Election during a pandemic: Can Singapore replicate South Korea's model?

South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrives to cast his absentee ballot at a polling station for parliamentary election in Seoul, South Korea on Apr 10, 2020.
PHOTO: Reuters

Holding the next General Election (GE) in the midst of the current Covid-19 outbreak "can be done", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an interview with several publications last month.

But the question on everyone's mind is how?

As of last week, the Parliamentary Elections (COVID-19 Special Arrangements) Bill has been introduced to allow the Elections Department to implement temporary arrangements to ensure everyone's safety should an election be called.

The new provisions allow aspiring candidates who are ill to register on Nomination Day without being there in person, and voters on stay orders to vote at the designated facilities where they're staying.

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The latter provision bears similarity to two of the measures taken by South Korea, which held its legislative elections yesterday (April 15).

Unlike the rest of the population, those under quarantine were only allowed to vote during certain times of the day and only at certain stations. Voters were not allowed to take public transport and were only allowed to walk or drive their own car, reported BBC. 

After voting, they immediately headed home and called their health officials as failure to do so would result in police officers sent to find them.

Meanwhile, patients with mild symptoms housed in residential centres submitted their ballots in booths set up outside their facilities. They were handed their balloting tickets by officials dressed in personal protective equipment.

PHOTO: Reuters 

Other measures implemented at regular polling stations included safe distancing, regular disinfection, wearing plastic gloves and temperature checks — those that had a temperature of 37.5 degrees or higher were brought to a separate voting area, where every booth was disinfected after each voter.

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While some countries have postponed their polls, South Korea was the first to hold a national election during the pandemic.

The timing for Singapore's next GE is still up in the air, although it must be held by April 14 next year.

The next available Parliament sitting is expected to take place next month, during which the Bill would be debated. Should it be approved, it will take effect before the next GE. Parliament would therefore likely not be dissolved during the current circuit breaker measures, which remain in effect till May 4.

rainercheung@asiaone.com

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