The Workers’ Party (WP) has called on the Government to publish ground rules on how political parties should campaign if a general election were to be held amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement yesterday, WP said there has been a “distinct lack of clarity” as to how campaigning would be modified in view of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Several ministers have made vague and unspecific comments since March that campaign methods would need to be modified. However, despite the party’s calls, there has been no definitive announcement by the Elections Department (ELD) on these anticipated changes,” WP said.
Political parties risk squandering resources due to this uncertainty and the window of time to find suitable suppliers of relevant services was narrowing, it added.
For example, while it has been said that the streaming of videos may be employed during the next general election, it is not known if there will be regulations governing the content and format of these videos.
WP added: “While Singaporeans continue to focus on overcoming Covid-19, general elections are an essential feature of our democracy that should not be taken lightly. Contesting parties should know the ground rules as soon as possible, in order to be well prepared to offer Singaporean voters their best efforts at the polls.”
The call comes a day after Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat hinted during an interview that polls could be called soon.
When asked whether Singaporeans will have to wait until the third and final phase of resuming economic activity before going to the polls, Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said the election was coming nearer by the day.
The sooner the general election is held, he said, “the earlier we can rally everybody together to deal with these very significant challenges ahead”.
Singapore’s next general election must take place by April 14 next year.
Separately, yesterday, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) also addressed the issue of election campaigning during the pandemic and made several suggestions, including extending the official campaigning period to 21 days, instead of the current nine.
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While Singaporeans continue to focus on overcoming Covid-19, general elections are an essential feature of our democracy that should not be taken lightly. Contesting parties should know the ground rules as soon as possible, in order to be well prepared to offer Singaporean voters their best efforts at the polls.
“Already, mass rallies will not be a big feature (if they are allowed at all) during the hustings. This puts the opposition at an even greater disadvantage,” the party said.
Urging the Government to give contesting parties “equitable access to the electorate”, the SDP also called on the authorities to provide all parties with daily access to radio programmes and free-to-air television channels, reserve space in newspapers for parties to publish manifestos and ideas, and allow parties to address residents at food centres, void decks and common areas.
“Now, more than ever, Singaporeans need a fair, transparent and democratic system of governance which only a fair, transparent and democratic (general election) can bring about,” it said.
On Tuesday, a law allowing special, temporary arrangements to be implemented if the next general election takes place amid the Covid-19 pandemic came into operation.
The Parliamentary Elections (Covid-19 Special Arrangements) Act allows some voters who are under stay-home notice to vote under special arrangements, and lets aspiring candidates authorise a representative to file nomination papers for them if they are unable or unfit to do so.
During the debate on the draft law, the issue of safe and fair campaigning was brought up by several backbenchers, including WP chairman Sylvia Lim, Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC MP Ong Teng Koon, as well as Nominated MPs Walter Theseira and Anthea Ong.
In response, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, who spoke on behalf of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said election campaigning rules were outside the scope of the Bill and the ELD would share campaigning guidelines in due course.
He said the ELD’s practice has been to issue an advisory on campaigning guidelines, together with other authorities such as the police and the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The ELD will also work with the Ministry of Health on the health and safety aspects of campaigning before issuing its advisory.
“This will be done with sufficient time for political parties and aspiring candidates to prepare,” added Mr Chan.