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Lawrence Wong: Very likely GE will be held even while S’pore battles Covid-19

"That's the reality," minister says on CNBC Asia's business news programme




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Singapore — There is renewed speculation on when the next General Election (GE) will be held, which began following the release of the report of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (ERBC) on Friday (March 13).

While opposition parties are calling for the GE to be held after the Covid-19 pandemic is over, Minister for National Development and Second Finance Minister Lawrence Wong has said it is “very likely” the elections will be held even while the coronavirus is still present in the country, since elections must be held by April next year.

Speaking on CNBC Asia’s Squawk Box Asia, a business news programme, Mr Wong noted that medical experts have said the coronavirus outbreak may not go away in the near future, meaning that the fight to manage the disease that has infected more than 193,000 people around the world and is responsible for the deaths of nearly 8,000 since it flared-up in Wuhan, a city in central China, may possibly “drag on for a year and beyond a year”.

Singapore has had 266 confirmed coronavirus patients. A total of 114 patients have recovered and there have been no deaths.

“So, whatever the timing of the election, because it has to be held by April 2021, it is very likely that it will have to be held when Covid-19 is still circulating in our midst — that’s the reality,” Mr Wong said.

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Mr Wong co-chairs, along with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, a multi-ministry task force on the Covid-19 outbreak.

He said: “If and when the Prime Minister decides to call an election, then the Elections Department, as any other event organiser, will have to (be) cognisant of the guidelines and then adjust and modify the way elections are conducted in line with our advisories and guidelines.”

In previous elections in 2006, 2011 and 2015, people went to the polls 2-3 months after the ERBC had issued its reports.

Some senior activists from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) were reported by The Straits Times on Tuesday (March 17) as saying that the GE could be held in early May if the Covid-19 situation stabilised by then.

Earlier, in a Facebook post on Saturday (March 14), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said that the GE could only be called after the updating of the electoral registers, which would take about a month.

Read related: Elections could be in early May if Covid-19 situation stabilises: PAP activists

Opposition leaders, however, have urged the Government to wait until the coronavirus crisis is over.

Dr Tan Cheng Bock, leader of Progress Singapore Party, has warned in a video message that more than 2.6 million voters risk exposure to Covid-19 at the polls. He said: “There is this potential mass exposure to this virus. So holding a general election at this time should not be considered.”

On its part, the Singapore Democratic Party said that focusing on the GE could “take away valuable resources needed to combat the virus outbreak and jeopardise the public’s health and well-being”, and that the PAP should “refrain from such an irresponsible act”. Neither party currently has seats in Parliament.

And the Workers’ Party, which has won seats in recent elections, has urged the Government to “take caution and exercise judiciousness” in calling a GE. /TISG

Elections could be in early May if Covid-19 situation stabilises: PAP activists

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