Wednesday, 24 June 2020

GE2020: Singaporeans to vote on 10 July 2020

Singapore General Election 2020: Parliament dissolved, Polling Day set for July 10
PM Lee Hsien Loong sets out why he is calling general election now amid COVID-19 pandemic
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2020

Singaporeans will go to the polls on July 10, in a general election that will take place in a time of crisis as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

The widely anticipated announcement of the election date came yesterday, when President Halimah Yacob dissolved Singapore's 13th Parliament and issued the Writ of Election.

Nomination Day will be next Tuesday, with the minimum nine days of campaigning before Cooling-Off Day on July 9.

Polling Day will be on July 10 - a Friday and a public holiday.

In a televised address to the nation yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he has decided to call the general election now, while the COVID-19 situation is relatively stable, to "clear the decks" and give the new government a fresh, full five-year mandate.

After the election, the new government can focus on the national agenda - which includes handling the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and jobs - and the difficult decisions it will have to make and to carry, he said.



The alternative is to wait out the pandemic, he said, noting however that there is no assurance the outbreak will be over before the Government's term ends next April, with the virus expected to linger for at least a year - most probably longer - until a vaccine is available.

The election, Singapore's 13th since independence, is likely to see the People's Action Party (PAP) challenged for all seats - as the ruling party was in 2015.

A total of 93 elected seats are at stake - in 17 group representation constituencies and 14 single-member constituencies.



GE2020 will be waged on a drastically different battleground due to the pandemic.

Safe distancing rules that restrict the size of public gatherings to five people mean traditional campaign staples like mass rallies cannot be held. Political parties will also have to scale back on the scope of their walkabouts in constituencies.

They have geared up to turn to cyberspace and social media instead, to get their messages across to the electorate. Each candidate will also get airtime on national television, as part of the new, one-off constituency political broadcasts.

Following the announcement yesterday, political parties sprang into action and ramped up their planning and preparations.

Due to safe distancing restrictions, they ironed out campaign strategies via WhatsApp messages and Zoom calls, instead of traditional meetings in larger groups.



The PAP will launch official introductions of its new candidates and release its party manifesto over the course of this week.

Opposition parties said they were ready for the election, as the possibility of one has been on the cards for some time.

Observers reckon issues that will feature prominently at the hustings include the state of the economy and jobs, the Government's handling of the coronavirus situation, political succession and the setting of the direction of Singapore's future after COVID-19.

The PAP's leaders have, in a series of six national broadcasts over the past two weeks, set out the key issues at stake, including protecting jobs, overcoming the current crisis and securing Singapore's future.

Meanwhile, opposition parties are expected to question the Government's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, and call for greater accountability as well as more checks and balances to keep the ruling party on its toes.



The pandemic has brought economies to a near standstill, as countries lock down to curb the spread of the virus. Singapore's economy is projected to shrink by up to 7 per cent this year, which would make it the worst recession since independence in 1965.

In response, the Government has rolled out nearly $93 billion to fund four COVID-19 support packages, requiring a draw of up to $52 billion from past reserves.

This coming election will see Mr Lee lead the PAP into battle for the fourth, and what looks set to be the final, time as prime minister.

He had earlier declared his intention to hand over the reins to his successor by the time he turns 70, which will be in 2022.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who leads the PAP's fourth-generation team, is poised to take over.



The 2006 General Election, the first led by Mr Lee, saw the PAP get 66.6 per cent of the popular vote.

The ruling party saw its vote share fall to 60.1 per cent in the 2011 election, but rebounded to secure 69.9 per cent of the vote in 2015.

There will be 2,653,942 voters heading to the polls next month.

There will also be a minimum of 12 opposition MPs in Parliament - including Non-Constituency MPs - up from nine currently. This stems from changes to the Constitution that were passed to guarantee that number, should there be fewer than 12 elected opposition MPs.

The Returning Officer for this election is Mr Tan Meng Dui, replacing Mr Ng Wai Choong, who was the Returning Officer for the 2015 General Election.


In a Facebook post yesterday, Madam Halimah said: "It is important that every care and effort be taken to ensure that our voters' safety is not compromised.

"I would also like to urge Singaporeans to have open, civil and respectful conversations with one another during this period.

"For us to continue prospering as a nation, we must stay united and build upon our strengths."






















Election will be ‘like no other’ not just because of COVID-19, but important issues at stake, says PM Lee
Critical decisions ahead to secure lives, jobs, future
By Royston Sim, Deputy Political Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2020

The upcoming general election will be like no other that Singapore has experienced - not just because of the special arrangements to deal with COVID-19, but also due to the gravity of the situation and the issues at stake, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

Addressing the nation, he 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."

