(June 19): Singapore’s government is facing calls from opposition parties and a group of regional lawmakers to hold off on its yet-to-be-announced general elections, citing the health risk to voters amid the coronavirus pandemic and restrictive campaign rules.

The restriction of movement during Singapore’s phased reopening from a partial lockdown -- including a ban on large gatherings and rallies -- may disadvantage opposition parties, according to a report published on Thursday by Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights, a group of current and former regional government officials.

“While the postponement of any election should be a last resort, and the democratic process must continue as much as possible, there are no clear reasons for the government of Singapore to hold an election during the pandemic,” the group said.

A spokesman from the Singapore elections department did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Government officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, have said a fresh mandate via an election would help the country to deal with the challenges and uncertainties brought on by the virus.

Although the deadline for holding the next general elections isn’t until mid-April 2021, it could come much sooner. That could make it only the second Asian nation to go ahead with a ballot during the virus outbreak after South Korea’s polls in April.

Virtual Campaigning

Anticipating the polls, opposition parties have already begun conducting web-based events to reach out to potential voters.

Speaking during a virtual press conference on Thursday, Tan Cheng Bock, leader of the recently founded Progress Singapore Party said an election now would be “very dangerous.”

“Being compulsory, all of us have to vote and should clusters form after this general election -- you would have won the battle, but you have lost the war,” said Tan, who is also a former parliamentarian with the ruling People’s Action Party. According to the elections department, those who do not cast a ballot are barred from voting or running as a candidate in any subsequent presidential or parliamentary election.

Singapore’s election department on Thursday announced special rules for the elections that include a ban on physical rallies, shaking hands, groups of more than five people and any gathering on polling night. In lieu of rallies, more airtime will be provided for political parties and candidates on the nation’s free-to-air television channels, according to preliminary campaign guidelines.

The elections department said protecting the health and safety of voters, candidates and election officials were among key considerations in drawing up the guidelines.

With more than 40,000 infections to date -- an overwhelming number of which are among foreign workers residing in dormitories -- Singapore has the second most virus cases in Southeast Asia. Still, the situation has improved since lockdown measures were imposed in April. On Friday, the city-state entered the second phase of an easing strategy that saw shops and dining-in at restaurants resume.

See: Phase Two to start on June 19; 'we cannot fool the virus' says Gan