There are indications that Singapore might call for an early general election as early as July this year. While that should not bother the current ruling party People's Action Party (PAP) as they are in a strong position to win re-election, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic poses a unique challenge for the poll officials. On June 8, Elections Department, Singapore (ELD) announced a slew of new measures to conduct the poll during the pandemic time.
Among the new measures, the most interesting is a time-band for its 2.65 million voters. The ELD said that it will help them spread out voters to cast their ballots and avoid crowding. In addition, it also increased polling stations to 1,100 — up by 25 percent — to reduce crowding. Other measures include wearing gloves, sanitizing hands, and priority morning time (8 AM to 12 PM) for elderly people. Voters will not be allowed to bring non-voters along with them to polling stations.
"These measures will protect the health and safety of voters, candidates and election officials, and ensure that the next GE can be conducted safely should it be held during the COVID-19 situation," the ELD said in a statement.
"We will be flexible. Even though we encourage people not to do so if the whole family with a senior voter wishes to come together in the morning, we will still allow them to vote," it added.
Reducing contacts with election officials
While a complete contactless approach is a challenging idea, the Republic's election department will take on the task to reduce contacts as much as possible. Now, voters will have to e-register and scan their national registration identity cards to cast their ballots. Besides that, they will be able to check queue status at their respective polling stations before going out to vote while there will be thermal screening at them to detect people with fever or any respiratory issues.
The ELD, however, is still mulling over the idea whether to allow such people cast votes. "A decision on whether such persons will be allowed to vote will be made later based on the prevailing COVID-19 situation," the department added.
New guidelines for online campaigning
At present, political parties need to disclose their advertisements on social media platforms. But rules will get stricter from the next election. Currently, campaigners do not need to disclose if the ad is free or paid but now, they have to declare when and where the ads will appear and how much they had to shell out for them. Such posts or videos on social media will need to carry a notice that it was a paid advertisement.
"By strengthening disclosure requirements behind the use of paid Internet election advertising, the amendments will enhance accountability and better safeguard the integrity of the electoral process," the ELD said.
For physical political rallies and events, the guidelines will be issued later as the ELD will take a wait and watch approach awaiting guidance from the Health Ministry.
"Should prevailing health advisories restrict large group activities, the Elections Department will ensure that voters have access to the campaigning messages of all political parties and candidates. "This may include additional TV broadcast time for candidates and political parties," said ELD, which also urged political parties to "plan for modes of campaigning to minimize large group gatherings".
Indications of early elections
The announcements ELD made also indicated a possible early election. The current government's time is set to expire in January and general elections must be conducted before April next year. But with the pandemic increasing the chances of a global recession that could hit Singapore hard, political observers believe that it would allow the PAP to seek a fresh mandate and start working on rebuilding the city-state's economy.
"The sooner we get it done, the earlier we can rally everybody together to deal with these very significant challenges ahead, and also to deal with these very significant uncertainties in the months and years ahead," Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said on May 27.