Nomination Day will be on June 30, and Polling Day on July 10, after the President dissolved Parliament yesterday and issued the Writ of Election.

Mr Lee noted that under the Constitution, the general election must be held by next April at the latest, but there was no certainty the outbreak would end before then.



Instead, GE2020 will take place in phase two of Singapore's reopening after a two-month circuit breaker.

He said he had to be certain of two things before calling the elections - that voters can vote safely, and political parties can campaign effectively.

"After studying the issues, I am satisfied that both of these can be done," he added.

Additional precautions will be in place on Polling Day, he noted, including more polling stations to reduce crowding, specific time slots for voting and safe distancing measures.

Candidates can still go on walkabouts, live-stream e-rallies and get more opportunities to speak directly to the electorate on TV in lieu of physical rallies.

"With our arrangements and precautions in place, I am confident we can hold a proper and safe election," Mr Lee said.

He gave the assurance that during the election period, governance will continue, the public service will function normally and essential work will go on uninterrupted.



He emphasised that the ministerial task force will still lead the country's response to COVID-19, while the new National Jobs Council will create jobs and training places, and there will be help for businesses and families.

"Soon, you will have the chance to decide whom to entrust with the responsibility of working with you to take our country forward," Mr Lee said.

"I have every confidence that you will think carefully, and vote wisely, to secure our lives, our jobs and our future."























Singapore yet to face full economic fallout from COVID-19: PM Lee
Unemployment set to go up but Govt is determined to save as many jobs as it can and create new ones, he says
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2020

Singapore has not yet felt the full economic fallout from COVID-19, and there will be more business closures and retrenchments in the coming months, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Addressing the nation in a televised broadcast yesterday, he said the virus has taken a heavy toll on livelihoods. Around the world, lockdowns and public health measures have caused a deep economic crisis.

Singapore, he said, has mitigated this with "massive fiscal action", pointing to how Parliament has passed four Budgets totalling almost $100 billion in COVID-19 support measures.

"We are drawing from our reserves to support workers, businesses and households. These decisive emergency actions have kept retrenchments and company closures low. They have helped Singaporeans take care of their families and see through the immediate crisis," he said.

This is the second time the Government has drawn on past reserves. Totalling $52 billion this year and the largest amount to date, this sum eclipses the $4.9 billion that then President S R Nathan approved during the 2009 global financial crisis.

Key support measures include the Jobs Support Scheme and its extensions, which cover up to 75 per cent of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages of each local employee to help firms retain workers.

But Singaporeans must still brace themselves for a very tough period ahead, PM Lee cautioned.

Despite all the measures taken, unemployment will go up.

"But we are determined to save as many jobs as we can, and create new jobs too. And we will do our utmost to help businesses and industries survive and restructure themselves," he pledged. "That is how we can keep our capabilities and livelihoods intact through the storm, and pick up again when the sun shines once more."

Singapore's economy is expected to shrink by 4 per cent to 7 per cent this year, making this the worst recession since independence in 1965.

According to the Manpower Ministry's labour market report earlier this month, total employment here registered its sharpest-ever quarterly decline in the first quarter of this year.

The overall unemployment rate rose slightly from 2.3 per cent in the previous quarter to 2.4 per cent. Manpower Minister Josephine Teo had cautioned that the full effects of COVID-19 were not yet felt in the first quarter.

In his address, PM Lee added that governance will continue during the election period, with the new National Jobs Council creating jobs and training places, and businesses, workers and families receiving help.

Chaired by Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the high-level council has 17 members, including eight ministers and representatives from the labour movement and business associations.

It will oversee the design and implementation of the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in his Fortitude Budget speech last month.

The package aims to support close to 100,000 job seekers over the next 12 months by creating new vacancies, traineeships and skills training places.

PM Lee also set out why he has decided to call a general election now, and said he had to be certain of two things before deciding to proceed with the polls amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first is that voters can vote safely, and second, that political parties can campaign effectively.

"With our arrangements and precautions in place, I am confident we can hold a proper and safe election," he said.

He made the point that Singapore is not the first to hold an election during the pandemic, citing South Korea, Taiwan and several European countries that have done so.



In a Facebook post yesterday, DPM Heng said the decision to hold an election in the middle of a pandemic is not an easy one to make.

