 13 per cent of voters will find themselves in a new constituency, compared with the 19 per cent of voters affected by boundary changes ahead of the 2015 election.

Political analysts said the next election could be held as early as next month, or in early May or June.

The Electoral Boundaries Review Committee submitted its report to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday, and the Government has accepted its recommendations.

The number of Members of Parliament will go up from 89 to 93.

There will be 14 single-member constituencies (SMCs) and 17 GRCs, up from the current 13 SMCs and 16 GRCs.

A new four-member Sengkang GRC will be created by merging the former Sengkang West and Punggol East SMCs, as well as parts of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

In all, three SMCs have been taken off the map - Punggol East, Seng-kang West and Fengshan. The Workers' Party, which contested all three in the previous election, yesterday questioned their removal.

In their place are four new single seats, including Punggol West which will be carved out of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, and Yio Chu Kang from Ang Mo Kio GRC.

The mammoth six-member Ang Mo Kio and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRCs, helmed by PM Lee and Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, respectively, have both been trimmed to five-member GRCs. In all, there will be 11 five-member GRCs - three more than in 2015. The number of four-member GRCs remains six.

Two anticipated hot battlegrounds - East Coast GRC and West Coast GRC - have each grown to become five-member GRCs.

East Coast GRC, which is expected to see a strong challenge mounted by the Workers' Party, has absorbed Fengshan. Meanwhile, the new Progress Singapore Party formed by former People's Action Party MP Tan Cheng Bock is tipped to contest West Coast GRC, which has absorbed polling districts from Chua Chu Kang GRC and Hong Kah North.

In keeping with recent practice, the boundaries of opposition-held seats - Aljunied GRC and Hougang - have remained intact.

The committee said it reviewed the electoral boundaries taking into account "current configurations, changes in the number of electors due to population shifts and housing developments".

Its recommendations continue reforms to the system that PM Lee had initiated ahead of the 2011 GE, to further reduce the average size of GRCs and create more SMCs.

The average number of MPs per GRC in the coming GE will be 4.65, down from 4.75 in the 2015 GE.

There are 2,594,740 voters heading to the polls, which have to be held by April 2021 - up from 2,460,484 in the 2015 election.

The committee, which comprises five senior civil servants, was formed on Aug 1 last year.

The next question is when Parliament will be dissolved, and the writ of election issued. In the last four elections, Parliament was dissolved between one day (2001) and 54 days (2011) after the report was released.

The hustings will be held amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Yesterday, Singapore announced more social distancing measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic and proposed that gatherings be limited to 250 people.

PM Lee had said on Thursday that the outbreak could continue for a year, and maybe longer. He also emphasised that the situation here remains under control, and the disease outbreak response level - currently at orange - will not be raised to red, the highest level.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Wednesday said the COVID-19 situation and its impact on the economy are likely to worsen, and ensuring Singapore can focus on overcoming the challenges is a major factor in deciding when to hold the general election.

Observers said mass rallies, a mainstay of past GEs, are unlikely to take place in the coming one, and online campaigning could feature prominently instead.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong: Date of general election will depend on what will best see Singapore through COVID-19 situation
All necessary precautions will be taken if polls have to be held before COVID-19 is over, he says
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Sunday Times, 15 Mar 2020

The date of the next general election will depend on what will best see Singapore through the major crisis posed by the coronavirus pandemic, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Singapore faces grave and extended challenges, he said in a Facebook post, noting that the COVID-19 outbreak will likely persist through this year, and quite possibly longer.

"I fully expect things to get more serious before they start getting better," he said, adding that the country has two options ahead.

The first is to hope and pray that things will stabilise before the end of the Government's term so that elections can be held under more normal circumstances. "But we have no certainty of that," he said.

"Or else call elections early, knowing that we are going into a hurricane, to elect a new government with a fresh mandate and a full term ahead of it, which can work with Singaporeans on the critical tasks at hand."

If elections have to be held before COVID-19 is over, all necessary precautions will be taken so that parties can campaign effectively and people can vote safely, he added. "At stake are jobs, businesses and lives."

The timing of the election depends on the situation and the outlook, PM Lee said.

