SINGAPORE - With the impending general election coming at the most challenging time in Singapore's history, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said getting through the Covid-19 crisis should be the focus of all opposition parties.
This point was glaringly missing from their manifestos and discussions in the past days and weeks, he said, pointing out that instead, parties have focused on issues such as providing a check and balance to the People's Action Party (PAP), whether the opposition would be wiped out and the Non-Constituency MP scheme.
"I think the most important thing still goes back to this central issue: how we are going to get through this crisis," said Mr Chan.
Delivering his half-time assessment of the general election campaign after a walkabout at ABC Brickworks market in Tanjong Pagar GRC on Saturday (July 4), Mr Chan sought to bring the agenda back to what he described as an existential challenge.
"I think every party, including the PAP, must have the plans to share with the voters how we are going to get through this situation," he said.
"This election is not about the survival of any particular opposition party, or how many seats the PAP is going to get. This election is really about how we get through this."
He pointed out that even through the campaign period, the work of the ministerial task force and various ministries in dealing with the Covid-19 crisis has continued, adding that the Government does not take for granted that Singapore would "sail through this".
Addressing the argument made by opposition parties that checks and balances were needed in Parliament, Mr Chan said voters must decide which MPs can take care of them, their families, livelihoods and jobs.
Laying out the choice before voters, he said: "Has the Government done well? If the Government has done well, should we affirm the Government or should we punish the Government by giving the (PAP) Government even fewer seats?"
"If the opposition has not done well, should we reward the opposition with more seats just on the slogan that they will provide more checks on the Government?"
Mr Chan is leading the PAP team in Tanjong Pagar GRC, and he was joined on Saturday morning by his teammates: Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah, Ms Joan Pereira, and PAP new faces Eric Chua and Alvin Tan.
He was also asked about statements made by the Workers' Party's Mr Pritam Singh and Singapore Democratic Party's Professor Paul Tambyah.
Mr Singh had said on the campaign trail that the Government should make clear its revenue and expenditure projections for the rest of the decade so the public can assess whether the goods and services tax (GST) hike is necessary.
Mr Chan said anyone following parliamentary proceedings in the last two years would know the clear fiscal challenges Singapore faces, including an ageing population, a need to renew infrastructure, and how global returns face downward pressure because of the uncertainty.
The Government could use the reserves to fund spending, borrow from future generations, or raise taxes to "pay for it in this generation".
"Now, there is no easy choice, but we must not run away from it and pretend the problem doesn't exist," he said.
He also addressed comments made by Prof Tambyah, who said at a forum on Friday that he wondered if the Government had "lost its focus on the public's health and started thinking about the election" back in March, leading to an increase in Covid-19 cases.
He said that with his hand on his heart he can say "at no point in time, have we ever neglected the lives, livelihoods and lifelines of our people".
He added that Singapore has to go to the polls now, as the PAP Government needs a new mandate to deal with the challenges, which could persist for the next few years.
"If by the end of this year, we still do not have a new government, can you imagine if we are hit with a subsequent wave of infection? How will we be able to move decisively?"