Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent remarks on Budget 2020 has left some online wondering whether his words are a veiled indication that the next General Election (GE) will take place after the Budget, which is expected to be tabled sometime in the first quarter of 2020.
Yesterday (26 Nov), PM Lee told the press that the Government is working on the Budget for next year and that Budget 2020 will be strong and suitable to the needs of the Singapore economy, given the state of the world economy.
Highlighting uncertainties around Brexit, the US-China trade tensions and the spat between Japan and South Korea, PM Lee said that it is not surprising that Singapore’s economy has slowed down given the slowdown in the world economy and that Singapore is preparing for uncertainties given the state of the world today.
He said: “Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and all the other agencies are working towards preparing a Budget which will be strong, and suitable to the state of the world, and what the Singapore economy needs.”
The PM’s comments on Budget 2020 comes on the back of speculation by political observers and members of the public as to when the next election will be called. Some have said that the next GE could take place at the end of this year while others believe that the election may take place in the first quarter of 2020, after the next Budget.
Many expect that the next GE is imminent, after the Government announced that the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) was convened in August. The formation of the EBRC – which reviews the boundaries of the electoral map – marks the first firm step towards the next GE.
Last year, PM Lee said that “it’s possible” Singaporeans may be called to go to the polls in 2019. When asked whether it is possible that an election will be called in 2019 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in Singapore, PM Lee said: “It’s always possible. There are many reasons to bring elections forward or not, so we’ll see.”
As the year draws to a close, Singaporeans seem less sure that an election will be called this year. Political observer Derek da Cunha is one commentator who feels the election will not take place this year.
Highlighting that the generally rainy December period would not be an ideal time for an election since it could impact the turnout at rallies, Dr da Cunha told the Straits Times earlier that calling an election in May 2020 could mean Budget 2020 may become an election budget.
Pointing out that both the 2006 and 2011 elections took place in May, Mr da Cunha told the Straits Times that the calling of the next election would depend on the Prime Minister’s prerogative based on what would be the most beneficial period to call an election for his party’s success.
He added: “Any number of factors could intervene that could either hasten or delay his calling an election.”
Singapore Management University’s Associate Professor of Law Eugene Tan felt that the election could be called in seven months or even a full year after Budget 2019, since the Government would need to make financial provisions for the initiatives that were announced in PM Lee’s National Day Rally 2019.
Speculating that next year’s Budget could even be pushed up, Assoc Prof Tan told TODAY that the calling of the next election would depend on whether the ruling party has firmed up its slate of candidates and on the state of the economy, among other factors.
Others felt that the next GE may take place sooner than expected. Ex-People’s Action Party (PAP) parliamentarian Inderjit Singh told the Straits Times that calling snap elections in December or early January would give the ruling party an advantage over a potentially unprepared opposition.
Echoing Mr Inderjit’s views, Dr Felix Tan – an associate lecturer at SIM Global Education – told the publication: “There’s the element of surprise. How prepared will the opposition be to enter the fray in December?”
Speculating that the announcement on the EBRC’s formation would not have come so early if the Government intends to hold the election in 2020 after the next Budget, Dr Tan said: “With the need to have a stable government before the economy gets worse…the political landscape may not be too fertile for the PAP as time drags on.”
Contrary to Mr Inderjit and Dr Tan’s views that an early election would give the PAP an advantage, Dr Bilveer Singh, an Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Political Science, asserted that he believes Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong “will be facing the most organised Opposition in a long time” given the election preparation efforts of the various opposition parties in Singapore.
Mr Bilveer, who recently published a book entitled “Is the People’s Action Party Here to Stay,” pointed out that the three most notable opposition parties in Singapore – the Workers’ Party (WP), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and the new Progress Singapore Party (PSP) – have mobilised their troops and have been working the ground.
In an interview with TODAY, Assoc Prof Bilveer said that although a May election is popular given past election trends, waiting to call an election in mid-2020 may not be ideal of the ruling party given the ongoing trade war and geopolitics that impact Singapore’s economy.
Pointing out that the Government has called elections in December (1976, 1980 and 1984) and January (1997) in the past, Assoc Prof Bilveer said: “It will be a judgment call and a political gamble made by no one else other than PM Lee, who in my opinion will be facing the most organised Opposition in a long time. I think both the PAP and the Opposition are already ready to go to the polls.”
He predicted: “The longer you wait, the worse it will get for the PAP. The global environment and economy is bad. While there will still be support for the PAP in a bad economy, unemployment will still hurt them to some extent.”