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Is the time ripe for PM Lee to call for the next GE?

Singapore Management University’s Eugene Tan said that using worsening economic conditions to bolster PAP’s reputation as the safe choice during elections may turn out to work against the ruling party, as this could be viewed negatively

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Singapore—Speculations have arisen afresh that the time is ripe for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to call for the next General Election, although he actually has until April 2021 to do so. Current global economic conditions could be the deciding factor that would determine whether or not the election would be pushed forward.

News broke out last week that Singapore may be headed toward a recession, largely due to fallout from the ongoing trade war between the world’s two largest economies, the US and China. A time of economic uncertainty could lead voters in the direction yet again of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), with the electorate being likely to choose leadership deemed as safe.

Singapore’s economic growth in the first quarter of this year, 1.2 percent, is the lowest it has been in the past 10 years. Maybank Kim Eng Research said on June 26 that week that the country’s economy would likely experience a “shallow technical recession” in the third quarter of this year.

As the country’s economy is one of the most trade-reliant in the world, it has been badly affected by trade tensions from the US and China, causing the central bank to lower its growth expectations of 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent for this year.

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Maybank expects growth to be even lower, at 1.3 percent for 2019. According to Maybank economists Chua Hak Bin and Lee Ju Ye, “Disruptions to the supply chain will likely intensify as the trade war broadens to tech and the U.S. imposes export controls on more Chinese tech firms.”

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) says that the announcement of PM Lee’s heir apparent, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in mid-June concerning public consultations may also be a sign of upcoming elections.

“I feel this time around, the PAP will call for the [general election] based on potential uncertainties …[arising from the] US-China trade war,” SCMP quotes former MP Inderjit Singh as saying. “The uncertain scenario is expected to create a sense of worry and the need for a proven stable government that has a track record of bringing Singapore out of similar situations in the past.”

While some believe that the GE will not be called until 2020 to give Mr Heng a full year to serve as DPM, other analysts have pointed to the possibility that PM Lee could call for a snap election in the fourth quarter of this year, riding on this year’s positive atmosphere during the bicentennial celebrations, particularly in this August’s National Day rally.

But Singapore Management University’s Eugene Tan told SCMP that using worsening economic conditions to bolster PAP’s reputation as the safe choice during elections may turn out to work against the ruling party, as this could be viewed negatively.

“If the electorate takes the view that the PAP is exploiting the economic downturn, a snap poll will backfire.

Arguably, if the electorate takes the view that the ruling party is exploiting the situation when it should be concentrating on the economy, then that will do irreparable damage,” the SMU law professor said.

/ TISG

Read related: PAP has started selecting candidates and begun work on its manifesto for the next General Election

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