"But given the profound uncertainty ahead, and the challenges that we must tackle as a nation, it is important that we do so now, when the situation is relatively stable," he said. This is to give the new government a fresh, five-year mandate to bring Singaporeans together to overcome the coronavirus crisis.

More than ever, Singapore will need a government with a strong mandate and a long runway to lead the country out of crisis, he added.

Said Mr Heng: "We will face the challenges ahead together, working in partnership with you. We can and we will overcome this crisis of our generation, and emerge stronger as an economy, as a society and as one people.

"There is a lot at stake. I trust that fellow Singaporeans will consider very carefully who you choose to form the next government and take Singapore forward."






















External environment poses challenges, even surprises
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2020

Singapore needs a capable government, with the strong backing of the people, to do all that needs to be done to see the country through these tumultuous times, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In a national broadcast yesterday, Mr Lee said the country faces external uncertainties, besides its domestic concerns over COVID-19, the economy and jobs.

He outlined four major regional and global developments that can affect Singapore: US-China tensions over many issues, now including Hong Kong; the US presidential election in November; border clashes between China and India; and political developments in South-east Asia.

Relations between Beijing and Washington have soured in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, as their governments feud over the origins and handling of the virus.

The two have also clashed over Beijing pushing a national security law for Hong Kong, with Washington threatening to delist Chinese companies from US exchanges.

Meanwhile, Chinese and Indian soldiers have clashed in a border dispute at the Galwan Valley, and there are ongoing disputes in Asean on territorial claims and maritime rights over the South China Sea.

"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," said Mr Lee.

He added that this will require diplomatic skills and a deft touch.

To overcome these challenges, Singaporeans must also stand completely united as one people, he said.

"Singaporeans and the Government must work closely together, with full trust and confidence in each other," he added.

"The Government must be able to respond promptly and decisively to the COVID-19 outbreak and the economic situation, and to external developments."
















Long struggle ahead to defeat COVID-19
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2020

While the circuit breaker has been lifted, Singaporeans should be under no illusions that the country has defeated COVID-19.

In a televised national address yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this is just the end of the beginning phase, and a long struggle lies ahead.

This is because the coronavirus will be around for at least a year and probably longer, until a vaccine is developed and becomes available.

"It is a very difficult and tricky disease to deal with. So, we have to continue keeping a close watch on the situation," he said, adding that Singaporeans must be psychologically prepared for more ups and downs in this fight.



He noted that many other countries successfully brought their cases down, only to experience fresh outbreaks after opening up again. Examples he cited included South Korea, where a second wave began in Seoul nightspots, and China, where new cases emerged from a wholesale food market in Beijing.

Around the world, the number of infections has crossed the nine million mark, and nearly half a million people have died.

Singapore detected its first cases, most of which were imported, in January. "But soon we observed a growing number of local cases, with no links to infected visitors," he said.

The numbers grew in March, especially when the virus started to spread among migrant workers in dormitories. "We responded decisively. We imposed a circuit breaker for two months. We made strenuous efforts to care for our migrant workers," said PM Lee.

"In the migrant worker dormitories, we are making steady progress, though it will take a few more months to resolve the problem. At the same time, new community cases have come down sharply. Most importantly, we have kept the number of fatalities low."

There is currently only one patient in an intensive care unit. To date, 26 have died from complications owing to COVID-19.

As of yesterday, the number of new cases in the community has decreased, from an average of seven cases per day in the week before, to an average of four per day in the past week.

The Health Ministry confirmed 119 new coronavirus cases as of noon yesterday, 23 June, taking Singapore's total to 42,432. They include three community cases - a Singapore permanent resident, a work pass holder and a work permit holder.









Singapore GE2020: Every general election holds prospect of surprises
Difficult times could see voters plump for incumbent, or be swayed during campaign
By Zakir Hussain, News Editor, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2020

Singapore is set for an unprecedented general election on July 10.

COVID-19 has caused tremendous upheaval to the global economy, from bringing air travel to a grinding halt to disrupting supply chains.

The Singapore economy has been hard hit, with more than 100,000 jobs at stake, a looming recession and a contraction that is set to be the worst since independence.

So, it's hardly the rosiest scenario against which to call an election.

Explaining why he decided to do so in a broadcast yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore has yet to feel the full economic fallout from COVID-19. The external environment is also uncertain, and surprises may be in store.

His key message: These are challenges which call for a government that is able to respond swiftly and decisively. And Singapore needs a capable government - one with the strong backing of the people - to do what needs to be done and see it through the tumult.

