New law will enable GE to be held safely during Covid-19 crisis
It will allow electors on movement control orders to vote
With no clear sight of how Covid-19 will pan out, and a constitutional deadline approaching for the next general election to be held, Parliament yesterday passed a law to allow special arrangements to be made should Singaporeans have to go to the polls before the outbreak ends.
The Parliamentary Elections (Covid-19 Special Arrangements) Act is to ensure the safety of voters, candidates and election officials.
It allows electors who are subject to movement control orders to vote, while excusing some others for not voting.
Also, it allows aspiring candidates to authorise a representative to file nomination papers for them if they are unable or unfit to do so.
Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, said, when presenting the Bill for debate, that planning ahead was the responsible thing to do.
As the next election must be held by April 14 next year, it is prudent to make contingency plans "to keep our citizens safe while upholding our democracy", he added.
"In a few short months, the way we live, work and interact with others have changed drastically. Will we revert to the pre-Covid-19 norms? Nobody knows.
"But we cannot plan on the basis that it will. Instead, we need to plan ahead and put in the necessary measures, so that we can hold elections safely even under the new and evolving Covid-19 norms."
Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), the only opposition MP to speak in the debate, acknowledged the risk of having an election amid a virus outbreak but gave her party's support.
She reiterated her party's call for the Government to be judicious in deciding on the timing of the polls and asked how the measures will be implemented.
The Bill deals with how aspiring candidates who are under Quarantine Orders (QO), serving Stay Home Notices (SHN) or in ill-health or hospitalised, can complete the nomination process.
They may appoint a representative via a power of attorney to help them file nomination papers and object to other candidates' papers.
Ms Lim asked if such a representative could be another member in the same GRC team or an assentor, since the criteria for the person is to be a Singapore citizen entitled to vote.
Mr Chan affirmed the Bill does not prevent it.
Nominated MP Anthea Ong asked if the changes would curtail people's right to vote, reiterating calls by other opposition parties for the election to be held after the outbreak is over.
To this, Mr Chan said it would be unconstitutional to delay an election beyond the required time frame.
The Elections Department said more people will get to vote than under previous rules.
The arrangements in the Bill are temporary and will apply only to a parliamentary election held on or before April 14 next year, and not to any election held after the date.