COVID-19 Op-ed

Singapore’s Covid-19 elections:
Yay or Nay

Written by admin

Tashryn Mohd ShahrinMA
International RelationsUniversity of Pécs

When Singapore decided to dissolve Parliament and go forth
with holding General Elections on 10th July, it had
the second-highest coronavirus record in Southeast Asia (CSIS). This was
despite the fact that low-wage migrant workers were still testing positive in
the hundreds every day and community infections were unrelenting in the
city-state. Health Minister Gan Kim Yong is even cautioning Singaporeans on
the possible onslaught of a second wave in the current post-election period
(Straits Times).What are some reflections we can gather from this
unique election?
Having an election in the middle of a pandemic is
not only distasteful but presents important risks; spreading infection and
depreciating democratic legitimacy. In-person voting involves lining up and
touching polling booth equipment, which can be dangerous without careful
procedures. Furthermore, COVID-related measures that were introduced –
including those under the Parliamentary Elections (COVID-19 Special
Arrangements) Act 2020 – fail to ensure a fair campaigning process during the
pandemic, or protect the voting rights of specific groups like the sick and
overseas voters.“Singapore has until April 2021 to hold the
election. There is no need to rush into organising one so soon, especially as
the country continues to record hundreds of new daily coronavirus cases.
There is no reason why the authorities are unable to accommodate all voters,
and the possible exclusion of specific groups will only further undermine the
legitimacy of the poll,”
 said Teddy Baguilat Jr., the
executive director of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and a former
Philippine member of Parliament (APHR).To make matters more complicated,
voting is deemed compulsory in Singapore where citizens are expected to show
up and cast their vote at polling stations that are set up across the
country. For those who should have voted but did not, their names will be
removed from the Register of Electors and these non-voters would then no
longer be allowed to vote at subsequent elections, and are disqualified from
being an election candidate in the future. In light of these consequences,
how can we be sure that the rules do not threaten those who are fearful of
being in public amongst other voters in a pandemic situation? People should
not be coerced to sacrifice their health for elections that the government so
impetuously decided to organize. Voting is a basic human right and every vote
can tip the balance in favor of any political party that will determine
Singapore’s future. It is blatant disenfranchisement, should any Singaporean
choose to prioritize his or her health over exercising this basic human
right.Looking at the results, Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party (PAP)
won a supermajority in Parliament with 61.24% of vote share (CNA) but the
real victory lies with the opposition Workers’ Party (WP) that has made
significant inroads by claiming its second Group Representation Constituency
(GRC) in the polls held amidst Covid-19.Political observers have opined that
the vote swing towards opposition parties this time has shown that people
care more about social justice and diverse representation in the government –
beyond the PAP’s manifesto and campaign that was centered around saving jobs
and lives. There are no qualms in that Singaporeans are beginning to realize
the more important issues that determine the bedrock of a true democratic
society such as social inequality and welfare. Especially younger voters, who
are unyielding about having more accountability and transparency in the
government as seen from their adamant voices both online and offline.In
retrospect, having the elections during the coronavirus outbreak denigrates
the fair and due process of normal campaigning which is gainful for
candidates to reach out to voters. Some opposition lawmakers also advised
against conducting elections while pandemic regulations severely limit
traditional campaigning, since Singapore criminalized the breaching of its stringent
social-distancing measures. Mass rallies, a primary campaigning method, is
especially affected and can peripherally be seen as a political ploy tilting
in favor of the ruling party. A party – who also asked for a strong mandate
that translates into fully elected Parliament seats (over 90%) to govern.
This definitely raises some eyebrows particularly because after the last
General Election in 2015 when the PAP won 69% of votes, the government used a
similar strong mandate narrative to change the Constitution i.e. the rules of
the political game. These are just some of the structural flaws that prevent
the election from being fair and free, underscoring the Prime Minister’s
broad powers over the whole electoral process that lack any effective oversight.Notwithstanding
the use of a group constituency system where candidates run as a team
combined with the short campaigning period of 9 days and confining media
restrictions, these difficulties on the opposition to field candidates and
prepare adequately beforehand did not refrain them from coming on strong.
Together with eligible voters who have to endure a limited civic space
fraught with authorities using draconian laws to target political opponents
and silence critical voices, the results of GE2020 are by vast margins, a
fragile victory.This victory, is the mark of Singaporeans
awakening to their own power and learning that there is more space to work
towards a proper functioning democracy.
References:n.d.
Southeast Asia Covid-19 Tracker. Retrieved from: https://www.csis.org/programs/southeast-asia-program/southeast-asia-covid-19-tracker-0Tay,
T.F. (2020) Coronavirus: Community cases remain low but Singapore should
prepare for second wave, says Gan Kim Yong. The Straits Times, July 17.
Retrieved from: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/coronavirus-community-cases-remain-low-but-singapore-should-prepare-for-second-wave-saysChew,
H.M. (2020) COVID-19: Recommended time-bands for voters to cast ballots among
new safety measures for elections. Channel News Asia, June 8. Retrieved from:
https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/covid-19-general-election-voting-polling-time-band-safety-12815466ASEAN
Parliamentarians for Human Rights (2020). In Singapore, an already unfair
vote undermined by COVID-19. APHR, Jakarta. Retrieved from: https://aseanmp.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/APHR_Briefer_SingaporeElections_2020-06-16-1.pdf

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