By Asia Samachar Team | SINGAPORE |
A good time to mull on the when Singaporeans should go to the polls would be sometime in June, says former parliamentarian Inderjit Singh.
Why then? In a lengthy analysis shared on his personal Facebook page, the astute four-time MP makes a case that the 4G leadership, thus far, has done very well in handling Covid-19 health issues while deputy prime minister Heng Swee Keat has responded with a good Resilience Package.
“I am sure the PAP and the 4G leadership will be rewarded well even if the GE is held later, once they bring Singapore to safety from the health and economic problems,” he argues.
What a reputation of someone who dares to speak his mind, many will read his input twice over.
This is not the first time that Inderjit, a successful entrepreneur in his own right, have made known his thoughts. In 2014, while serving as an MP, he caught the attention of the nation, again via a lengthy post on Facebook, arguing that “things have become tougher for some middle and low income Singaporeans” over the last three years.
Inderjit, 60, was a member of the Ang Mo Kio GRC led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. People’s Action Party (PAP) is the only governing party known to Singaporeans.
On Monday (27March), Lee said that there was no decision yet as when to call the general elections.
“I think that we have to weigh conducting an election under abnormal circumstances, against going into a storm with a mandate which is reaching the end of its term. We have to make a decision on that,” he said, as quoted in a local media report.
There has been discussion on the timing of the impending General Elections. Ordinarily, and in the past, the anxiety of the timing of the GE has not been a significant factor. Like most countries following the Westminster model, it has been mostly the decision of the incumbent ruling party to determine the time. Some run full terms most of the time, some do it earlier, taking advantage of the time that in the ruling party’s judgement is most favourable to them in gaining maximum votes. In Singapore, the shortest term I recall is when Goh Chok Tong called for an early GE in 1991, just 3 years into the term.
WHY AN EARLY GE
Understandably, the PAP government has sensed that the Covid-19’s health and economic impact is going to be not only long lasting but also painful for all Singaporeans. This is an unprecedented disruption never experienced by any of us in our history. So, their argument that holding an early election to put in place a stable government that has 5 years to stabilize the country by having peace of mind to tackle the health and economic issues without having a GE interrupting what needs to be done to achieve this. It should not come as surprise that any ruling party (not just the PAP) will want to retain power and therefore being in the driving seat of government will want to choose the best timing for their party to win an election.
A few of the major opposition parties have asked the government not to have an immediate GE when we are in the middle of a health crisis as this might put voters at a health risk. In addition to the fear of a health issue, it is also clearly a worry that going into an election in an environment of fear, voters will vote for safety and go for a proven government and will not take the risk with their vote to put in place a weak government that may not be able to steer the country out of a crisis.
In 2001, after September 11, this is what happened, when Singaporeans were struck with fear of potential terrorists’ attacks in Singapore. The PAP called for a quick GE and the outcome was great for the PAP, reaching the highest vote count of 75.3%, a 10% swing from the 65% the PAP got in 1997 (and 61% in 1991). So understandably the opposition parties are worried that calling for a GE in an environment of fear will be a great disadvantage to them.
So today, we are faced with this situation. The PAP wants to call for an election very soon, get the elections over with, put in place a strong PAP government and then allow the 4G leaders to solve the health issues and the resulting economic meltdown, likely the most severe anyone of us have seen in our lifetimes. At the same time, assuming the Covid-19 situation did not hit the world, it would have been a greater challenge for the PAP to ask for a mandate for the 4G leaders given they had a short runway to show results and convince Singaporeans that they are capable to lead Singapore for next 10 to 20 years. Thus far, the 4G leadership has done very well in handling Covid-19 health issues. And DPM Heng Swee Keat has responded with a good Resilience Package. I am sure the PAP and the 4G leadership will be rewarded well even if the GE is held later, once they bring Singapore to safety from the health and economic problems
WHEN IS A GOOD TIME?
Some opposition parties are saying that the government should not expose Singaporeans to a health risk, given that we don’t know when things will for in control on the health aspects of the Cocid-19. But clearly, knowing that the PAP will have a greater advantage going into an election in an environment of siege and fear among Singaporeans.
Both sides have good points. So when should the GE be held? It is now a matter of judgement for the PAP government, for the opposition parties and Singaporeans.
The government and therefore the PAP have the most information about what is to come and how worse or better things will get and, in their ability, to solve the issues Singaporeans want them to solve to give them confidence for the future. Rushing quickly indicates things can get much worse and we cannot wait.
So, the question is, how much to rush or how quickly should the GE be called. The government has until April 2021 to call for the elections. Missing the April 2021 deadline can cause problems, like the constitutional issue which SM Teo Chee Hean mentioned in parliament. Dr Tan Cheng Bock, feels the government can work around the constitutional issues.
I think the answer can be found if we look at the how the Covid-19 thing has played out in China or even just Wuhan. From the China data (if we can believe their data), the Covid-19 started in December, peaked in February and in March, China seemed to be in control with some new imported cases. China completely opened up Wuhan just a few day ago. So, China took around 4 months to get their Covod-19 in control and they were confident enough to ‘unlock’ Wuhan a few days ago. Even then, China may be taking a risk as China may soon face a send wave of infection, starting with imported cases.
In Singapore, our first case was detected on 23rd January 2020. Up to mid-March it looked like things stabilized until we started seeing a surge mainly because of imported cases. Some of these imported cases may now start a second round of community spreading. So, we are not yet at the peak. It is anyone’s guess when Singapore will hit the new peak. But the government has done a great job with so many measures to try to quickly flatten the curve (and China was highly successful in flattening their curve). So, if we believe we can do as good as China, we will need 4 months from end of January to give comfort that the health issues can be managed. So, at best it will take around 4 months for us to know if we have been successful in managing the health issues of Covid-19.
So, while I agree to rushing the GE to as early as possible to have the 4G leaders in place quickly, based on the 4 months experience in China, I think the right time to decide on the date will be June. The PAP can afford to wait till June to decide on the date and if by June things are still not settled, then they can decide to do a snap election soon after that, putting all precautions in place. We will still be way before the April 2021 deadline. In the meantime, it will be good to come out with the new rules for campaigning as early as possible to avoid being accused of an uneven playing field (if any last-minute election rules are put in place).
On the political side, all parties, whether the PAP or the opposition should have been ready for an election any time. I know for the PAP; they prepare for the next GE the day they got elected at the last GE. Some opposition parties have also adopted this approach. The only difference this time is going be the new rules for the GE – who gains and who loses more with the many restrictions and new avenues for campaigning. Time will tell, but it will be tough for all parties. Had the political parties done their ground work over the last 5 years, the impact will be less. Those parties that did not work the ground will lose out in the new rules of campaigning which we can all expect to be very restricted in human interaction (which is very important for a political process).
I am sure the PAP government will make a wise decision for the good of all Singaporeans’ near-term and long-term future. It is a judgement call for the government. Whatever they decide will have long term implications for the PAP and for Singapore and for Singaporeans.
The original article, entitled ‘The Timing for the General Elections’, first appeared at Inderjit Singh’s personal Facebook page on 31 March 2020. See here.
Inderjit Singh: Watchman son strikes big in Singapore enterprise, politics (Asia Samachar, 18 Jan 2017)
MP Inderjit to focus on work, family (Asia Samachar, 17 Aug 2015)