BANGKOK — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore announced on Tuesday that the city-state would hold the first elections in Southeast Asia since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The elections are scheduled for July 10, and Parliament was dissolved on Tuesday to begin the electoral process.
In a televised speech Tuesday, Mr. Lee acknowledged the pandemic’s devastating effect on a country that is, more than most, dependent on a globalized world for its economic security.
“A long struggle lies ahead,” Mr. Lee said. “Singapore has not yet felt the full economic fallout from Covid-19, but it is coming.”
Unemployment will go up, Mr. Lee cautioned, adding that “external uncertainties,” such as the coming American elections and simmering tensions between the United States and China, further complicated the outlook for Singapore.
“To overcome these challenges, we must stand completely united as one people,” Mr. Lee said. “An election now, when things are relatively stable, will clear the decks and give the new government a fresh five-year mandate.”
Elections have to be held by April 2021, and some opposition lawmakers have advised against conducting them while pandemic regulations make normal campaigning impossible. Singapore has criminalized the breaching of its strict social-distancing measures.
Shaking hands will not be allowed during the nine-day campaign period, nor will political rallies, according to the Singaporean electoral authority.
“There is no need to rush into organizing one so soon, especially as the country continues to record hundreds of new daily coronavirus cases,” Teddy Baguilat Jr., the executive director of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and a former Philippine member of Parliament, said in a statement.
In the early months of the pandemic, Singapore successfully stifled most local transmission through a meticulous contact-tracing program. But the coronavirus made its way into dormitories where hundreds of thousands of foreign workers live in communal quarters. As of Tuesday, the country had recorded more than 42,400 cases of the coronavirus, most within the foreign worker community.
Singaporean leaders point out that the country has suffered only 26 deaths and that the relatively high caseload is more a function of comprehensive testing than of runaway transmission. Most cases are asymptomatic or very mild.
In his speech on Tuesday, Mr. Lee noted that there was only one patient currently in intensive care. The rate of new cases has declined in recent days, and Singapore has relaxed some of its lockdown measures.
Nevertheless, the pandemic has weighed heavily on the country, which is disproportionately reliant on the international networks that the coronavirus has disrupted. Its economy could contract by 5.8 percent this year, according to a survey by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
The People’s Action Party — co-founded by Mr. Lee’s father, Lee Kuan Yew, who was prime minister from 1959 to 1990 — has governed Singapore since before it separated from Malaysia to become an independent nation in 1965. It is expected to win the coming elections, as well.
Mr. Lee, 68, has been prime minister since 2004 and has had cancer twice.
“This general election,” he said, “will be like no other that we have experienced.”