Exit Circuit Breaker, Enter GE20

Give the man his date

Hello and welcome to a new edition of GE20Watch! I’m your GE Watcher.

We’re back after around 1.5 months! There really wasn’t any updates on the GE as Singapore has been under the circuit breaker, and so this newsletter took a bit of a hiatus. However, with the circuit breaker ending, there has been some stirrings in the political machinery, and so we’re back!

First, a brief shoutout to our friends at Greenwatch, who have released a climate scorecard grading the incumbent government’s climate change policies. They received a score of 8/90, although this was with negative gradings. Do give it a read, and if you feel strongly about a certain issue you want your election candidate to address, Greenwatch has also prepared a list of questions you can send to them.

Image credit: SG Climate Rally Facebook

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The Election Beckons…again? Maybe for real this time?

This newsletter may have jumped the gun a few times before on when the election might be called (thanks to the uncertainty of Covid-19), but we finally have the strongest signs yet that the election may be imminent. Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said in an interview to Bloomberg that there was “not much time” left to call an election, and reminded people that Parliament had to be dissolved by January, five years after the first sitting for the current government. He also opined that Singaporeans should look at the government’s performance “not just on an episodic event” but over the long-term. This may be an implicit acknowledgment that the current government has made some slip-ups in its handling of Covid-19, with the situation of the migrant workers being the most visible example.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat then said that elections are “coming nearer by the day” in response to a question whether elections would wait until Phase 3, and the sooner that elections could be held, the earlier the government could rally everybody together to deal with the challenges ahead. Heng referenced the South Korean elections as an example of how elections could be held with precautions, and with a new bill recently passed to allow quarantined or sick voters to participate in the election, it seems like preparations are in full swing. PAP MPs have also resumed their activities, as documented below by SCMP journalist Bhavan Jaipragas:

Analysts (yes, the usual few) forecast that the GE will be held in July, during Phase 2 of the re-opening. This will be even more likely if Phase 2 arrives earlier than expected before the end of June, which is a possibility. As such, the WP and SPP have called for the Elections Department to define what campaign methods are allowed and how the voting will be conducted, while the SDP called for the government to extend the campaign period from 9 days to 21 and providing all parties with free-to-air media channels, saying that this would allow parties to have ‘equitable access’ to voters.

The incumbent government’s reasoning has always been that they want a new mandate to give them the support to lead Singapore through the crisis. This is puzzling because despite their policy missteps, most Singaporeans have called for them to buck up, instead of calling for a change of government. Changing governments during crises are not often done, and people often flock to safety, just as Singaporeans did during the GE in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. A more plausible reason could be due to the weakening economy and potential fallout of the increasing unemployment rate, and the incumbent government may have decided to bite the bullet and call elections now and push through with a less-than-desirable vote count, instead of later in the year when conditions may arguably be worse and the crisis less salient in people’s minds, potentially harming their chances further.

Is the ground sweet enough?

The incumbent government may find that the going is tougher than they expected just a few months ago. This newsletter has already covered how the government dropped the ball on their handling of migrant workers, and with cases in the dormitories still numbering in the hundreds every day, the end does not seem near. There has also been some discontent amongst Boomer Singaporeans that the government seems to be treating them too well (an illogical opinion), and Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo somewhat bizarrely replied to a question in Parliament as to whether she would apologise to the migrant workers that none had “demanded an apology” from her, drawing further flak.

Two PAP MPs have also drawn criticism for apparently flouting the social distancing rules, conducting walkabouts around their constituencies to hand out masks and cosplaying as social distancing ambassadors. The PAP suspended all ground engagements as a result, although they seem to have resumed them recently.

With the state of the economy deteriorating and the number of businesses closing down increasing by the day, and with the incumbent government having lost much of the initial goodwill from its steady handling of the Covid-19 crisis early on, the momentum seems to have abandoned them. They may not be too worried about losing a supermajority as voters are unlikely to completely change the government while Singapore recovers from the crisis, but they may find that this election will not be the clean sweep they thought it would be.

The Opposition run into troubles

However, in a somewhat fortuitous turn of events for the PAP, the opposition has also suffered setbacks of their own. WP NCMP Daniel Goh stepped down from the central executive committee and will not be running in the GE due to health problems. In addition, former party leader Low Thia Khiang suffered a head injury after a fall at home and was admitted to the ICU, although he has now been discharged and is recuperating at home. It is unclear, however, if he will run in the next GE. Goh and Low are heavyweights in the WP, and with Goh’s absence from the East Coast GRC team and Low’s potential absence from Aljunied GRC team, WP will need to put on their ‘A’ game if they are to maintain their seats and try to gain more during this coming GE.

The Tan Cheng Bock-led PSP looked set to be an upstart this coming GE, but recent membership troubles have led to some bad press for them. Party member Jan Chan was expelled after he made a religiously offensive post on the meme page that he runs on Facebook, the NUS Atheist Society (what a sentence). The police subsequently opened investigations into Chan. A bizarre video clip was then released in the style of the Anonymous movement, claiming that 10 PSP members were working with SPP chairman Jose Raymond and historian Thum Ping Tjin and were accepting foreign funding. Subsequent investigations by the party then revealed that Daniel Teo, a party member, was behind the video, and he was then expelled from the party. Police reports were made by some of those named, including Raymond and party member Ravi Philemon. Philemon himself then quit the party soon after, allegedly unhappy with the party’s handling of the incident.

These events then led Tan to say that the party allowed its members to air their disappointments, and ‘big egos’ could leave the party if they wanted. The PSP’s troubles may be related to the fact that their membership recruitment has been aggressive but somewhat lacking on quality control, and hence attracting members who may not be as ideologically aligned, leading to factional disputes. This is a normal part of setting up a new party, but it comes at an unfortunate period.

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