He noted that the GE can be called only after the electoral registers are updated, which will take about a month. The general election has to be held before April 21 next year.

The Prime Minister's remarks came a day after new electoral boundaries were unveiled. The announcement prompted multiple opposition parties to call on the Government to delay the election until the COVID-19 pandemic is contained.

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh from the National University of Singapore said PM Lee's post "makes it quite clear" that the GE will be held very soon - within the next two months, or latest by June.

It is advantageous for the ruling party to do so, notwithstanding the COVID-19 crisis, he added, pointing to how it has won plaudits for its handling of the outbreak.

PM Lee said in his post that he held a dialogue yesterday morning with grassroots leaders on COVID-19 and what lies ahead for Singapore.

"Fighting COVID-19 is difficult enough. But we also need to deal with COVID-19's enormous impact on our economy," he said. The economic fallout will likely be more serious than the global financial crisis, and longer-lasting too, even beyond the end of the pandemic, he added.

"COVID-19 may well turn out to be the crisis that defines this generation of Singaporeans. We must gird ourselves to overcome this together, and show the world what Singapore can do," he said.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health announced that Singapore had 12 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to 212. Eight more patients were discharged.

With the release of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee's report, the next step is for Parliament to be dissolved and the Writ of Election issued. Nomination Day must take place at least five working days from the date of the writ. From Nomination Day, there will be at least nine days of campaigning and one Cooling-Off Day before Singaporeans head to the polls.

In its report, the committee recommended increasing the number of elected Members of Parliament from 89 to 93. There will be 14 single-member constituencies (SMCs) and 17 group representation constituencies (GRCs), up from 13 SMCs and 16 GRCs in the 2015 GE.

Former People's Action Party (PAP) MP Inderjit Singh noted that if the ruling party waits too long, it could face a situation where the polls have to be held when the outbreak is more severe than it is now.

And the Government's assessment is that things will likely get worse, he said. So the thinking is to quickly hold the election and put a strong government in place with a new five-year term to tackle the fallout from COVID-19, he added.

"From the PAP's perspective, this is the best time (to have an election)," he said. "When people have a siege mentality, they will go for safety and a proven government."

Release of electoral boundaries report makes no comment on election date, says Chan Chun Sing
Focus now is on managing health situation well, says Trade and Industry Minister
By Aw Cheng Wei, The Sunday Times, 15 Mar 2020

The release of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) report is not correlated to the election date, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

"Our focus at this point in time is to make sure that we manage the health situation well so that the lives of Singaporeans are well taken care of," he said. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves."

He added: "Whenever the time comes for the next general election, Singaporeans will be wise enough to make the decision as to which is the team that had been serving them consistently, which is the team that is best placed to take care of their lives and livelihoods of Singaporeans going forward."

He was responding to questions about the EBRC report and the GE from journalists on the sidelines of an event at the Singapore Zoo.

Among other things, the report, which was released on Friday, increased the number of elected MPs in Parliament by four and shrank the largest group representation constituencies from six-member to five-member constituencies.

Single-member constituencies (SMC) Sengkang West, Fengshan and Punggol East were also removed although the total number of SMCs went up by one.

In 2015, the EBRC report was published on July 24 and Parliament was dissolved the next month. The general election (GE) took place on Sept 11. In 2011, the report was published on Feb 24, and the elections were held on May 7.

The next GE must be held by April next year.

Opposition parties criticised the report's release on Friday, and urged Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong not to hold the elections in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Chan, who is also second assistant secretary-general of the ruling People's Action Party, said that PM Lee will make the call on when the GE will be, adding that the Government's focus is on "creating conditions for our eventual recovery".

He said Singapore should focus on making sure that it is one of the first countries in the world - if not the first - to "make it out of the blocks" when the dust settles on the outbreak, he added.

"They are all looking at how a society, how a government responds to a situation, whether they are just tackling the here and now or are they not only tackling the here and now, but (also) putting in place foundations for the future success of a country," Mr Chan said.

"And, if we do this well, if we maintain our psychological resilience, our social cohesion, the efficiency and effectiveness of us as a society, then we will truly be able to distinguish ourselves well," he added.

"We are focused on those things, and I think whenever the Prime Minister makes the decision, that is his prerogative, but in the meantime we stay focused on what we need to do to help fellow Singaporeans."

