Singapore’s Election 2020 now imminent?

MARCH 15 — Singapore has released the electoral boundaries which will be used in the next general election. 

The island nation typically changes the boundaries and number of its electoral divisions (wards) prior to every general election.  

This year there will be a total of 31 wards up from 29 in 2015. 

Singapore’s wards are divided into Single Member Constituencies (SMCs) and Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs). 

In Single Member Constituencies, voters elect one MP to parliament but in GRCs the winning party sends a number of MPs to parliament.  

Previously GRCs returned four to six MPs to parliament but now each GRC will send a maximum of five MPs to parliament.

In total, there will now be 17 GRCs and 14 SMCs for a total of 93 MPs up from 89 in the 2015 General Election.  

Now these may seem to be technical changes but they are important as they outline the basis for the election but also the release of final election boundaries typically occurs weeks, or at most a few months before an election. 

Therefore, most observers now believe elections are imminent — as early as April and probably not later than September.

Again given the disruption being caused by Covid-19 and the fact that social distancing and avoiding crowds seem to be the current containment strategy of choice, an election in the near future seems an odd proposition.   

Surely an election will require door to door campaigning, rallies and meetings -- none of which are good for containing a virus. 

Opposition parties already appear to be hesitant about the timing; the Singapore Democratic Party said that Singapore should prioritise ridding itself of Covid-19 before contemplating elections.  

On the other hand, given the scale of the crisis facing Singapore -- both the immediate impact of the virus and the secondary economic impact, a new mandate via an election may give parliamentarians the confidence and time frame they need to enact a forceful response to the challenge.  

Still, no matter what happens this will be an unusual and critical election. 

The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) is under some pressure despite the fact that the Opposition currently only has nine seats in parliament.

This election is likely to be the last under Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Prime Minister Lee has steered the ruling party to three election victories but he is expected to step down after this election.  

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat is expected to be his successor but for this transition to take place smoothly, the PAP would look for a comfortable majority in parliament.

The Opposition, of which only the Workers’ Party (WP) currently holds parliamentary seats, has long appeared to be on the cusp of a breakthrough but has consistently failed to return significant numbers of MPs to parliament.  

A moment of economic and political uncertainty appears to present the opposition parties with an opportunity to increase their seat numbers but again the current landscape — with Covid-19  in the background — doesn’t make for a strong campaigning environment.

It will be an interesting year.  

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.