Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing has confirmed that Parliament will be dissolved by January 2021 in a new interview with Bloomberg TV.
The next General Election (GE) must be held before 21 April 2021 but Minister Chan said that Singapore must dissolve parliament months before that since there is a rule that parliament has to be dissolved five years after the first sitting for the current term of government.
Sharing that there is “not much time” left for the next GE given the January deadline, Mr Chan – who also serves as the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) second assistant secretary-general – said:
“A lot of people think that we have all the time in the world until next April to call the election. That’s technically correct, but what people do not remember is that parliament will be dissolved in January because parliament has to be dissolved five years after the first sitting for this term of government.”
He added: “We would like, when the opportunity arises, to have a strong mandate because the challenges that we are going to face in the coming years will indeed be the challenge of an entire generation.”
Mr Chan said that he thinks Singaporeans “are wise enough to look at the government performance not just on an episodic event” but how it has performed in the long term. The PAP has been in power for the past fifty-five years, since Singapore gained independence in 1965.
The Government has been preparing for the next GE for some time now. The Electoral Boundaries Review Committee was formed way back in August 2019 and released its recommendations on how the wards should be carved up for the upcoming election in March. The PAP was also said to have been finalising its slate of candidates for the GE.
There were widespread whispers that an election was set to be called in April 2020 and that the COVID-19 crisis put an end to such plans. Singaporeans urged the Government to avoid holding an election until there are ZERO or single-digit COVID-19 cases in Singapore to protect citizens from the risk of virus transmission at the polls.
There are nearly 30,000 COVID-19 cases in Singapore to date. The nation is currently under a lockdown-style circuit breaker which will last until 1 June. Singapore will gradually re-open in three phases once the lockdown lifts, over the next several months.
Earlier this month, the Government passed a bill that would allow special measures to protect voters and candidates in the event that an election is held during the pandemic.
The bill will permit voters who are under quarantine to cast their vote outside their electoral wards and allow affected candidates to authorise a representative to file nomination papers on their behalf. The Elections Department is also preparing to introduce measures on safe campaigning as the nation gears up to vote during the COVID crisis.
When he spoke for the COVID-19 Special Arrangements Bill in Parliament on behalf of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Chan said that the coronavirus pandemic will most likely last many more months and that the Government must make contingency plans to ensure the next GE is conducted safely under the COVID-19 situation.
He said then: “This is the responsible thing to do: To robustly plan ahead. To keep our citizens safe while upholding our democracy.”
In his latest interview with Bloomberg TV, Mr Chan that it’s not so much whether “we are in a crisis or not, but how we get through a crisis and emerge stronger.” He added: “That would be how we will go to the polls and I think that will be how Singaporeans will judge us over all these years.”