When will the GE be?

please don't ask me what the point of this question is

Hello! Welcome to GE20Watch! I’m your GE Watcher.

For the next few months until the GE, I’ll be summarising election news and providing political analysis, so that voters can get a better insight about the whole process and make a more informed choice.

I plan to publish this weekly/biweekly, depending on the amount of news there is that week. I also plan to do special issues analysing the topics that will dominate the GE, as well as looking back at past GEs. And don’t worry about premium news, each issue is completely free :)

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For this first issue, let’s tackle the most pressing question: when will the GE be?

Reading the tea leaves…

The next general election must be held by April 2021. But chances are that it will be held soon.

The first indicator that the whole electoral process has begun is the convening of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC). The five-person panel of senior civil servants, chaired by the Prime Minister’s secretary, will take into account population shifts and housing developments since the last GE, and redraw the election map, deciding the boundaries of each constituency and the number of MPs in each one.

The EBRC has been convened as of last August, and the committee typically takes between two to four months to release their report. However, as of January, the EBRC still has not finished deliberating, suggesting that some major redrawing of boundaries is going on.

After the report has been released, that is when the election period really starts in earnest, as political parties begin to release their manifestos and their slate of candidates for each constituency. The President, under the advice of the Prime Minister, then dissolves Parliament and issues the Writ of Election. This has historically been done as early as one day after the release of the report (during GE 2001), to as late as 1 month and 26 days after (during GE 2011).

The Writ of Election specifies Nomination Day, which is the first day of the campaigning period (aka when rallies start happening and election advertisements start playing). Nomination Day must not be earlier than 5 days nor later than 1 month after the Writ is issued.

The campaign period is typically around 11 days, and Polling Day (the day you have to vote) usually takes place on a Saturday.

If this has been too confusing for you, here are some tables showing the dates of past Nomination Days, Polling Days, and campaign periods.

Source: Chua Chin Hon

So it’s soon, right?

In the past 3 GEs, the period between the announcement of the EBRC’s formation and Polling Day has been between two to six months. The 2006 and 2011 GEs were held in May, while the 2015 GE was held in September (because of Lee Kuan Yew’s death in March and the SG50 celebrations in August). Taking into account the above, elections should be imminent within a month or two.

Election observers had forecasted the GE to be held as early as November last year or January this year. So much for those predictions. With the Budget to be delivered on February 18, and debates on it in Parliament expected to last until mid-March, the most likely periods for the GE would be April or May, especially since the incumbent government would want to take advantage of the feel-good factor after the Budget is announced.

However, the time period to hold the GE is limited in both months. The Easter Weekend is on April 10, while Ramadan is from April 24 - May 24, so elections are unlikely to be called during those periods. And school holidays are right after that (elections have never been called in June or July). This leaves 4th April and 18th April as the most likely dates.

Alas, the novel coronavirus (n-COV) outbreak further complicates things. Although Singapore has dealt well with the spread of the virus thus far (touch wood), if the situation has not improved nearer to then, it is unlikely that elections will be called. Asking people to go out and vote or attend election rallies during a pandemic would be political suicide.

Hence, other election observers (or the same ones, to be honest, they always get quotes from the same few people) have opined that the GE may be postponed until late August or early September, which is also when there’s the feel-good factor again after National Day. As seen from the above tables, those dates are just as likely as an April/May election.

Tl;dr: Expect the GE to be held in early April/May or late August/early September

In my next issue, I’ll take a look at what political parties have done so far in the run-up to the election, and what we can expect from them. Stay tuned!

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That’s all for now, see you next week!