He also said the COVID-19 outbreak presents both an opportunity and a challenge for the country.

"In the past, if people just looked at the supply chain from a pure price perspective, then we might be priced out," Mr Chan said.

But companies are looking at fortifying their supply chains at places that are trusted hubs and allow them to have business continuity, he added.

"These actually all play to our advantage so we should capitalise on this, position ourselves well," he said. "But first and foremost, before we get there, we must make sure that our companies continue to survive and do well and we must make sure that the jobs of our people are sustained."



4 new SMCs created, as 3 existing SMCs - Fengshan, Sengkang West and Punggol East - are removed
Kebun Baru, Marymount, Yio Chu Kang, Punggol West raise total SMC number to 14
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2020

Four out of 14 single-member constituencies (SMCs) will be new ones, according to the report of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee made public yesterday.

These SMCs have been carved out from larger group representation constituencies, all People's Action Party (PAP) strongholds: Kebun Baru out of Nee Soon GRC, Marymount out of Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Punggol West out of Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC and Yio Chu Kang out of Ang Mo Kio GRC.

The total number of SMCs is one more than the existing 13 SMCs.

When constituency boundaries were last reviewed ahead of the 2015 General Election, three new SMCs were created from larger GRCs: Bukit Batok was carved out of Jurong GRC, Fengshan out of East Coast GRC and MacPherson out of Marine Parade GRC.

Fengshan is now one of three single seats, including Sengkang West and Punggol East, that have been scrapped and will no longer exist.

Fengshan, now represented by MP Cheryl Chan, will go back to East Coast GRC, which has been bumped up to a five-man team.

Meanwhile, Sengkang West and Punggol East - which have traditionally been stomping grounds for the opposition Workers' Party (WP) - have been redrawn as part of a new four-member Sengkang GRC. Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health, is expected to contest the GRC.

Punggol East MP Charles Chong first contested the 1988 election and is the longest-serving PAP backbencher in Parliament.

The move to carve out new SMCs was largely expected, given the committee's earlier directive to have more than 13 SMCs.

Analysts had also predicted that the large six-member Ang Mo Kio GRC and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC could be reduced by one ward each to produce new SMCs.

Potong Pasir, previously with 16,739 voters - far below the lower limit of 20,000 set for SMCs - had been the subject of speculation that it could be wiped off the electoral map.

As a constituency held by opposition veteran Chiam See Tong from 1984 to 2011, its boundaries had remained untouched for more than 30 years, even as its population continued to shrink.

But the SMC remains, thanks to the inclusion of several polling districts from Marine Parade GRC and some adjustments which bumped up its voter numbers to 18,551.

Over at Nee Soon GRC, the carving out of Kebun Baru will take 22,413 voters with it.

PAP's Henry Kwek, who now helms the ward, will have to battle solo if there are no personnel changes.

The new Marymount SMC covers areas currently under Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Josephine Teo, who is Minister for Manpower, while Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Sun Xueling, who is Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and National Development, could find herself helming Punggol West SMC.

Ditto for Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Koh Poh Koon in Yio Chu Kang, which was hived off as an SMC in the 2006 General Election, before being returned to Ang Mo Kio GRC in 2011.

Dr Koh is Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry.

National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser said the removal of the WP targets of Sengkang West and Punggol East could reduce the party's hoped-for chances of expanding its territory.

Dr Bilveer Singh, an associate professor at the NUS Department of Political Science, told The Straits Times that while these SMCs are gone, the WP can still give the ruling party a run for its money in the new Sengkang GRC.

He thinks Mrs Teo is a likely candidate to lead the new Marymount SMC, which covers areas currently under her. "She has invested lots of political capital there," he said.

What about her colleague in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, Mr Chee Hong Tat? Dr Singh thinks he will remain in the GRC. "He is strong enough to handle a GRC, especially since he is a potential full minister," he said.

Mr Chee is currently Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry as well as for Education.

But for those who doubt that heavyweights such as Mrs Teo and Mr Chee would be deployed to a single seat, Dr Tan's money is on MP Chong Kee Hiong, who made his debut on the Bishan-Toa Payoh team in 2015, alongside Mr Chee.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan does not exclude the possibility of a completely new face contesting in Marymount.

