Singapore yet to face full economic fallout from Covid-19: PM Lee
July 10 Polling Day for GE that 'will be like no other because of the gravity of the situation and issues at stake'
With Singapore heading to the polls on July 10, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned yesterday that the country has not yet felt the full economic fallout from Covid-19.
Addressing the nation in a live telecast, he said the virus has taken a heavy toll on livelihoods, and there will be more business closures and retrenchments in the coming months.
Mr Lee said Singapore has mitigated this with "massive fiscal action", pointing to how Parliament has passed four Budgets totalling almost $100 billion in Covid-19 support measures.
"We are drawing from our reserves to support workers, businesses and households," he added.
"These decisive emergency actions have kept retrenchments and company closures low. They have helped Singaporeans take care of their families and see through the immediate crisis."
Mr Lee said he decided to call the general election now, while the Covid-19 situation is relatively stable, to "clear the decks" and give the new government a fresh, full five-year mandate.
Nomination Day will be next Tuesday, with the minimum nine days of campaigning before Cooling-off Day on July 9. Polling Day, a Friday, will be a public holiday.
After the election, the Government can focus on the national agenda - including handling the pandemic, the economy and jobs - and the difficult decisions it will have to make, said Mr Lee.
He said he had to be certain of two things before deciding to proceed with the election amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
First, that voters can vote safely, and second, that political parties can campaign effectively.
"With our arrangements and precautions in place, I am confident we can hold a proper and safe election," he said.
He also pointed out that Singapore is not the first country to hold an election during the pandemic, citing South Korea, Taiwan and several European countries that have done so.
Mr Lee noted that this election will be like no other that Singapore has had, not just because of the special arrangements to deal with Covid-19, but because of the gravity of the situation and the issues at stake.
Addressing the voters, he added: "The government that you elect will have critical decisions to make.
"These decisions will impact your lives and livelihoods, and shape Singapore for many years to come, far beyond the five-year term of the next government."
The battle between the ruling People's Action Party and various opposition parties for the 93 seats in 17 group representation constituencies and 14 single-member constituencies will be waged in unusual circumstances amid Covid-19.
Safe distancing rules restricting the size of public gatherings to five people dictate that mass rallies are illegal, while walkabouts to engage with voters will have to be scaled back.
To compensate, each candidate will get more airtime for political broadcasts on national television.
Political parties are also turning to cyberspace and social media to get their messages across to the voters.
In his address, Mr Lee said the Government will function as normal during the election period.
"Over the next few weeks, you can expect the ministerial task force still to lead our response to Covid-19," he said.
"On the economic front, the National Jobs Council will create jobs and training places. Businesses, workers and families will receive help and support."
But Singaporeans must still brace themselves for a tough period ahead, Mr Lee said.
While noting that unemployment will go up, he said: "But we are determined to save as many jobs as we can, and create new jobs too.
"And we will do our utmost to help businesses and industries survive and restructure themselves.
"That is how we can keep our capabilities and livelihoods intact through the storm, and pick up again when the sun shines once more."
President Halimah Yacob, who had earlier dissolved Parliament and issued the Writ of Election, said in a Facebook post yesterday: "It is important that every care and effort be taken to ensure that our voters' safety is not compromised.
"I would also like to urge Singaporeans to have open, civil and respectful conversations with one another during this period.
"For us to continue prospering as a nation, we must stay united and build upon our strengths." - THE STRAITS TIMES
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