Singapore GE2020: What lies ahead?

Post the general election, Insight examines whether the results signal a new normal, and looks at issues that surfaced - population, race, minimum wage and trade pacts.


A return to the norm, or start of a new normal?

Voters queueing at Block 54 Cassia Crescent in Mountbatten SMC on July 10. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

A general election called amid a pandemic and as a recession looms would normally be expected to result in a flight to safety and a surge in vote share for the ruling party. But the outcome of GE2020 held nine days ago confounded that.

A significant vote swing of 8.7 percentage points against the People's Action Party took its overall vote share to 61.2 per cent.

The PAP saw its vote share sink further in Workers' Party-held Aljunied GRC, and lost a second GRC, Sengkang, to the WP, which saw a record 10 MPs elected.


Population debate should not be about picking a number

Economic research has shown that dense populations create "agglomeration effects" - that is, clusters of economic activity, synergies and knowledge spillovers. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

In 1980, when Singapore was still a developing country, its population was 2.4 million. Suppose the government of the day had announced a target for the population to more than double to 5.7 million by 2019, what would the public reaction have been?

More than a few people would have been horrified. How would Singapore, with its limited space, be able to accommodate such an increase, it would be asked. How would the public transport system (then comprising mainly buses) cope? Where would the additional people be housed? What would happen to jobs and wages? Wouldn't average incomes go down?

Development experts might also have raised concerns. It was the received wisdom that population growth, especially in developing countries, was one of the biggest causes of poverty. A few years earlier, Mr Robert McNamara, then president of the World Bank, had pronounced: "To put it simply, the greatest single obstacle to the economic and social advancement of the majority of peoples in the underdeveloped world is rampant population growth."


Race: New views and conversations on an age-old societal divide

Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (left) and secretary-general Pritam Singh (in the background) with the party's team for Sengkang GRC during campaigning on July 7. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore's vision of a multiracial society is enshrined in its national pledge: "One united people regardless of race, language, or religion."

Even though the Republic has made significant progress in realising this vision, the recent general election put the spotlight on long-held assumptions about race and language in politics and campaigning. Younger voters also signalled greater openness towards discussing race issues, in a way that generations before them would have considered taboo or polarising.

In a country that has four official languages, eyebrows were raised when the Workers' Party (WP) did not send a representative to a televised live debate in Mandarin - given that former party chief Low Thia Khiang was known for his fiery Teochew speeches that had attracted its traditional Chinese base in the first place.


Minimum wages or progressive: Which will help more?

In a live talk show on July 7, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that Singapore's progressive wage model is better than a minimum wage because it is a ladder, of which a minimum wage would be only the first step. PHOTO: ST FILE

In the lead-up to polling day on July 10, one of the issues that resurfaced in opposition party manifestos and campaigns was a call for a minimum wage and redundancy insurance.

The Workers' Party (WP), for instance, proposed a national minimum take-home wage of $1,300 a month for full-time work, the amount an average four-person household in Singapore needs to spend on basic necessities such as food, clothing and shelter each month.

The party also proposed a redundancy insurance scheme for workers, under which they pay $4 a month, matched by employers, into an Employment Security Fund which pays out 40 per cent of their last-drawn salary for up to six months if they are retrenched.


The long view on Ceca and other free trade agreements

Last week's retrenchments at Resorts World Sentosa - and reports that Marina Bay Sands will likely follow suit - have added grist to the mill, that of the large presence here of foreign workers, particularly the PMETs who are thought to compete with locals for jobs. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

Leading up to this month's general election, one issue that won traction was that of the large presence here of foreign workers, particularly the PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) - who are thought to compete with locals for jobs.

Last week's retrenchments at Resorts World Sentosa - and reports that Marina Bay Sands will likely follow suit - have added grist to that mill. An easy target of suspicion are the two dozen or so free trade agreements (FTAs) that Singapore has signed, particularly ones where services trade have been explicitly written into the deals, such as with India and Australia.

As with millions around the world caught in this pandemic-accentuated economic crunch, Singaporeans are asking: What will become of me? Are the deals we agreed on to widen market access hurting my job prospects?


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