SINGAPORE, July 8 — The elections are about the challenges of emerging from Covid-19 and voters are clear about that, said several People’s Action Party (PAP) leaders on the final day of hustings today.
And the “ultimate test” for any candidate or political party in General Election (GE) 2020 will be whether they can secure jobs, bring in investments and organise networks to help families under strain, PAP second assistant secretary-general Chan Chun Sing said in a virtual press conference in the morning.
These three “very simple and basic” questions, he added, is what the PAP hopes that Singaporeans will ask when they go to the polls on Friday.
“We are under no illusion of the difficulties that lie ahead of us, so that’s why this election is so critical for us,” said Chan in a virtual press conference that focused on the Covid-19 crisis and the plans needed to see Singapore through it.
“It is a chance for us to pull everyone together and move in the same direction, knowing that times are tough but (also) knowing that we can all work together to take care of what another.”
In response to TODAY’s question on his assessment of the ground sentiment at this late stage of the election given the Opposition’s campaigns and messaging so far, Chan said that from both his and other PAP candidates’ interactions with residents, Singaporeans “very clearly” understand the challenges ahead.
“This relates to jobs, investments, securing our lifelines and how we can help each other overcome the challenges together. So I think there has been a very clear message from the ground,” he said.
“People can see through all the sound and fury of the campaigning period, but it comes back down to the core issues of what we are handling and have to handle in the coming months.”
At a walkabout in East Coast GRC, PAP first assistant secretary-general Heng Swee Keat gave his assessment to reporters present that the residents he met are “thoughtful” about the current situation and the future given how the pandemic might change Singapore’s economic and social structures.
Said Heng: “This election is a serious election. It is about our lives, our jobs, our future. I’m glad the message has been reinforced very strongly to everyone.”
Elsewhere, leader of the PAP West Coast Group Representation Constituency team S Iswaran said over the past nine days of campaigning, the impact of Covid-19 on economy and jobs has been uppermost on voters’ minds and that it has been an “overriding” concern for most.
He said: “We have basically been using this opportunity to understand their concerns better, to explain how some of the programmes at the national and local level can help meet those concerns and also to take note of where there may be other areas where we can do more for them.”
Overcoming Singapore’s three challenges
Addressing the media with Chan is the party’s organising secretary Desmond Lee and Ng Chee Meng, who is a member of the party’s central executive committee, which is its top decision-making body.
Both Lee and Ng are also candidates standing in the hotly contested wards of West Coast Group GRC and Sengkang GRC respectively.
Chan, who is standing in Tanjong Pagar GRC, first sketched out the serious challenges faced by Singapore due to the pandemic, which he called the most “critical” since its independence in 1965.
The risk of a second wave of Covid-19 infection remains high globally and further lockdowns cannot be ruled out, he said, adding that retrenchments and unemployment have climbed though not as much as feared due to the Government’s schemes.
Singapore’s biomedical manufacturing and infocomm technology sectors may have held up well, but other sectors will face uneven recovery and significant headwinds, said Chan.
Ng, who leads the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), spoke about the impact of Covid-19 on different types of workers — including freelancers — and the efforts taken by tripartite partners to mitigate them.
“While there are headwinds, there are also efforts by the government, by our business partners, and at NTUC to create jobs,” he said, noting the Government’s initiative to create 100,000 job opportunities and traineeships in the coming 12 months.
Lee, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development, gave an update on the support for the vulnerable and low-income earners. He noted the increased financial and job-related stresses as well as the social and family tensions that have come to the fore during the crisis.
“We have to address all of these and make sure that we can pull Singaporeans through and ensure that we remain resilient through this period,” said Lee, who faces a team led by the Progress Singapore Party’s Dr Tan Cheng Bock in the polls.
Chan, who is also Minister for Trade and Industry, also explained Singapore’s strategy of securing essential supplies and lifelines from the rest of the world, despite the “policy-induced disruptions” caused by some countries’ Covid-19 fears as well as geopolitical developments that could see exports being curbed.
He said Singapore must continue to diversify its sources and localise some production capabilities, especially in critical capabilities that the world needs.
Added Chan: “I think we must be upfront with fellow Singaporeans that, despite our best efforts, the next six to 12 months will be very difficult, and in this tough battle with Covid-19, both on the economic front and on the health front, there will be some casualties.
“We will need to mobilise our whole society to come and take care of each other as we get through this.”
Responding to TODAY’s question on negative campaigning that had emerged in GE2020, Chan said that PAP wants to campaign on “the basis of a positive agenda” to help Singaporeans get through the crisis.
“We hope that through this campaign, we’ll be able to unite all Singaporeans to come together to overcome those challenges, not just in the immediate time period, but also going up in the next two, three years because the challenges will be significant,” he added.
The GE is about Singapore’s collective future, and not about the interests of any one individual or party, he emphasised.
Rather, it is about pulling together as a nation and moving forward in unity, which would also give confidence to the rest of the world that Singapore remains “consistent and coherent” in the way it does business and as a trusted hub.
Chan added that he is confident that when the voters go to the polls, they will know which is the party that will best lead them out of the Covid-19 crisis and overcome challenges together with the people.
He said: “We know that it will not be so easy going forward, and that is why we asked for Singaporeans to unite, to come together, affirm the government if the government has done well so that we can move forward as one united people together. This is what the election is all about.” — TODAY