Reform Party Calls on the Prime Minister to Follow the Example of Other Countries and Postpone the Election Until Next YearPublished: 28th March 2020
Today Lee Hsien Loong’s Elections Department, which is part of the Prime Ministers Office and thus directly under his control, released the recommendations of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC). These recommendations have unsurprisingly been accepted in full by the Government. Normally elections have been called within as little as one day to less than two months after the release of the EBRC report.
PM Lee already has the overwhelming advantages over political opponents that traditionally accrue to dynastic totalitarian states. These include restrictions on freedom of speech and association, complete control of the media, grassroots organisations, housing, savings and jobs (as the Government controls such a large part of the economy). He has an armoury of weapons to use against his opponents such as restrictive defamation laws, sedition, detention without trial and now the new Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation law whose one-sided application is designed to reinforce his Government’s ability to control the narrative, suppress unfavourable facts, put out unchecked and unchallenged falsehoods and further add to the already considerable climate of fear and self-censorship. In addition the campaigning period of nine days is already much shorter than the democratic norm while as the incumbent the PM and his ministers are in effect campaigning all the time.
As if all this were not enough, the release of the EBRC report is a clear sign that PM Lee intends to shamelessly and irresponsibly gain a further partisan advantage by holding an election in the middle of what is probably the greatest global crisis since World War 2 and certainly the greatest crisis for Singapore since independence. All countries affected by the coronavirus are cancelling large gatherings including theatre performances and sporting events. Just today the UK Government announced that mayoral and local elections would be postponed till next year while President Trump is poised to declare a state of emergency. Other countries are also postponing elections. Clearly PM Lee hopes that by holding the election now he will be able to ban political rallies, which in the face of the Government’s total control of the media, are the only way the Opposition have of getting their message across. Even if there is no ban it is unlikely that many members of the public will want to attend. Online campaigning will just play into the PAP’s advantages of deep pockets and complete media control and will be policed by their new POFMA law.
Reform Party therefore calls on the Prime Minister do the only honourable and decent thing and delay this election till the end of the year or early next which will still be within the current term of Parliament. It is hard to see why Lee Hsien Loong wants to hold it now other than that he thinks it is likely to add to his already overwhelming advantages and produce another landslide on the scale of 2015. Or could he have other reasons for wanting to rush it? Global markets have fallen by over 30% and the rout is likely not over yet. PM Lee may be desperate to hold this election now before Singaporeans learn how badly our reserves have been diminished by market falls possibly compounded by mismanagement (for which his wife as head of Temasek will have to take a large share of the responsibility). If Temasek (as well as GIC and MAS) have fared particularly badly then calls for Ho Ching’s remuneration to be made public will be overwhelming. PM Lee may also not want the full effect on GDP and jobs of the Coronavirus epidemic to become apparent. With estimates that up to 60% to 70% of the population could ultimately be infected GDP falls of 20-30% may be conservative.
Whatever the reason for holding an irresponsible snap election, Lee Hsien Loong will get away with it and unfortunately Singaporeans are likely to give him a resounding victory on the scale of 2015 or greater. This will not serve accountability and transparency and is unlikely to be in Singaporeans’ own best interests.