"It is quite unlikely for Mrs Teo to be moved to Marymount. She will likely helm a GRC," he said.

New Sengkang GRC to be formed as voters swell
It includes Punggol East, parts of Sengkang West - Workers' Party traditional stomping grounds
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent and Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2020

A new four-member Sengkang GRC will be formed in the north-east of Singapore for the next general election.

It is the only completely new group representation constituency out of 17 recommended by the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) in a report released yesterday afternoon.

The new Sengkang GRC, which will have 117,546 voters, comprises parts of the existing Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, as well as the single seat of Punggol East and parts of Sengkang West SMC.

Both single-member constituencies have traditionally been Workers' Party (WP) stomping grounds, and were contested by them in the last two general elections.

The move has been widely anticipated, given that the area's population has swelled in recent years.

Sengkang West, helmed by Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health Lam Pin Min, has grown to become the largest SMC by voter population. It now has 47,891 voters, which far exceeds the upper limit of 38,000 voters set for SMCs.

Nearby Punggol East, led by seven-term MP Charles Chong, has a similar profile. It is also edging closer to the maximum voter capacity with 35,477 voters.

The ward - seen as a tricky one for the ruling People's Action Party - was won by former WP MP Lee Li Lian after a 2013 by-election, but ceded in 2015.

At the time, Mr Chong had won by a thin margin, bagging 51.76 per cent of the votes.

The new Sengkang GRC is one of six four-member constituencies recommended by the EBRC in its report. The others are Chua Chu Kang, Holland-Bukit Timah, Jalan Besar, Marsiling-Yew Tee as well as Bishan-Toa Payoh, which currently has five members but will be downsized.

Dr Lam noted in a statement that the slate of candidates for the new Sengkang GRC has not yet been drawn up, but added: "I would be happy if asked to continue to serve my existing residents, many of whom I have known for many years since entering politics in 2006."

He also said a key priority for the new constituency would be to forge a common identity and integrate town-wide developments and programmes for residents.

"On that front, we have formed the Sengkang Town Development Committee in 2018, comprising the various MPs and grassroots leaders in Sengkang, to oversee and coordinate the programmes and infrastructural development of Sengkang town," he said.

Dr Lam added that he expects incumbents in the new GRC to face "fierce competition" from the opposition. "But whoever the opposition team may be, we will do our best and let Singaporeans decide based on our track record of service to our fellow citizens," he said.

In a Facebook post, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is an MP for Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC, said the constituency's boundaries have been redrawn because of a significant voter increase in the area. Its Sengkang Central ward is now part of the new Sengkang GRC, while Punggol West has also been carved out as a single-seat constituency.

"The boundaries may change, but our commitment to serve all our residents remains the same," Mr Teo added.

Asked about the significance of Sengkang West and Punggol East being merged into a new GRC, National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser said opposition supporters would see this as diluting the proportion of likely voters for WP.

He added: "Notwithstanding the WP's managing to gain a GRC in 2011, and scraping through to keep it in 2015, it remains difficult, though not impossible, for the opposition to win a GRC."

Polls held by other countries amid outbreak may show way
Online campaigning and social distancing at polling centres likely to be adopted in Singapore
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2020

As voters lined up to enter the polling centre, a volunteer in a blue vest directed them to keep at least 1m apart.

Another made sure each voter washed his or her hands before proceeding to the polling booth, and took the voters' temperatures.

This was how Liberia's 2014 senatorial election was conducted in the midst of the West African Ebola outbreak, the largest epidemic of the disease to date.

Such measures - and more - may soon feature in Singapore's upcoming general election, which is on the cards following the release of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee report yesterday.

Political commentators said Singapore is likely to take a page from the playbook of other nations like Israel, Poland, South Korea and the US, which are having or have just concluded their own election seasons.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said that mass rallies, a mainstay of past elections, are unlikely to take place in the coming one, given the high risk of public transmission of COVID-19 when large crowds gather.

Instead, online campaigning will feature prominently, while handshakes and baby carrying will be largely absent, he noted.

"Qualitatively, this GE will have a very different feel," said Associate Professor Tan. "It will also result in a GE that is very much subdued and has the feel of an administrative exercise."

