SINGAPORE, March 25 — It would be unconstitutional for the Government to hold a general election (GE) after the deadline of April 2021 unless a state of emergency is declared, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said in Parliament today.
He was responding to a question by Christopher de Souza, Member of Parliament for Holland-Bukit Timah Group Representation Constituency, who had asked about the calls by some, such as Progress Singapore Party leader Tan Cheng Bock, to form a caretaker government and hold elections after the Covid-19 health crisis ends.
The term of the current Parliament must end on January 14, 2021, and an election must be held no later than three months after that date — April 14.
In response, Teo, who is also the Coordinating Minister for National Security, said that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has not made a decision on the timing of the GE, and that the overriding concerns for what is best for Singapore and Singaporeans will affect this decision.
“Today, more than ever, we need a government that people have expressed confidence in, to take us through this unprecedented health crisis and stabilise the economy and safeguard lives and livelihood,” he said.
“When you are sailing into a storm, you want to be certain who your captain is and that he will not be changed halfway.”
He added: “The present situation might not be ideal, but it does not make an election impossible.”
The suggestion to hold elections at the tail-end of the pandemic is the dilemma that the Government now faces, said Teo.
“The Prime Minister has laid out the choices clearly: We can hope and pray that things stabilise, but we do not know when the Covid-19 situation will stabilise, whether within the next year, by January, or by April 2021. What we do know is an election must take place by 14 April, 2021.
“The longer we wait, the more unpredictable, difficult and dangerous it could be. Compounding this would be the uncertainty of when the election will be held as we go through the year trying to face this crisis together.”
Early elections would give the Government the full mandate and the ability to make tough decisions in Singaporeans’ interest, said Teo.
Singapore should not close off any options, he said, but added that some suggestions have been “misleading and unhelpful”, such as the idea to delay an election beyond the April 2021 deadline and for President Halimah Yaacob to form a caretaker government consisting of a few MPs.
Teo said the Attorney-General’s Chambers sees this as unconstitutional, and that the only circumstance under which a GE can be put off is if a state of emergency has been declared. The President can only call for a caretaker government when advised by the Cabinet, he added.
Singapore has weathered many crises since its independence, but it has never extended the Government’s term past the constitutional limit, he noted.
“Declaring an emergency and putting off elections indefinitely is not a precedent we should set lightly,” said Teo.
A caretaker government would also be hobbled by its ability to make decisions because “it lacks the explicit mandate of voters and is therefore not in the position to make major decisions on behalf of Singaporeans”.
“Just when we need a government with a clear mandate to pull out all the stops in a crisis to implement strong mitigation measures, mobilise all its resources and implement strong economic stabilisation measures to save jobs and livelihoods to steer the country through a Covid-19 crisis, a caretaker government would not have the mandate to do so,” said Teo.
To suggest this shows a disregard or a lack of understanding of the Constitution, he said, adding that putting forth such proposals in a time of serious national crisis can only confuse and mislead Singaporeans to the detriment of Singapore. — TODAY