Singapore—Parliament passed a law on Monday (May 4) allowing for special arrangements in the event that Singaporeans need to cast their votes amid the coronavirus crisis. The date for when the next General Election must be held, April 14, 2021, is less than one year away.
The law, called The Parliamentary Elections (Covid-19 Special Arrangements) Act, was passed to ensure that voters, candidates, and election officials would remain safe by arranging for electors under movement control to vote and excusing those who cannot. Additionally, under this law, those who wish to contest in the elections but are unable to do so may authorize a representative to do so in their stead.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, who spoke in Parliament on behalf of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong concerning the Bill and answered questions during the debate, said that planning ahead is vital, given the short amount of time left before the elections must be held.
He said that this would “keep our citizens safe while upholding our democracy,” and added, ”In a few short months, the way we live, work and interact with others has changed drastically. Will we revert to the pre-Covid-19 norms? Nobody knows. But we cannot plan on the basis that it will. Instead, we need to plan ahead and put in the necessary measures, so that we can hold elections safely even under the new and evolving Covid-19 norms.”
While Sylvia Lim, the chairman of the Worker’s Party (WP), voiced out WP’s support for the Bill, she had some questions for Mr Chan.
In her speech, Ms Lim said that there has been “unhealthy speculation on the ground” as to when the GE will be held, given the current situation, and the uncertainty concerning whether or not Singapore has “turned a corner”.
The WP chairman said, “As we debate this Bill, this is the elephant in the room. Can the government clarify what progress needs to be made on the virus front before a GE will be held?”
Ms Lim then went on to ask what practical measures would be taken to safeguard the health of the voters, such as safe distancing or staggered voting schedules, as well as what these measures would cost.
She also expressed the concern that there may be citizens who wish to vote but were under quarantine, as this could affect electoral results. Being under quarantine would prevent voters from casting their ballots unless arrangements would be made for them, such as what was done in the recent elections in South Korea.
“From what I understand from the South Korean election, voters under quarantine were facilitated to vote, but only after 6 pm when the polling booths had closed to the general public. This arrangement protected other voters but also ensured that quarantined voters could vote,” she said.
Ms Lim also asked that the Government inform parties and candidates of changes in campaigning modes in order for them to have time to make preparations, stressing that this should not add unduly to campaign costs.