NUSS GE forum: Upcoming election campaign to see a mix of old and new issues

A forum on Thursday night featuring representatives of all 10 political parties provided an early peek at the election campaign to come - suggesting that this year's hustings will feature a mix of new and old issues.

Throughout the three-hour forum organised by the National University of Singapore Society, opposition politicians brought up a range of issues from the previous polls that they considered not yet defused.

At the head of this list was immigration. On multiple occasions on Thursday, party representatives and members of the audience raised the matter of immigration and the 6.9-million population target.

One audience member even asked if the government would consider forcing companies to hire Singaporeans first.

Still, a large chunk of proceedings were taken up by an exchange between the PAP and the WP over town council management.

The WP gave a preview of how it may choose to push back against the PAP on the town council issue. Mr Giam argued on Thursday that despite lapses, the WP town council did not short-change the residents.

"They will tell you that in terms of estate maintenance, cleanliness, the issues that really matter to them, we have done comparably well to any other town council," Mr Giam said.

He accused the PAP of harping on the issue of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) lapses in governance even though the opposition party had already explained its position in Parliament and subsequent statements.

This, he said, was to "insert into people's minds that we're not capable of running a town council" and he expected the ruling party to revisit the issue again during the hustings.

But the PAP's representative Sim Ann responded that the WP had only itself to blame for the Government's repeated attention on AHPETC because it had not fully answered the questions about its financial woes.

"I wished that more answers has had been forthcoming from AHPETC. Then I think we would have wasted much less time in the issue and I think the population would be much the wiser."

While the presence of 10 representatives meant there few chances for any deep-dive into policy, the parties did give a preview of their platforms.

There were some common themes among opposition candidates - including renewing calls to vote in opposition to improve government accountability - but there was also a fair bit of variety.

For instance, Singaporean First (Singfirst) focused on immigration; the Reform Party asked questions about financial management; and the Singapore Democratic Party pushed for a more liberal democracy,

"Once this election is over and the economy doesn't slow down drastically, the supply of foreign workers will continue to increase," said Mr Tan Jee Say, secretary-general of SingFirst. He then went on to cite overseas survey results which showed how new citizens have a tendency to vote for the "government of the day" and accused the PAP having a political agenda behind the population issue.

Others like the National Solidarity Party, the Democratic Progressive Party said they wanted to present new ideas to government.

The Singapore People's Party highlighted former opposition MP Chiam See Tong's wealth of experience managing a town council, while the People's Power Party's Goh Meng Seng relied on his strategy of attacking the performance of ministers, at one point claiming credit for bringing housing prices down because of his criticism of former National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan.

As for the Singapore Democratic Alliance, Mr Harminder Pal Singh launched into speeches more commonly seen on rally grounds whenever he had the chance, appealing to the audience for support.

If last night's forum was any indication, the WP will continue with the Towards a First World Parliament slogan it used in 2011.

Mr Giam said the WP's 2011 election slogan, Towards A First World Parliament, remained relevant and urged voters to elect more opposition MPs so as to achieve that goal.

On the part of the PAP, Ms Sim said the election will centre on the need for strong leadership.

"This GE, just like any other GE, is about the future. It's about who forms the government and who will take Singapore to the next stage," she said.

joycel@sph.com.sg

ziliang@sph.com.sg