The latest directives from the multi-ministry task force set up to tackle the coronavirus have hinted at how the hustings might play out.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday that gatherings of 250 or more people should be cancelled or postponed, but that "if there's a major speech event, you could potentially have multiple venues".

One way rallies could take place with such a stipulation will be through smaller-scale town halls, said Prof Tan. Attendees could also sit in different rooms, or even be in different parts of the island, as speeches are live-streamed.

Mr Wong, who chairs the task force, said event organisers and government agencies will have to adjust to the stricter advisories accordingly, taking into consideration the capacity of the venue, duration of the event and nature of the activity.

While political parties here have cancelled some larger events since the coronavirus outbreak, election preparations have continued for most of them in the recent months, but with precautions such as not shaking hands.

Activists in at least six PAP constituencies said it has been mostly business as usual. MP for Nee Soon GRC Louis Ng told The Straits Times last month that he would double the frequency of house visits.

The Workers' Party, too, had stepped up its walkabouts, even after the response level to the outbreak was raised from yellow to orange last month.

But others, like the Singapore People's Party and Singapore Democratic Alliance, said they have cut down on outreach activities temporarily.

Elections expert Staffan Darnoff said the experience of nations like the United States has proven instructive. On Super Tuesday, when Americans in 14 states voted for their choice of Democratic presidential candidate, states like Michigan, Missouri and Ohio moved polling stations away from nursing homes and seniors' centres, while in states like Massachusetts, polling booths were disinfected frequently and extra pens made available for rotation.

In times of outbreak, a large number of polling staff may also not show up for work, noted Dr Darnoff, who is senior global electoral operations and administration adviser at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. This was the case last week in Texas and other states, as some poll workers stayed home due to virus fears.

A US government survey found that more than half of the poll workers in the 2016 presidential election were over 60 years old - the demographic most likely to fall seriously ill from the coronavirus.

"(Even) election management bodies in established democracies cannot be complacent just because their infrastructure is more developed and the general level of disaster preparedness is more advanced," said Dr Darnoff.

In South Korea, where there have been over 7,700 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the election commission said people hospitalised or quarantined will be allowed to cast their votes from home or treatment location in the coming April 15 elections.

But while history has shown that elections that take place during outbreaks usually see lower voter turnouts, political observer Derek da Cunha said Singapore is likely to buck the trend, given the compulsory voting laws.

Even then, the onus is on the Government to lay out not just the necessity for polls now, but also detailed plans for exigencies, like how someone on stay-home notice or who might be feeling unwell can exercise his vote, said ISEAS -Yusof Ishak Institute fellow Norshahril Saat.

Israel, for instance, set up 16 special polling stations manned by masked-and-suited paramedics for the over 5,000 Israelis under self-quarantine to vote in national elections last week. These voters were told to arrive in masks and gloves, and their ballots were to be placed in double-sealed envelopes before being dropped in ballot boxes.

"In order to avoid any accusations, there has to be proper engagement - not just within the Government, but also to convince the opposition parties, civil society, and other stakeholders," said Dr Norshahril, who also stressed the importance of transparency and the need to learn from the experience of other countries in the same situation.

Public health expert Tolbert Nyenswah, who oversaw Liberia's response to Ebola, agreed, noting that he held meetings with leaders of all political parties in the lead-up to the 2014 election "to convince politicians that systems were in place to protect the voting populace".

"Communication with the public is needed to keep people informed on the facts and provide appropriate reassurance and hope, particularly about steps they can take to get through the crisis," he wrote in a paper about his experience.

Opposition parties criticise timing of boundaries report, say election should not be held during COVID-19 pandemic
By Aw Cheng Wei and Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2020

Opposition parties criticised the timing of the release of the new electoral boundaries yesterday and called on the Government not to hold a general election during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Party leaders said the release of the report by the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee was a sign a general election was imminent, but that an election during an outbreak goes against all the precautionary measures rolled out to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

"The SDP calls on the PAP (People's Action Party) to refrain from such an irresponsible act," the Singapore Democratic Party said in an article on its website.

