Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong dissolved parliament for early elections on July 10, months before its expiration and even as the city-state battles the coronavirus pandemic.
The dissolution of parliament late Tuesday came just four days after the city-state lifted most of the coronavirus restrictions, and appeared to be an attempt to take advantage of a silent window before a possible worsening of the pandemic’s impact .
On Wednesday morning, the Prime Minister’s estranged brother, Lee Hsien Yang, announced that he would join an opposition party to contest the election, but had not yet decided whether to stand as a candidate.
Prime Minister Lee said the country must prepare for ups and downs, noting that there has been a resurgence of cases in some countries that have reopened.
He also said that Singapore had not yet felt the brunt of the economic consequences, so there are likely to be more business closings and higher unemployment.
“There is a long fight ahead,” he said in a televised speech.
“An election now, when things are relatively stable, will clear the covers and give the new government a full new five-year term. Then you can focus on this national agenda and the tough decisions it will have to make and carry out.”
The Lee People’s Action Party (PAP), which has held power without interruption since 1959, is expected to hold its overwhelming majority in parliament, where it currently has 83 of the 89 seats.
Solid ruler block
Singapore was initially hailed as a model for containing the virus, but cases in the country of just 5.8 million people soared to more than 42,000, one of the highest infection rates in Asia, and most of them are linked to dorms used to house foreign migrant workers.
Lee said infections in the dorms have decreased, while cases outdoors have stabilized.
He said he decided to hold elections now because there was “no guarantee” that the pandemic would end next April.
In a report released June 16, ASEAN MPs for Human Rights said smaller parties would likely be further disadvantaged by measures imposed to reduce the risk of coronavirus.
The group, which includes parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia, noted that Singapore’s electoral bodies reported to the prime minister’s office, the campaign typically lasted just 11 days, and candidate registration fees were high, an aggravated problem. in the constituencies of various members of the city-state.
As a result of the pandemic, the government has said that political demonstrations will not be allowed and that voters will be given slots to cast their votes on Election Day.
“There is a reason that the PAP has won every election since 1959,” said Teddy Baguilat Jr, executive director of APHR and a former MP from the Philippines at the launch of the report. “The whole process is heavily stacked in their favor.”
Lee has said that political parties can still campaign effectively, while voters will be able to vote confidently, citing examples in recent elections held in South Korea, Taiwan and various European countries. More polling stations would be established, older people would have priority and safe distancing rules would be observed, he added.
The test for 68-year-old Lee, who wants to transfer power to the next generation of politicians in his party, will be whether he can retain 69.9 percent of the vote he got in 2015.
The Singapore Democratic Party, one of several small opposition parties, accused the PAP of “putting its own political future above the safety and well-being of Singaporeans.”
“We are used to the uneven playing field, but this time, the PAP has outdone itself by banning demonstrations, limiting ground campaigns and fully monopolizing state media for broadcasting its agenda,” it said in a statement.
#PAPSingapore presents the first list of candidates for July 10 #Singapore # GE2020: Desmond Tan Kok Ming, Edward Chia, Ivan Lim, Nadia Samdin #singaporevotes https://t.co/Q94b62zRhS
– The Straits Times (@STcom) June 24, 2020
Meanwhile, the prime minister’s brother told Reuters that he had joined the newly founded Singapore Progress Party.
Lee Hsien Yang has been embroiled in a bitter dispute with his brother over the home of his late father, Lee Kuan Yew.
“We will see,” replied Lee, when asked if he would stand as a candidate.