Tan Cheng Bock: Govt going ahead with General Election exposes over 2.6 million S'poreans to Covid-19

Holding off GE until Covid-19 situation gets better might be a constitutional problem, but it can be dealt with.

Belmont Lay | March 28, 2020, 04:46 PM

Tan Cheng Bock, Progress Singapore Party leader, has admonished the Singapore government to postpone the General Election to a later date due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

He said via a video statement posted on Facebook on Saturday, March 28 that a delayed election could pose a potential constitutional problem, but it could be handled and “does not infect people” nor “take away the life of loved ones”. 

The current deadline for the next GE to be called is by April 2021, but the Covid-19 situation does not appear to be subsiding soon.

Tan responding to Teo Chee Hean

Tan's video statement was a response to Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean’s comments in Parliament on March 25.

Teo had said a state of emergency had to be declared, or else it would be unconstitutional for the government to hold a GE after the deadline of April 2021.

President Halimah Yacob can make such a declaration when advised by the Cabinet, Teo also said, but this was not a precedent that should be set lightly.

Teo's Parliament statements, in turn, was a response to Tan's earlier remarks.

Two weeks ago on March 14, Tan had called on the government to hold the next GE after the Covid-19 outbreak is over

He suggested then that if the pandemic is still around when polls are due by April 2021, the president can form a caretaker government made up of some of the current Members of Parliament.

Teo shot down the suggestion in Parliament, saying that they are “misleading and unhelpful”.

Tan and Teo back-and-forth

Tan's video on Saturday responded to this point by Teo, and is the latest word on the topic in a protracted back-and-forth.

Tan said Teo may have missed his main point.

Tan said he was asking whether to wait until the last possible date in 2021 or call an early GE.

Delaying the election, Tan said, “is a realistic hope and not a fanciful wish”.

Constitutional problem not fatal

Tan said that should his prediction be wrong and the GE cannot be held by April 2021, there are laws to cover an emergency situation, such as the Emergency (Essential Powers) Act.

Tan said with this act, “the President may make any regulations", which he considers "desirable or expedient for securing the public safety, the defence of Singapore, the maintenance of public order and of supplies and services essential to the life of the community”.

“The risk here is but a legal constitutional problem as to whether a caretaker government can be formed," Tan added.

"However, a constitutional problem does not infect people with Covid-19. A constitutional problem will not take away the life of loved ones. A constitutional problem can be overcome.”   

Vaccines being tested, Singaporeans deserve fighting chance

Vaccines are being tested, Tan said, and Singapore is “doubling down on social containment measures”.

Tan said: “I think Singapore deserves to be given the fighting chance to wait out this season without having to worry about a potentially hazardous early GE.”

"So, there is cause for hope in time," he added.

By calling for an election, Tan said the government was putting the public's health at risk.

“If the government chooses to call an early GE, they will expose over 2.6 million Singaporeans to Covid 19 which will run the risk of creating a health crisis,” he said in his video.

“So here is the choice: Hold an early election and cause a far worse health crisis. Or delay the GE to 2021 and face a possible constitutional problem if no GE can be held by April 2021?”

Tan's Facebook post also listed out the numerous countries and cities that have reportedly postponed elections in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.