It said that all state resources should be focused on dealing with the spread of the coronavirus, with the situation possibly worsening considerably in the coming weeks and months, adding that the ruling PAP should not "capitalise on the crisis" and jeopardise public health.

Similarly, a spokesman for Dr Tan Cheng Bock's Progress Singapore Party (PSP) said that while the party is ready for an election at any time, it is "of the view that we should concentrate on fighting the COVID-19 for now", since there is still over a year to go before reaching the constitutional time limit for the general election. The general election must be held by April next year.

Yesterday, eight of the 11 opposition parties, including the Singapore People's Party (SPP), the Singaporeans First party (SingFirst), the National Solidarity Party, the Peoples Voice party, the People's Power Party (PPP) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), called for the general election to be put off until the outbreak starts to taper off.

But even as they called for the election to be delayed, party chiefs also made clear that they were ramping up preparations for polls. Several party chiefs said they have called emergency meetings this weekend to study the new electoral map, while others have started setting their sights on particular constituencies.

SPP chairman Jose Raymond told The Straits Times he is looking forward to contesting in Potong Pasir SMC - where party founder Chiam See Tong was MP for over two decades. ST understands the party's central executive committee will be meeting this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Singapore Democratic Alliance chairman Desmond Lim told ST: "We will still contest in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC."

The party contested there in the past three elections.

Mr Lim added that it might also contest in a new single-member constituency or group representation constituency.

Peoples Voice chief Lim Tean said his new party is eyeing contests in at least six constituencies, including Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

The Reform Party has declared its intention to contest in the three constituencies it ran in the last election - Ang Mo Kio GRC, West Coast GRC and Radin Mas SMC. Chairman Andy Zhu told ST the party wants to "pick up where we left off".

SingFirst chief Tan Jee Say said that member parties of the proposed opposition alliance will likely stick with the constituencies they previously contested, though they are "studying" their options.

He said SingFirst and the three other parties - PPP, Reform Party and DPP - will be meeting "in the next few days" to discuss the report and their plans moving forward.

PPP secretary-general Goh Meng Seng also said the decision of where to contest will be made as an alliance, and not as individual parties.

"Nothing is firmed up. We have our base constituencies, but it is not non-negotiable," he said.

Questions remain over campaigning amid virus
By Zakir Hussain, News Editor, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2020

It has been almost 20 years since Singaporeans went to the polls in an economic downturn.

The last time they did, on Nov 3, 2001, the People's Action Party (PAP) was returned to power with 75.3 per cent of the vote.

Parliament was dissolved a day after the electoral boundaries report came out on Oct 17.

That election was called amid global security concerns as a result of the Sept 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Today, some political watchers see the coronavirus outbreak as a reason for the ruling party to seek to renew its mandate.

The Government has a year left on its five-year term. The next general election must be held in April 2021 at the latest. But the process has already been set in motion. The Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC), convened by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong more than seven months ago, released its report yesterday.

Observers note that the PAP's chances of getting strong support from the electorate are always higher in times of crisis, like in the present circumstances.

Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic poses a challenge of a different magnitude.

In his address to the nation on Thursday, 12 March, PM Lee cautioned that the COVID-19 outbreak will continue for a year, maybe longer - and more stringent measures may be needed. The Government is also working on a second stimulus package and may have to tap the reserves.

The Government's view seems to be that an election win will give it the mandate to do more to tackle the impact of the crisis - especially as the challenges are likely to be greater.

Not everyone takes this view.

Yesterday, several opposition parties criticised the move towards a GE. The Singapore Democratic Party hoped the PAP would not "capitalise on the crisis", saying a GE would take away resources needed to combat the outbreak, and jeopardise the public's health and well-being.

But it is not a certainty that an election in a crisis always favours the incumbent. It may lose some votes just by going to the ballot box at a time like this.

Much has also changed since GE 2001, when the PAP was returned to power on Nomination Day as only 29 of the 84 seats were contested.

The electoral boundaries were significantly revised ahead of that election. Except for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC and three single seats, all constituencies had changes.

The electoral divisions then: nine single-member constituencies (SMCs), nine five-member GRCs and five six-member GRCs.

Since then, the playing field has been levelled to some extent, and the expectation is that all seats will be contested this round, as was the case in 2015.

