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When could the General Election be held? Analysts, opposition parties give their take

SINGAPORE — Now that the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) has been formed, several political analysts told TODAY that there are two likely windows for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to call the next General Election (GE), which must occur before April 2021.

When could the General Election be held? Analysts, opposition parties give their take

Based on past elections from 2006 to 2015, the time between the release of the electoral boundaries report and Polling Day ranged from one month and 19 days to two months and 14 days.

SINGAPORE — Now that the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) has been formed, several political analysts told TODAY that there are two likely windows for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to call the next General Election (GE), which must occur before April 2021.

Some political pundits believe it could be held in the April to June period, after next year’s Budget — which is when they expect the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) to roll out some pre-election goodies.

But others predict the polls to be called as soon as the fourth quarter this year to form a stable government before economic uncertainties get worse. This also gives the Opposition little time to prepare, said the analysts.

The EBRC typically takes between two and seven months to release its report on the electoral boundaries after it convenes. 

 

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The Elections Department told TODAY that the EBRC was formed last month. 

Singapore Management University’s Associate Professor of Law Eugene Tan said that given the major announcements in the National Day Rally last month, the current Government will need to make financial provisions for them.

“It could likely take place in seven months’ time, after Budget — which could also be brought forward from its typical slot (in February) by a few weeks since there is no legal requirement that it must take place in February or March,” said Assoc Prof Tan.

Some economists had previously pointed out in this year’s Budget that the Government has accumulated surpluses of more than S$15 billion in its current term, even after taking into account the estimated deficit of S$3.5 billion for this financial year.

Budget surpluses from the current term of the Government cannot be rolled over to the next term and will instead be transferred to the Past Reserves, whose use is protected by the Constitution. Over the years, the Government have, on several occasions, shared its surpluses with Singaporeans. 

The GE could even take place a full year after Budget 2019, said Assoc Prof Tan, though whether this is the case depends on the state of the economy then, as well as other factors such as whether the ruling party has finalised its slate of candidates.

NUS Department of Political Science Associate Professor Bilveer Singh said that the election window after Budget, in May, is a “popular period”. The two GEs of 2006 and 2011 were both held that month.

But with the ongoing trade war and fractious geopolitics around the globe already impacting Singapore’s economy, he believes that waiting till the middle of next year would not be ideal for the ruling party, adding that there have been past elections called in December (1976, 1980 and 1984) and January (1997) as well.

“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,” said Assoc Prof Singh, who recently published a book titled “Is the People’s Action Party Here to Stay”.

The Workers’ Party has already mobilised its troops some time ago, as have the Singapore Democratic Party, he noted. “The new kid on the block, (Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s) Progress Singapore Party, is also getting organised too.”

Dr Felix Tan, associate lecturer at SIM Global Education, said that the EBRC has already been deliberating for some time and “would not take long” to finalise its report now that the announcement of its convening is official.

He said if the intention was to hold the election after next year’s Budget, the announcement would not have come so early as it would give the Opposition more time to prepare.

Dr Tan said: “Now that they have confirmed the formation of the EBRC, it could be as fast as next month, or in December, which has happened before.

“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.”

OPPOSITION REACTIONS

Opposition leaders contacted by TODAY shared the political analysts’ sentiments, with several saying that it would be “unlikely” to be held during the school holidays.

Mr Goh Meng Seng, secretary-general of the People’s Power Party (PPP), said that the next GE could be held, at the earliest, around end-November to early December.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chief Mohamad Hamim Aliyas’ hunch is that the GE would “most probably” be called next year. “The earliest would be January because of the school holidays in December,” he said.

Mr Tan Jee Say, secretary-general of Singaporean’s First party, said he would not rule out the GE to be called after next year’s Budget.

“If it’s next year, it’s likely to be after the Budget so that they can announce all the (election) goodies,” he said.

The “critical period” for opposition parties, he added, is the period between the release of the Electoral Boundaries report and Polling Day.

Based on past elections from 2006 to 2015, the time between the release of this report and Polling Day ranged from one month and 19 days to two months and 14 days.

“Past experiences have shown this period to be too short,” Mr Tan said, pointing out that opposition parties need time to “discuss how to avoid three-cornered fights”, and take into account changes in electoral boundaries, among other things.

The Singapore People's Party (SPP) said the Government should provide “a fixed timeframe” from the release of the EBRC report and polling day “for fair elections preparation”.

SPP added that the announcement of the EBRC formation should “spur (the party) to up the ante on the ground” as the election is “obviously imminent”.

The party said it looks forward to the EBRC “putting out a fair report” that distributes the boundaries “in an impartial manner by adopting an evidence-based approach, complete with explanations provided in detail after the report is released.”

The Singapore Democratic Alliance’s chairman Desmond Lim said the party has begun its preparations.

“We have been continuously serving residents in the Pasir Ris Punggol GRC and Punggol SMC after the last GE, such as visiting senior citizens, and helping needy families,” he said.

Likewise, the Reform Party said that it has been doing walkabouts and visiting residents since the last GE in 2015.

“We had returned to our contested constituencies and will be contesting the same GRCs and SMC which included Ang Mo Kio GRC, West Coast GRC and Radin Mas SMC,” the party said.

It declined to speculate on when the GE could be called, saying it “doesn’t help in our preparation, we have learnt to be ever-ready”.

Workers' Party (WP) chief Pritam Singh said: “I note the announcement by the Elections Department. The WP looks forward to the release of the EBRC report.”

Mr Anthony Lee, assistant secretary-general of the PSP, said that the party was “convening” to discuss the matter.

Related topics

General Election Electoral Boundaries Review Committee Politics Election Department budget PAP SGVotes2020

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