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PM Lee calls for polls; Parliament dissolved and writ issued for General Election

SINGAPORE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (June 23) called for the General Election, after he advised President Halimah Yacob to dissolve Parliament and issue the Writ of Election.

PM Lee delivering a speech on General Election 2020 on June 23, 2020.

PM Lee delivering a speech on General Election 2020 on June 23, 2020.

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  • GE has to be called now because the Govt’s five-year term is ending, says PM Lee 
  • Fresh mandate will allow Govt to  focus on this national agenda and the difficult decisions
  • Alternative is to wait out the pandemic but no assurance that it will be over before the Govt’s term ends  
  • Having been severely hit by Covid-19, Singapore is now in a “stable position” 
  • PM Lee satisfied that voters can vote safely and political parties can campaign effectively

 

SINGAPORE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (June 23) called for the General Election, after he advised President Halimah Yacob to dissolve Parliament and issue the Writ of Election.  

In a live broadcast, Mr Lee said he decided to call for the elections now because the Government’s five-year term is ending. 

He noted that under the Constitution, the term of this Parliament must end by January 2021, unless it is dissolved earlier. “And elections must be held within three months after that, which means by April 2021 at the latest. That is less than a year away,” he said. 

“An election now — when things are relatively stable — will clear the decks, and give the new Government a fresh five-year mandate. It can then focus on this national agenda and the difficult decisions it will have to make and to carry,” he said. 

He pointed out that the alternative is to wait out the pandemic but there is no assurance that it will be over before the term of the current Government must end by April next year. 

Mr Lee noted that Singapore has been “fully occupied with the Covid-19 outbreak since the beginning of the year”. 

“The pandemic set upon the world suddenly. It quickly grew into a global crisis, spreading across many countries,” he said. “Around the world, nearly half a million people have died, and countless more have seen their lives disrupted.”

Singapore detected its first cases in January, with most of the cases imported initially. Soon after, there was a growing number of local cases, with no links to infected visitors.

The numbers grew in March, “especially later when Covid-19 started spreading among migrant workers in dormitories”, Mr Lee said. 

He added that the Government responded decisively, by imposing a circuit breaker for two months. It also made “strenuous efforts to care for our migrant workers”.

Currently, steady progress is being made in the migrant worker dormitories. However, it will take a few more months to resolve the problem, he said.

At the same time, new community cases have come down sharply. 

“Most importantly, we have kept the number of fatalities low. Right now, we only have one patient in the intensive care unit,” he said. 

Still, the virus has taken a heavy toll on livelihoods, he reiterated. 

Globally, the lockdowns and public health measures have caused a deep economic crisis. 

In Singapore, the Government has mitigated the crisis with “massive fiscal action”, passing four Budgets which injected almost S$100 billion into the economy. 

“We are drawing from our reserves to support workers, businesses and households. These decisive emergency actions have kept retrenchments and company closures low,” Mr Lee said.

“They have helped Singaporeans take care of their families and see through the immediate crisis.”

STABLE POSITION 

Mr Lee noted that after great effort, Singapore is now in a “stable position”. 

“We are cautiously resuming social activities, and progressively reviving our economy,” he said. “Life can now become more normal than during the circuit breaker, provided we all continue to take the precautions seriously.”

However, he stressed that Singapore should be under no illusions that it has defeated Covid-19. “This is just the end of the beginning phase. A long struggle lies ahead,” he said. 

The pandemic will be around for “at least a year and most probably longer, until a vaccine is developed and becomes available”, he noted.

“It is a very difficult and tricky disease to deal with. So we have to continue keeping a close watch on the situation,” he added. 

Mr Lee said that many other countries have successfully brought their cases down, only to experience fresh outbreaks after opening up again. 

These include South Korea, China, Germany and the United States. 

“Therefore, we must be psychologically prepared for more ups and downs in this fight. Economically, we must brace ourselves for a very tough period ahead. Singapore has not yet felt the full economic fallout from Covid-19, but it is coming,” Mr Lee warned. 

