SINGAPORE -- Singapore is set for a general election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in a televised address on Tuesday, saying he had asked the president to dissolve parliament.
Voters will go to the polls on July 10, the Elections Department announced shortly after Lee's speech. Political parties will formally nominate their candidates on June 30.
The deadline for calling an election was not until April 2021. But in his address, Lee said he opted to go ahead after being satisfied that local conditions were safe enough amid the coronavirus pandemic. "We are now in a stable position," he said.
Still, he stressed the government was "under no illusions" that it had beaten COVID-19, which has infected more than 42,000 people in the city-state, mainly residents of dormitories for migrant workers. "This general election will be like no other that we have experienced," Lee added. "Not just because of the special arrangements to deal with COVID-19, but because of the gravity of the situation."
His announcement comes days after the city-state lifted most of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions, allowing the majority of businesses to reopen. But the Elections Department's guidelines for campaigning include a ban on public rallies. Last week, opposition and human rights groups voiced concern about the rules, saying they would work against opposition parties.
After the election announcement, the Progress Singapore Party -- a new challenger led by PAP veteran Tan Cheng Bock -- said on its Facebook page that it was "ready to serve Singaporeans and fight for the future that we all deserve."
Analysts expect the ruling People's Action Party to win handily, taking the bulk of the 93 contested seats in what is likely to be the final election under Lee, who has expressed his intention to step down sometime in the next term. His likely heir is Heng Swee Keat, the deputy prime minister and finance minister, who has filled in as acting prime minister in the past.
Lee said he wants to hold the election to "clear the decks" and allow the next government to "focus" on dealing with the ongoing crisis. "This is just the end of the beginning phase," Lee said, noting that COVID-19 would likely be an issue for "at least a year" or until a vaccine is available. "A long struggle lies ahead."
Making an early campaign pitch for the PAP, the prime minister also emphasized the government's "massive fiscal action" to soften the blow from the virus on businesses.
"These decisive emergency actions have kept retrenchments and company closures low," Lee said. "They have helped Singaporeans take care of their families."
Though he conceded that Singapore had not felt the full economic impact yet, Lee vowed: "We are determined to save as many jobs as we can and create new jobs too. We will do our utmost to help businesses and industries survive and restructure themselves."
No party has managed to beat the PAP since Singapore became a sovereign state in 1965. In the last election, in September 2015, the ruling party won 83 of the 89 seats contested.
Despite the PAP's dominance, this election is considered a pivotal one, as a younger generation of politicians looks to convince the electorate that they can guide the economy through the coronavirus and other challenges. Gross domestic product is projected to shrink by 4% to 7% this year, the worst performance ever due to the pandemic.
Voting is compulsory for Singaporeans aged 21 or older, and 2.65 million people are eligible.