To hold, or not to hold?

Elections in a time of Covid

GE Watcher

Hi and welcome to another issue of GE20Watch, an election watch newsletter that curates the latest news about Singapore’s upcoming (imminent!) General Election.

If you haven’t seen the last issue which summarised the changes to the electoral boundaries, click here!

The Covid-19 pandemic may have escalated in the past week, but elections are still pretty much on the cards for Singapore. With the government earning international plaudits for their handling of Covid-19, this is as good a time as any to hold the elections. But how have the various parties reacted? Read on to find out.

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The PAP: Preparing for Victory?

It’s as good a time as any for the PAP government to hold elections. Singapore is widely seen as the gold standard for their Covid-19 response, and there is a general consensus that the PAP has handled it well.

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing

After all, which other country has such ample stocks of toilet paper?/Photo: Lee Hsien Loong Facebook

But will they call the GE soon? PM Lee gave a hint when he said that there were ‘two choices’: hope that the situation stabilises before the end of the current term (April 2021) so they can find a good time to call the elections, or call them early ‘knowing that we are going into a hurricane’ and elect a government with a new mandate. He said that the first option had ‘no certainty’, strongly hinting that the second option was their preferred one.

However, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said that the release of the electoral boundaries had no correlation to the timing of the GE, and that the party was still fully focused on Covid-19. (Spoiler alert: past elections show there pretty much is)

In any case, the elections cannot be called until the inspection period for the Register of Electors is over on March 27. To check whether you are eligible to vote and to see which GRC you are in, click here.

But the Opposition says No

Predictably, the opposition has been unanimous in rejecting the holding of an election during this period. The SDP called it the ‘worst of possible times’ to hold the GE, while the WP called for the government to ‘take caution and exercise judiciousness’ in calling for a GE. The WP also questioned the EBRC’s decision to dissolve 3 SMCs (Sengkang West, Fengshan and Punggol East) where its candidates did reasonably well. (I’ll give you a hint why: it rhymes with Merry Sanders)

The PSP also questioned whether it would be prudent to hold an election during this period, pointing out that rallies and election activities might increase people’s exposure to the virus. The last point is prudent: opposition parties are generally seen as better at holding rallies than the PAP, and since they have less resources than the PAP, they need rallies to reach out to as many people as possible. However, since gatherings with more than 250 people have been banned under the new guidelines to reduce the spread of Covid-19, it is unknown how campaigning will be carried out during this period.

If elections are called, I expect the PAP to do as well as 2015, if not better (>70% of the vote). The last time the country went to the polls during a crisis, it was in October 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the PAP romped to a resounding victory with a 75 per cent vote share. Now, with the double whammy of a public health crisis and economic crisis, it is all but certain the voters will flock to the ‘safe’ choice, which is the incumbent party.

There’s also been a conspicuous lack of opinions from public health experts: what would be prudent steps to take for campaigning and voting during this election period? Should there even be an election in the first place during a pandemic? The media needs to ask them these questions and get their expert opinion.

The PSP makes a statement of intent

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the GE, the PSP has sprung into action, declaring that it will be fielding 44 candidates over 15 constituencies for the upcoming GE. Party chief Tan Cheng Bock will be leading the team in West Coast GRC, while you can check out the other constituencies they’re fielding candidates in here.

They are not the only party to announce where they’re contesting recently, with the SPP also announcing that they would contest four constituencies: Potong Pasir, Marymount, and Mountbatten SMCs, as well as Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC. SPP chairman Jose Raymond will contest in Potong Pasir, where Lina Chiam contested in 2015, while secretary-general Steve Chia will lead the team in Bishan-Toa Payoh.

However, PSP’s announcement is notable on two fronts. Firstly, their contingent of 44 far exceeds the size of WP’s contingent of 28 in 2015, signalling their intent to be the most prominent opposition party. Secondly, they are making inroads into constituencies contested by other parties. For example, West Coast GRC was formerly contested by the Reform Party in 2015, while Choa Chu Kang GRC was contested by the People’s Power Party that same year. The PSP will also be contesting the SPP in Bishan-Toa Payoh, as well as Yuhua SMC, where the SDP has declared its intent to field a candidate.

Noticeably, the PSP is not fielding candidates in areas where the WP has done well (such as East Coast GRC), as well as Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, where the SDP has consistently contested the past few GEs. This could signal their willingness to work with these parties. However, they are risking third-party fights with other parties, which traditionally favours the incumbent as it ‘splits’ the opposition vote. The PSP could thus be 1) banking on their brand/candidates to perform well even against other opposition parties, or 2) trying to bully the other opposition parties into giving way and contesting other areas. But you can be sure the other opposition parties won’t take this lying down.

There is also the possibility that the Covid-19 situation could worsen considerably, and Singapore goes into lockdown, postponing elections indefinitely. These are unprecedented times, and we’re all flying blind here!

Nevertheless, although this is an election newsletter, I just wanted to share a small list of five organisations/projects you can contribute to during this period. During this time of crisis, let’s all support one another and look out for the most needy in society. The economy can be rebuilt, but our social fabric can’t.

Do take care of yourselves, hydrate, practice social distancing, and take care everyone! :)

To brighten the mood, here’s Spain, where every block seems to have a musician:

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