The latest boundary changes also see smaller constituencies - 14 SMCs, six four-member GRCs and 11 five-member GRCs. In addition, just over 13 per cent of voters will find themselves in a new constituency in the next GE, if they are at the same address as in 2015. This compares with 19 per cent of voters who were in a new constituency in 2015, and 30 per cent in 2011.

Some would no doubt see the latest round of changes as carefully calibrated - especially for areas set to see close contests.

The Workers' Party (WP) said in its response yesterday that as has been the custom, the committee has not disclosed how it came to make its decisions: "For instance, while the number of SMCs has increased from 13 to 14, the EBRC has not explained why it chose to carve out some new SMCs while dissolving Sengkang West, Fengshan and Punggol East SMCs, areas where WP has been active for many years."

The committee said it took into account current configurations, and changes in the number of electors due to population shifts and housing developments.

But it did not go unnoticed that two of the upsized five-member GRCs - East Coast and West Coast - are those expected to be contested by teams led by opposition figures Low Thia Khiang and Tan Cheng Bock.

Now that the report is out, candidates on all sides will step up their outreach to voters. But questions remain over what approaches they will adopt, in the light of the evolving COVID-19 situation.

With shaking hands, handing out leaflets and meeting voters - activities essential to a campaign - now a concern for fear of infection, some plan to step up their presence on social media.

But what of rallies, which remain a mainstay? Or precautions at the polling station?

As the boundaries report comes on the heels of advice to step up social distancing and minimise social contact, voters will need to know how the coming election will be carried out, and what precautions are being taken to ensure that no new clusters crop up as a result of the campaign.

It is also apt for the Government to get a clean mandate and focus on decisions - popular or otherwise - that need to be taken to steer the nation out of the coronavirus storm.

What are the possible dates for Polling Day?
Observers point to three dates in April, May or June as being most likely
By Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 14 Mar 2020

The release of the electoral boundaries report yesterday set off speculation about when the general election might take place.

Observers had earlier picked out two possible windows for this year - March to April, and May to mid-June - both of which are now in play given the timing of the report.

A significant delay prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak now appears unlikely.

Dr Felix Tan, associate lecturer at SIM Global Education, said: "With the report coming out sooner than expected, we are perhaps looking at some time in the May period."

He said that the election is likely to go ahead in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

"The Singapore Government will want to get this election over and done with so it can focus on tackling the issue of the pandemic, which is getting worse around the world," said Dr Tan.

He added that prior to the coronavirus pandemic, voters had already been expecting an election this year anyway, so there is "no point playing the waiting game".

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh of the National University of Singapore's political science department said that with the COVID-19 outbreak expected to last for a long time, there is "no use waiting for it to be over" before calling the election.

He added that some opposition parties are in disarray. They have not been able to conduct outreach efforts on the ground due to the outbreak, and some of them also appear to have infighting. A proposed four-party alliance has also not materialised.

Election rules do not mandate a time period between the release of a boundaries report and an election, though there are fixed timelines once a writ of election is issued and Parliament is dissolved.

Nomination Day must take place at least five working days from the date of the writ. From Nomination Day, there will be at least nine days of campaigning and one Cooling-Off Day before Singaporeans head to the voting booth.

Speculation this time around appears to be centred on three possible dates.

The first is Saturday, April 18. The April calendar has a number of significant religious festivals, with the weekend of the 18th likely the most suitable one for Polling Day.

That would avoid the need to have an election on Easter weekend (April 11 and 12) or during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins on April 23.

But should an election take place during Ramadan, observers point to the first weekend of May as a possibility. With Labour Day on Friday, May 1, the election could be timed to have Cooling-Off Day on May 2, with Polling Day on May 3.

Elections in 2006 and 2011 both took place in early May.

Should that window pass, the third date observers are pointing to is the first weekend of June. If the Nomination Day is held soon after the Hari Raya Puasa public holidays on May 24 and 25, Polling Day would then be on the weekend of June 6 or June 7, during the school holidays.

Dr Bilveer said he did not think Polling Day would be pushed back beyond National Day in August, noting the risk of something unforeseen - like a sharp spike in COVID-19 infections - taking place the longer the polls are put off.

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