Since the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) report was released on 13 March, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) has been walking the grounds in preparation for the upcoming general election and introducing new candidates to various constituencies. These walkabouts have been happening during this COVID-19 pandemic which hit Singapore’s shores in February.
The release of the report also prompted calls from opposition parties to push the elections to next year or until after the pandemic ends, urging the government to rule out calling for an election during the health crisis.
Despite that, the PAP has dismissed the opposition’s concerns on the matter. On 14 March, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hinted in a Facebook post that the election will be held early, despite the pandemic, so as to “elect a new government with a fresh mandate”, adding that the government “will take all the precautions necessary, so that parties can campaign effectively, and people can vote safely.”
In fact, PM Lee himself was seen going a walkabout, meeting residents in his constituency Ang Mo Kio GRC on 22 March. In a video, PM Lee can be seen flanked by several members or volunteers while he hands out what appears to be small bottles of hand sanitisers to patrons at the Teck Ghee Market and Food Centre.
At the time, the country’s safe distancing regulations were still quite relaxed. It was only on 3 April that the ruling party announce tightened measures to combat the pandemic by closing schools and non-essential workplaces as well as a host of other measures in what it termed “circuit breaker” measures.
Despite that, Chinese media reported on Sunday evening (12 April) that PAP’s Dr Chia Shi Lu, a Member of Parliament of Tanjong Pagar GRC was doing a “walkabout” at the Alexander Village Food Center on the same day.
Given the current circumstances with the pandemic and the implementation of circuit breaker measures, there was a wave of criticism over the incident, which also included Colonel Eric Chua Swee Leong who is touted as a potential PAP candidate for Tanjong Pagar GRC.
The report said that Dr Chua and several others were visiting the hawkers at the food centre, handing out face masks and mingling with the hawkers at work.
Responding to media enquiries on Monday (13 April), Dr Chia told Straits Times that he was at the food centre at about 10am on Sunday to “encourage hawkers to wear masks”. He added that the group accompanying him was kept small – fewer than five people.
As for Col Chua, Dr Chia said he was “not there to campaign”, noting that the former was an active volunteer in the GRC. “He’s been helping out in quite a few areas, in fact he’s been helping with some of our food distribution programmes,” Dr Chia said.
Following this, the PAP announced on it Facebook page on Monday evening that it would be suspending its usual ground engagements such as market visits and home visits, as well as Meet-the-People Sessions.
Although the party did not mention any reason for this announcement, it is likely to be in regards to the criticism over the walkabout conducted by Dr Chia.
But PAP’s post begs the question: why is there a need to announce a suspension of ground engagement at this time given circumstances? Does this mean that there was still ground engagement by the party even after the circuit breaker measures were announced on 3 April?
At least 18 PAP MPs have walked the ground since circuit breaker measures were announced
As a matter of fact, the answer is yes. Based on the Facebook posts by various PAP MPs, many were still walking the ground after 3 April.
The very next day after the circuit breaker was announced, 13 MPs including Zainal Sapari, Tan Wu Meng, Rahayu Mahzam, Melvin Yong, Louis Ng Kok Kwang, Henry Kwek Huan Chuan; Senior Ministers of State Sim Ann and Dr Maliki Osman; Deputy Speakers of Parliament Seah Kian Peng and Lim Biow Chuan; Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin; and Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing were all out visiting markets, officers, estates, malls and residents—based on their respective Facebook posts.
On 5 April, Facebook posts indicated that MPs Vikram Nair and Melvin Yong, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Lim Biow Chuan, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister of Defence Ng Eng Hen and Second Minister of Education and Finance Indranee Rajah were out walking the ground at hawker centres, coffee shops, markets and visiting residents.
MP Joan Pereira also announced on Facebook that she visited several hawker centre and shops between 4 to 6 April while Senior Minister of State Amy Khor visited markets and coffee shops on 3 and 4 April.
However, one could argue that while the circuit breaker measure were announced on 3 April, it only came into force a few days later on 7 April. So maybe the visits on 4 and 5 April could be considered as not breaching the measures.
The thing is, PAP MPs continued walking the ground even after that. On 10 April, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli visited the Geylang Serai and Tekka markets while MP Melvin Yong visited elderly residents. On 11 April, Mr Yong was out and about again visiting elderly residents as well as a market. Also on 11 April, Deputy Speakers of Parliament Seah Kian Peng visited an estate while Ms Khor walked the ground again at a market.
The next day, we know about Dr Chia visiting the hawker centre. On top of that, former-Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim was conducting a walkabout at a wet market while Mr Masagos was out again to visit several hotspots.
So really, many PAP MPs have continued walking the ground after the circuit breaker measures were announced and subsequently came into force.
If not for Dr Chia’s hawker centre foray making it into the newspapers, it is likely many of the PAP MPs will continue making visiting markets or residents house-to-house.