#GE2020 Still a Pandemic Election (Day 04): The pandemic in the background, the NCMP scheme, and the 10-million-dollar question

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The Nine Days is a socialservice.sg podcast covering the 2020 general election in Singapore (#GE2020), through daily five-minute news summaries, conversations with young voters, and interviews with academics and experts.

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The pandemic in the background

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong: “We are now about two weeks into Phase Two of reopening. However, the number of new cases in the community has increased from an average of four cases per day in the week before to an average of eight cases per day in the past week.

We have also a number of unlinked cases in the community, averaging about four per day in the past week.” (00:03 to 00:26)

That Singapore continues to report new coronavirus cases is a reminder that GE2020 was called in the middle of a pandemic. Nine cases were confirmed in the cluster of Block 111, Tampines Street 11, and now testing has been offered to 58 households in the same section.

Opposition parties have pounced on this cluster and the timing of the election.

Chairman of the Singapore Democratic Party Dr. Paul Tambyah, who was just elected president of the International Society of Infectious Diseases, praised the government’s early pandemic response in January and February. But he argued that holding an election in the middle of a pandemic is the height of irresponsibility.

Dr. Tambyah: “I have an opinion as to why that happened, I don’t know for sure. But you know that was the time they started talking about an early election. And you wonder whether the ministerial committee lost their focus on the public health and started thinking about the election.” (1:08:42 to 1:08:55)

The NCMP scheme

Besides the pandemic, GE2020 continues to be fought over familiar ground. The first is the NCMP scheme. At least 12 opposition members of parliament will be given a seat in Parliament if there are fewer than 12 elected opposition MPs. Previously, nine seats were guaranteed. And NCMPs had no voting rights.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first used the scheme to counter the claim that the opposition could be wiped out. Pritam Singh of the Workers’ Party had raised the possibility that the People’s Action Party could win 100 per cent of all elected seats. Mr. Singh’s colleagues have also pointed out that NCMPs do not have access to premises in PAP-held wards. On the other hand, losing PAP candidates continue to serve as grassroots advisors.

Veteran journalist Bertha Henson argued that the NCMP scheme is a safety valve for dissenting views. But NCMPs should remain “second class”. She said, quote: “It offends my sense of fairness to have the MP the voters have elected wielding the same authority in Parliament as the candidate the voters rejected”. End-quote.

The 10-million-dollar question

Finally, the 10-million-dollar question. Two days ago at the televised English debate, SDP’s Dr. Chee Soon Juan said that DPM Heng Swee Keat was “toying with the idea” of having a Singaporean population of 10 million.

In response, PAP’s Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan retorted that this was a “falsehood”. He definitively stated that Singapore’s population would not even go up to 6.9 million, let alone 10 million.

The debate exchange has continued on Facebook and the mainstream media. The SDP said that it had successfully pressured the government to clarify its population target. The party claims that it had accomplished one of its campaign aims within the first day of the campaign. Conversely, the PAP wants the SDP to apologise for the supposed falsehood.

But with the back-and-forth and the confusing exchanges, who really wins?

That’s all for today. Parts of today’s episode were adapted with permission from the GE20Watch newsletter. You can subscribe at ge20watch.substack.com.

We’ve also just launched a series of episodes featuring conversations with young voters on policy perspectives and their constituency observations. Be sure to check them out on socialservice.sg. See you tomorrow.

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