At a time when there has been a flight to leadership globally, observers expect the People's Action Party (PAP) to get the mandate it needs to govern effectively and - in its leaders' words - not just ride through the outbreak, but emerge stronger.

Some - even in opposition circles - appear to have all but conceded that the PAP will romp home to power with resounding support next month.

PAP activists appear quietly confident, and they know the ground they have walked extensively especially since the pandemic began. Old-timers among them say the day an election ends is the day they start to prepare for the next one.



But GE2020's trajectory is far from certain. Elections can be unpredictable events - and issues that crop up in the heat of the campaign have the potential to swing votes either way and cause upsets to the most entrenched of incumbents.

This is why the PAP has never taken elections for granted, even though recent history suggests that polls held in times of crisis, as in November 2001, see a flight to safety. That election saw the PAP returned to power on Nomination Day, and get 75.3 per cent of the votes in contested seats on Polling Day.

Since then, the past three elections - in 2006, 2011 and 2015 - have been robustly contested, and the party that has been governing Singapore for 61 years was returned to power with 66.6 per cent, 60.1 per cent and 69.9 per cent of the votes in the respective years.

Many consider the 2015 result an anomaly, attributing it to events such as the passing of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the feel-good effect from SG50 celebrations marking the golden jubilee of Singapore's independence.

To its credit, the PAP had also been responsive to discontent over housing and immigration policy, and demonstrated a resolve to address the decline in vote share from the previous election.

Many of its fourth-generation leaders who have helped the party rebuild its support since then are today leading the charge on the campaign trail.

The resounding GE2015 result has not made one of the longest-ruling governing parties content to rest on that record.

In the past five years, issues such as the cost of living and healthcare have been addressed considerably through the Merdeka Generation Package and other schemes.

But other concerns - such as the impact that disruptive technology has had on professional, managerial, executive and technician jobs, and uneasiness over an openness to global talent - have soured the mood in some quarters, especially those who feel they get a raw deal.



With 16 days to Polling Day, a number of factors could play a role in the outcome of GE2020.

One is the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. While Singapore has seen over 42,000 cases to date - much of it the result of aggressive testing especially in foreign worker dorms - the number of fatalities is low, new community cases have fallen sharply, and a two-month circuit breaker has helped stem the spread of the virus. Significant fiscal injections - totalling almost $100 billion - to save jobs have also kept layoffs low for now.

But opposition politicians have called into question the Government's handling of the pandemic, and look set to do so in the campaign, including criticising the move to call an election as one that puts Singaporeans' health at risk.

PM Lee said yesterday that in deciding to proceed, he was satisfied that voters can vote safely and that political parties can campaign effectively. Door-to-door campaigning is still allowed and while physical rallies cannot be held, there are more opportunities for candidates to speak to voters on television and online.

A second factor is voters' assessment of the contesting parties and their candidates.

The circuit breaker has been a leveller of sorts - the PAP and opposition parties have had to halt walkabouts, including for new candidates keen to introduce themselves.

But many of the parties have been active, going online to make themselves known to voters.

While the Workers' Party and Progress Singapore Party have scaled down the number of seats they plan to contest, it is still likely that all voters will get a chance to cast their ballot on Polling Day, as they did for the first time in 2015.

And some of the candidates - set to be unveiled at a rapid pace on both sides in the days ahead - may gain wider reach in an Internet-reliant campaign.

The third and perhaps most critical factor will be how much voters value the competing calls for support from all sides.

For its part, the PAP is seeking to build partnerships with Singaporeans to help shape and take ownership of policies through the Singapore Together effort.

Its argument is that Singapore has been in a unique position because its people have consistently backed the PAP resoundingly, giving it a supermajority in Parliament that enables it to act decisively.

On their part, the opposition parties seek to tap into the desire among some voters for greater checks and balances - or co-drivers, as opposition veteran Low Thia Khiang once put it - in the system, arguing that only an elected opposition can do so effectively.

Some have called on voters to deny the PAP a two-thirds majority in Parliament, the threshold required to amend the Constitution. Expect the PAP to underline that issues like integrity and capability - and not just numbers - are key when it comes to electing MPs.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, the next Parliament is guaranteed to see a minimum of 12 opposition MPs through the Non-Constituency MP scheme, this time with full voting rights. The gradual increase in the number of such seats over the years has helped address concerns that alternative voices are not represented adequately.

The impact of the crisis brought on by COVID-19 is expected to drag on for some years. GE2020 - how this unprecedented election campaign shapes up as well as its outcome - will also make a critical difference in how Singapore responds to this crisis, and beyond.











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