Despite all the measures taken, there will be more business closures, and more retrenchments in the coming months. Unemployment will go up, he said. 

However, the Government is “determined to save as many jobs as we can, and create new jobs”. It will do its utmost to help businesses and industries survive and restructure themselves.

“That is how we can keep our capabilities and livelihoods intact through the storm, and pick up again when the sun shines once more,” Mr Lee said.

EXTERNAL UNCERTAINTIES

Apart from the domestic concerns of the economy and jobs, Singapore is also facing external uncertainties, with major regional and global developments taking place which can affect the country. 

Mr Lee cited the ongoing US-China tensions over many issues, including Hong Kong.

The US will also be holding its presidential elections in November. Elsewhere, there are border clashes between China and India, as well as political developments in Southeast Asia.

“We do not know what surprises may be in store for us within the next year. But as dangers materialise, we must navigate safely through them and protect Singapore’s security and national interests,” Mr Lee said.

He added: “This will require diplomatic skills and a deft touch”

To overcome these challenges, Singapore must “stand completely united as one people”, he reiterated. 

Singaporeans and the Government must work closely together, with full trust and confidence in each other, he said. 

“The Government must be able to respond promptly and decisively to the Covid-19 outbreak and the economic situation, and to external developments. We need a capable Government, with the strong backing of the people, to do all that needs to be done on your behalf, and see us through the tumultuous times,” he said.

‘CONFIDENT OF A PROPER, SAFE ELECTION’

On his decision to hold the GE, Mr Lee noted that Singapore is still in the midst of Covid-19, “so it will not be a normal election campaign”. 

Mr Lee said that before deciding to proceed with the polls, he had to be certain of two things: First, that voters can vote safely. Second, that political parties can campaign effectively

“After studying the issues, I am satisfied that both of these can be done,” he said.

On voter safety, the Elections Department (ELD) will be implementing additional precautions on Polling Day. 

To reduce crowding, more polling stations will be set up compared with previous elections. There will also be safe distancing measures at the polling stations

Voters will be allocated specific time slots to vote, and seniors will be given priority to vote before others. 

Turning to effective campaigning, Mr Lee said the ELD has also made arrangements and issued guidelines. 

Candidates can still go house-to-house campaigning, provided they observe the safe distancing precautions. 

However, physical election rallies will not be possible, “but we will make up with more opportunities for candidates to speak directly to voters on television, and of course online, for example via live streaming”, Mr Lee said. 

He noted that Singapore is not the first to hold an election during Covid-19. Others have done so too including South Korea, Taiwan and several European countries. 

“With our arrangements and precautions in place, I am confident we can hold a proper and safe election,” he said. 

ESSENTIAL WORK TO GO ON DURING ELECTIONS 

Mr Lee said that during the election period, the Government will continue to govern. The Cabinet remains in charge even after Parliament is dissolved, and the public service will function normally.

This is the case in every General Election, he said.

“But I emphasise this now, because of the vital importance of ongoing operations against Covid-19, sustaining the economy and protecting jobs,” he said. “Therefore, over the next few weeks, you can expect the Ministerial Task Force still to lead our response to Covid-19.”

On the economic front, the National Jobs Council will create jobs and training places. Mr Lee stressed that businesses, workers and families will receive help and support

“All this essential work, on your behalf, will go on throughout the election period,” he said. 

Mr Lee reiterated that this GE “will be like no other that we have experienced”.

“Not just because of the special arrangements to deal with Covid-19, but because of the gravity of the situation, and the issues at stake,” he said. 

“The government that you elect will have critical decisions to make. 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,” he said. 

“Soon, you will have the chance to decide whom to entrust with the responsibility of working with you to take our country forward. I have every confidence that you will think carefully, and vote wisely, to secure our lives, our jobs, and our future.”

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SGVotes2020 Singapore General Election General Election Lee Hsien Loong

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