Singapore GE2020: Opposition leaders say they have not ignored Covid-19

Opposition leaders pointed out the parts of their plans that are related to the Covid-19 crisis on July 6, 2020. PHOTO: ST FILE

Opposition leaders yesterday pushed back on suggestions from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that they had ignored the Covid-19 crisis during their campaigning - pointing out the parts of their plans that are related to the crisis while also reiterating their objections to having an election during a pandemic.

Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chief Tan Cheng Bock said it was the People's Action Party (PAP) and not the opposition that had taken its eye off the crisis. "I disagree with him (PM Lee). I think we never took our eye off Covid-19. They took their eyes off Covid-19... because they're concentrating too much on this general election."

He said he worries about how safe distancing can take place during a walkabout. "And I see it now, when I go to the ground. I worry for those people. They surge to you. And how are you going to control them?"

During a lunchtime rally yesterday, PM Lee had urged Singaporeans to give the PAP a strong mandate to deal with the uncertainties ahead. He said the opposition had been campaigning as if Covid-19 did not exist, and were recycling policy ideas in their manifestos.

Speaking to The Straits Times at his home yesterday, Dr Tan also said that perennial bread-and-butter issues like the Central Provident Fund, jobs and housing matters cannot be pushed aside just because the Covid-19 crisis is happening.

"Whatever things that happened in the past must not be pushed aside; they are equally important. You cannot say that your CPF, your job or your housing matters, and all the other bread-and-butter issues... We cannot push them aside. They are always there. It is how are we going to manage it, and the management would depend on the environment."

Dr Tan also said yesterday it was important that the crisis is not seen solely as the PAP's problem to solve.

"Don't look at this as their problem. It's our problem too. And as the responsible alternative voice in the House... we have no reason why we sometimes cannot work together. It is not a PAP problem, it's not a PSP problem, it is a country's problem."

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan yesterday also touted his party's proposals on how to deal with the Covid-19 crisis, saying the SDP's 4 Yes 1 No (4Y1N) campaign was meant to help Singaporeans through the crisis.

"If he's talking about the economic front, then I think he's sadly mistaken," said Dr Chee. "Because that's what we've been talking about with our 4Y1N campaign... The one thing we know that we can do is to make sure, through these measures we propose, to put as much money into the pockets of Singaporeans as possible, and to make sure we sustain them financially..."

Among the pillars of the party's campaign are a call to suspend the goods and services tax (GST) until the end of next year and to pay retrenchment benefits to workers who get laid off.

Dr Chee also said during a walkabout at Bukit Batok MRT station yesterday that the SDP's policies were for the long term.

"Right now, the Budget that the PAP has passed, that is all for the immediate future. What happens when we go beyond the Covid-19 period... and this is where we want to mandate, legislate retrenchment benefits, we want to entrench income for the elderly, we want to legislate minimum wage," he said.

Peoples Voice secretary-general Lim Tean meanwhile said that his party was one of the first parties to call out the Government during the crisis.

"I'm very proud of the fact that from early February, we've hammered away at the Government's inept handling of the crisis," said Mr Lim.

In its Facebook posts, the party had questioned the Government on the initial lack of social distancing measures and work-from-home measures, and pushed for the mandatory wearing of masks, he added. "We saw the disastrous path the PAP was taking. We were the only party that called them out," said Mr Lim.

Meanwhile, during a walkabout in Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, Singapore Democratic Alliance chief media officer Harminder Pal Singh said that his party's plans to lower the GST from 7 per cent to 3 per cent for essential items was an initiative to help Singaporeans cope with Covid-19.

"It is not true that opposition parties do not talk about how to help Singapore tide through Covid-19," he said. "We respond to what political parties have said in our videos posted on our Facebook page. We also answer the questions that viewers have about our manifesto and the policies we are proposing."

Yesterday, Reform Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam, who is still serving his stay-home notice after returning from the United Kingdom, also put up a video on Facebook criticising PM Lee's remarks that investors will be looking at the election results to see if Singaporeans are still united.

He said that investors would welcome a strong opposition that was able to hold the Government to account: "The themes never change, they (the PAP) are always the same; they have no new ideas... they still peddle the myth that Singapore would collapse if there is more than a token opposition in Parliament."

Additional reporting by Cara Wong, Zaihan Mohamed Yusof and Aw Cheng Wei

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2020, with the headline Opposition leaders say they have not ignored Covid-19. Subscribe