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Singapore heads for general election in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic

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Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister.

Munshi Ahmed | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday said he has decided to call a general election in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak.

Following Lee’s announcement, the prime minister’s office said President Halimah Yacob has dissolved parliament and that nomination day will be on June 30. The Elections Department said Singaporean voters will head to the polls on July 10.

In a televised address, Lee explained his decision to call for an election now. He said he was “satisfied” that voting can be done safely and political parties can campaign effectively as the situation in Singapore is “relatively stable.”

“An election now — when things are relatively stable — will clear the decks, and give the new government a fresh five-year mandate,” said the prime minister.

“The alternative is to wait out the Covid-19 pandemic. But we have no assurance that the pandemic will be over before this government’s term must end next April. And that is why I have decided to hold the general election now,” he added. 

Speculation of a looming general election has mounted in recent weeks as the Southeast Asian country earlier this month started to lift restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Last week, Singapore eased most of its partial lockdown measures, allowing almost all economic activity to resume.  

The ruling People’s Action Party has governed the Southeast Asian city state since 1959, before the country’s independence in 1965.

In the previous election in 2015, the party won 69.9% of the total votes — sweeping 83 out of the 89 contested seats.

The number of parliamentary seats contested in the upcoming election is expected to increase to 93, as recommended by the country’s Electoral Boundaries Review Committee.

Consultancy The Economist Intelligence Unit said in a note last week that the PAP’s vote share in the upcoming election could fall from 2015’s level, although “risk aversion among the populace and a weak opposition mean that it will retain a comfortable grip on power.”

Full impact from coronavirus pandemic

Singapore has been the worst hit Asian country by the coronavirus outbreak. The country’s health ministry preliminarily confirmed 119 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, taking its tally to 42,432 since the outbreak.

Singapore’s open and trade-dependent economy has been severely hit. The economy contracted by 0.7% year-over-year in the first quarter, and is expected to shrink by between 4% and 7% this year.

To soften the economic blow from the outbreak, the government led by Lee has announced four rounds of fiscal stimulus worth close to 100 billion Singapore dollars ($71.9 billion), or around 20% of gross domestic product. 

But Lee warned in his address that the country “has not yet felt the full economic fallout from Covid-19, but it is coming.”

“Despite all the measures we have taken, there will be more business closures, and more retrenchments in the coming months. Unemployment will go up,” he said, adding that external uncertainties such as the escalating U.S.-China tensions are also a concern. 

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