Which should we prioritise, elections or Covid-19?

Also, who will millennials vote for?

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

Firstly, a shout-out to SG Climate Rally for giving us a mention on their latest initiative, Greenwatch! They’ll be releasing a climate scorecard during the GE assessing all party manifestos and ranking them according to how their policies tackle the climate crisis. They’ve also released a policy brief that they sent to all political parties on Singapore, advising them on policies they can adopt or support during the election.

If you like the content that this newsletter provides, check out Grassroots Level Party, a website with crash courses about elections and the Singaporean political system catered for first-time voters. Do also check out Our Class Notes, which has been mentioned in this newsletter before. They recently did a great article on the face-off between the PAP and WP in the Aljunied and Hougang constituencies, shedding some light on the difficulties that opposition parties face in constituency management.

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Will they, or won’t they?

The debate over when the GE will be held rages on. Responding to Tan Cheng Bock’s suggestions to delay the GE due to the Covid-19 pandemic and to convene a caretaker government, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said that such a delay would be ‘unconstitutional’, based on advice from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC). The only time an election can be delayed is during a state of emergency. He also mentioned that even if a state of emergency was declared and a caretaker government formed, this would lack a mandate by the voters, which he opined was needed during a crisis.

Tan responded by saying that a constitutional problem could not be compared to a health crisis, and that elections would put Singaporeans at risk. He also said that an election would put more stress on the already overtaxed ministers and ministries, who are currently preoccupied with the Covid-19 crisis.

Meanwhile, PM Lee said that they are weighing the options on holding a GE, and have not decided whether to call one. Giving some insight into their considerations, he mentioned that Singapore would need the ‘strongest team and mandate’ to ride out the Covid-19 storm, and pointed to the recent elections in the American primaries and Israel elections to show that it could be done with the necessary precautions.

On the topic of necessary precautions to take, Teo gave some examples such as livestreaming of speeches on the internet and TV spots for all candidates, special express voting lanes for seniors, social distancing while queuing to vote, and proper hand hygiene measures for all voters. It’s also worth reading this overview of how elections have been carried out in other countries, and this piece on how local parties are adapting to the circumstances and carrying out more ‘virtual hustings’.

It seems the debate now is on two issues: 1) should Singapore take the risk of holding elections during this crisis, and 2) if one has to be held, how should it be held? On 1), former NMP Dr Kanwaljit Soin wrote in a ST Forum letter that tackling the pandemic should be the priority, and called for medical experts to speak up on the dangers of holding an election during such a crisis. As mentioned in a previous newsletter, the voices of medical experts are sorely needed, and their advice will go a long way in handling 1) and 2). If elections must be held, all possible precautions must be taken to ensure there isn’t a spike in cases due to the increased election activity. That would not only be politically disastrous, it endangers all, including voters, who participate in it.

The Resilience Budget: one for the ages

Last week, DPM Heng Swee Keat unveiled the Resilience Budget, which contains an unprecedented $48 billion worth of measures to tackle the Covid-19 crisis. Drawing up to $17 billion from the reserves, the Budget contains a host of measures to help virtually every sector in society (except migrant workers!), including unemployment benefits and higher cash payouts for Singaporeans, as well as monthly cash payments to self-employed workers, and more job support for first-time jobseekers.

These measures dwarf any previous Budget by far, and shows the government’s determination in ensuring the country rides out the Covid-19 storm. It also doesn’t hurt the ruling party’s election chances, as seen by how even millennials have been won over by the government’s response to Covid-19 (although to what extent this represents all millennials remains to be seen). Anecdotally, taxi drivers appear to have been won over as well, which means the world is ending, as they are traditionally the hardest group to satisfy politically.

In any case, the Budget is now being debated in Parliament, and additional measures to deal with Covid-19 being introduced, hence elections will possibly take a backseat until the Budget is settled. Elections potentially at the end of May? Let’s see.

Parties reveal their candidates, and alliances consolidate

The Workers’ Party have given a hint on their plans for the GE, stating that they expect to field fewer newcomers and are focusing on familiar territory. Party insiders said that they are unlikely to venture beyond Aljunied, East Coast, and Marine Parade GRCs and Hougang SMC, which they contested in 2015, as well as the newly created Sengkang GRC. Potential new candidates have also been spotted out and about with former WP candidates on house visits and walkabouts, in particular, former NSP candidate Nicole Seah has been spotted in East Coast GRC. Economics professor Jamus Lim, who boasts an impressive educational pedigree, has also been spotted around Sengkang GRC, and is expected to contest there together with former Punggol East MP Lee Li Lian.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people sitting and indoor

Image credit: Lee Li Lian李丽连 Facebook

Potential new candidates for the PAP have also been seen on walkabouts and Meet-the-People sessions, such as Edward Chia, managing director of Timbre Group, who has been in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, and Mariam Jaafar, partner and managing director (Singapore) of Boston Consulting Group, has been spotted in Sembawang GRC, potentially replacing MP Amrin Amin, who is expected to move to Sengkang GRC together with labour chief Ng Chee Meng, Lam Pin Min, and Raymond Lye.

Image may contain: 4 people, people eating, people sitting and food

Amrin always looks particularly jolly/Image credit: Amrin Amin Facebook

In other news, the National Solidarity Party have revealed plans to contest in Sembawang and Tampines GRCs, as well as Pioneer and MacPherson SMCs. These are the same constituencies they contested in 2015. This sets up a potential clash with the PSP in Sembawang and Pioneer. NSP secretary-general Spencer Ng said that they would meet the PSP for talks, although no news has emerged yet of the result of said talks.

The Reform Party will contest in West Coast GRC, Ang Mo Kio GRC and Radin Mas SMC, setting up potential clashes with PSP in West Coast (where Tan Cheng Bock is expected to run), as well as Radin Mas. The Singapore Democratic Alliance have also announced they will contest Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC. Also, the previously-mooted alliance between Singaporeans First, People’s Power Party, Reform Party, and the Democratic Progressive Party have said they will apply to join the SDA.

These movements indicate that all parties expect the elections to be held sooner rather than later, despite the opprobrium over holding the elections during the crisis. However it’s still all a bit uncertain how the parties are going to campaign. Will we see greater online initiatives such as livestreams of rally speeches? Digital campaigning does favour parties with more resources, so how can this be kept fair? What about voting? Can the elderly, who are more at risk to Covid, be given more room to vote remotely such as by mail? These need to be answered before the elections, or people will not have the confidence to go out and vote.

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, let’s all remember to keep safe and practice social distancing! Follow the words of James Blunt:

And enjoy this remarkable video of Otters: Endgame

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