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Election cannot be delayed unless state of emergency is called: Teo

Election cannot be delayed unless state of emergency is called: Teo

Source: Business Times
Article Date: 26 Mar 2020
Author: Janice Heng

Caretaker government will not have the mandate to mobilise resources, says Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean.

It would be unconstitutional to delay holding the General Election beyond the April 2021 deadline as such a delay can only take place if a state of emergency is called, Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean said in Parliament on Wednesday.

Nor is calling a state of emergency something to be done lightly, he said. He was replying to Member of Parliament (MP) Christopher de Souza, who noted that former MP Tan Cheng Bock had suggested that the election be postponed and that the president exercise her power to create a caretaker government.

In the current Covid-19 crisis, the choice is between hoping that the situation will stabilise in time so that elections can be held, or settling the elections early to give the new government a "clear and fresh mandate" to take tough decisions in the interests of Singaporeans, said Mr Teo.

"When you are sailing into a storm, you want to be certain of who your captain is, and that he will not be changed halfway," he added.

It is "not a good idea" for Singapore to place its hopes on the situation improving before April 2021, though the government has not closed off any options, he said.

As for the idea of delaying the election, Mr Teo said he had sought the advice of the Attorney-General's Chambers, which said that doing so would be unconstitutional and only possible if a state of emergency is declared.

He noted that despite the many crises Singapore has weathered, it has never extended a government's term beyond the limit, nor declared a state of emergency since independence.

Declaring an emergency and putting off elections "is not a precedent we should set lightly", he said.

As for the idea of a caretaker government, Mr Teo said that such a government would be "hobbled by the fact that it lacks the explicit mandate of voters". That is why, under constitutional convention, caretaker governments are not meant to take far-reaching or long-term measures.

In this crisis, Singapore needs a government with a clear mandate "to pull out all the stops" and mobilise resources, to steer the country through this. "A caretaker government would not have a mandate to do so."

Such a suggestion shows a disregard for, or lack of understanding of, the Constitution, and only confuses and misleads Singaporeans, he said.

As for Mr de Souza's further question on how elections could be held safely, Mr Teo noted that Covid-19 has "created a new norm".

Whether elections are held earlier or later, "we will still have to work on the basis that the next elections will necessarily be different from past elections", with extra precautions.

For campaigning, possibilities include live-streaming of speeches on the Internet, or adequate television time for candidates.

On Polling Day, Singapore already has measures such as express lanes for senior voters and those who need them. Other precautions can include social distancing while queuing, proper hand hygiene for voting paraphernalia, and hand sanitisers for voters, he added.

While no decision has been taken yet on the election timing, such precautions will be needed whether the elections are held early or later, he stressed.

Source: Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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