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Parliament dissolved; Writ of Election expected soon

  • Royston Sim

    The Straits Times/Asia News Network

Singapore   /   Tue, June 23, 2020   /   04:00 pm
Parliament dissolved; Writ of Election expected soon President Halimah Yacob dissolved Parliament on Tuesday, setting in motion a widely-anticipated general election that will take place in phase two of Singapore's reopening after the circuit breaker. (Straits Times/file)

President Halimah Yacob dissolved Parliament on Tuesday, setting in motion a widely-anticipated general election that will take place in phase two of Singapore's reopening after the circuit breaker.

A Writ of Election, which specifies the date of the polls, is expected to be issued shortly. Nomination Day will be on June 30, said the Prime Minister's Office in a statement.

In a televised address to the nation on Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he has decided to call the general election now, while the COVID-19 situation is relatively stable, to "clear the decks" and give the new Government a fresh, full five-year mandate.

After the election, the new Government can focus on the national agenda - which include handling the coronavirus pandemic, the economy and jobs - and the difficult decisions it will have to make and to carry, he said.

The alternative is to wait out the pandemic, he said, noting however that there is no assurance that the outbreak will be over before the Government's term ends next April, with the virus expected to linger for at least a year - most probably longer - until a vaccine is available.

This general election will be like no other that Singapore has experienced, he said, not just because of the special arrangements to deal with COVID-19, but also the gravity of the situation and the issues at stake.

"The government that you elect will have critical decisions to make," Mr Lee said. "These decisions will impact your lives and livelihoods, and shape Singapore for many years to come, far beyond the five-year term of the next government."

The election, Singapore's 13th since independence, is likely to again see the People's Action Party (PAP) challenged for all seats - as the ruling party was in 2015.

A total of 93 elected seats are at stake - in 17 group representation constituencies and 14 single-member constituencies.

GE2020 will be fought against the backdrop of the Covid-19 outbreak, which has been described as the most dangerous crisis humanity has faced in a very long time.

Safe distancing rules that restrict the size of public gatherings to five people mean traditional campaign staples like mass rallies cannot be held. Political parties also have to scale back on the scope of their walkabouts in constituencies.

They have turned to cyberspace and social media to get their messages across to the electorate instead. Each candidate will also get airtime on national television, as part of the new, one-off constituency political broadcasts.

Observers reckon issues that will feature prominently at the hustings include the state of the economy and jobs, the Government's handling of the coronavirus situation, and setting the direction for Singapore's future after COVID-19.

This coming election will see Mr Lee lead the PAP into battle for the fourth, and what looks set to be the final time, as prime minister. He had earlier declared his intention to hand over the reins to his successor by the time he turns 70, which will be in 2022.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who leads the PAP's fourth-generation team, is poised to take over.

The 2006 General Election, the first led by Mr Lee, saw the PAP get 66.6 per cent of the popular vote. But the ruling party saw its vote share fall to 60.1 per cent in the 2011 election, as voters made clear their unhappiness over issues such as housing affordability, immigration and overcrowded public transport.

In 2015, the PAP secured 69.9 per cent of the vote - a surge that analysts have attributed to policy changes that addressed voters' concerns, the feel-good effect from Singapore's Golden Jubilee, and the death of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in March that year, among other factors.