SINGAPORE - With the worst recession looming for Singapore owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, bread-and-butter issues such as jobs, housing, immigration, the goods and services tax and the Central Provident Fund (CPF) were the focus of the seven parties on Thursday (July 2) in the first party political broadcast for the July 10 general election.
The parties involved in the broadcast across 19 TV and radio channels were the Reform Party (RP), National Solidarity Party (NSP), Peoples Voice (PV), Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), Workers' Party (WP), Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and People's Action Party (PAP).
In his 13-minute speech, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat called for voters to give the ruling PAP a clear mandate "to lead Singapore through the storms ahead".
"We face severe challenges, not just over the next few months, but for many years to come, said Mr Heng, 59.
"Our urgent priority over the next few years is to protect lives and save jobs. Through four Budgets, we have injected almost $100 billion into this effort."
Aside from highlighting the struggles faced by Singaporeans, the opposition parties also called on voters to give them the mandate to provide checks and balances on how the country is governed, with PSP secretary-general Tan Cheng Bock, pointing out that the status quo, where the PAP "ownself check ownself" is not enough.
WANTED: GOOD JOBS FOR S'POREANS
Former Ayer Rajah MP Tan, 80, in calling for change, noted: "For the past 20 years, the PAP has had a strong monopoly. However, prosperity has not flowed to all Singaporeans." He pointed to the unemployment among professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) - said by the Ministry of Manpower to be 39,000 as of June last year - and their jobs being displaced by foreigners, adding that "the previous mandate did not always mean good outcomes for Singaporeans".
NSP secretary-general Spencer Ng and PV's Mr Michael Fang Amin also raised the issue of foreign labour, with the former saying that foreigners competing for jobs had "depressed our wages".
Mr Ng, 40, said: "We want a country which considers all Singaporeans first. We want a government that ensures our people have the priority for quality jobs."
Peoples Voice is calling for all S-Passes to be frozen and Employment Passes to be reduced significantly, said Mr Fang, 43, so that Singaporeans can have the best-paying jobs.
He added: "A government is like a father to its citizens. And a father who provides for alien children while allowing the breakfast, lunch and dinner of his own children to be stolen is a bad father."
In his speech, Mr Heng said the PAP has delivered what it promised during the last election in 2015, adding: "We have begun transforming our economy to create good, fulfilling jobs for our people.
"We are also providing wage subsidies to help businesses keep Singaporeans in their jobs. And we are creating many new jobs - in both the public and private sectors - for both fresh graduates, as well as those who are seeking employment."
Training opportunities have been set up for those who are unable to find a job immediately, and older workers will get help via mid-career pathway programmes and special hiring incentives, he added. Those who are self-employed, as well as lower-wage workers and those with disabilities, also receive special support.
RISING COST OF LIVING
SDP chief Chee Soon Juan said in his speech that the PAP has not kept to its 2015 election promise to "lessen the burden of our cost of living".
The 57-year-old said that water prices, town council fees and healthcare costs, among others, have gone up, with the GST set to follow. He also pointed to the declining value of Housing Board flats, saying that the PAP has admitted that they will "become worthless at the end of the 99-year lease".
"The future for Singaporeans, young and old, are looking increasingly bleak," he said.
"Trust the PAP? Trust doesn't come from what you say, it comes from what you do."
The SDP, he said, has drawn up a plan which includes a $500 monthly income for the elderly and a retrenchment benefit scheme for workers who have lost their jobs.
Pointing to young Singaporeans who were "caught in a mire of housing debts", NSP's Mr Ng wants to make housing affordable for future generations. He also called for the GST to be abolished for basic necessities.
RP candidate and campaign manager Charles Yeo, 30, said it wants "substantial government spending now to combat the immediate economic effects of the crisis".
"There should be an end to the cruel policy of austerity. We want vastly improved social safety nets, universal health care, cash payments to families, a seniors' pension and a minimum wage."
ACCOUNTABILITY IS KEY
Providing checks and balances in the way Singapore is governed is what the opposition will do in Parliament, said the six parties during the broadcast.
Dr Tan maintained that a PAP monopoly is "not a formula for success".
"If you put us into Parliament, we will be there to check how the next Government will spend our reserves over the next five years," he said.
"The PAP will tell you that they can 'ownself check ownself'. Do you agree?"
WP chief Pritam Singh said his party will provide "a contrast of voices" and question the PAP when needed. Support for the WP will also encourage new blood to contest future elections and allow it to provide a check and balance to "safeguard Singapore for the coming generations".
Noting that its WP MPs in Parliament have raised issues such as the GST test balloon, the Keppel Offshore & Marine bribery case and the constitutional amendment on the Reserved Presidential Election, Mr Singh, 43, said the party has "highlighted issues on the governance of Singapore and the financial burdens on Singaporeans".
He added: "By discussing governance, we help you to keep the government accountable.
"By raising bread-and-butter issues, we remind the Government of the things that it may forget or ignore."
Closing out the broadcast, Mr Heng, who spoke last and was alloted the most time to speak because the PAP has the largest number of candidates in the field, said: "To work together effectively, we must all pull in the same direction. A strong and capable government will help us achieve this, even more so during a crisis."
The next party political broadcast will be on Thursday, July 9, which is Cooling-Off Day.
In between the two broadcasts, Singaporeans will also be able to watch candidates speak in the constituency political broadcasts (CPBs) on Mediacorp's Channel 5 from 7pm, from Friday to Wednesday.
CPBs are one-off arrangements to give parties and candidates more air time to put their messages out to voters in view of the Covid-19 situation, which has meant that traditional election rallies, which typically attract thousands, are not allowed.