‘New Parliament, new politics will show how far S’pore has come’

Attitudes and policies towards the not so well off will likely take centre stage at Parliament. (Yahoo! photo)
Attitudes and policies towards the not so well off will likely take centre stage at Parliament. (Yahoo! photo)


Singapore's 12th Parliament sits on Monday with 30 faces, new policy thrusts and new expectations of a citizenry that wants the rules of engagement changed.

(SLIDESHOW: Where your MP is sitting in Parliament)

A sentence in the Ministry of Health's vision statement on 12 October might just sum up what to expect.

Providing a context to its plans and strategies for the next five years, the ministry said it wants to "enable all Singaporeans to live well, live long and enjoy peace of mind".

It is the bit about peace of mind -- an expression that runs counter to a government's ideology embedded in hard-nosed policies and politics -- that throws open the possibility of a new mood sweeping Parliament over the next few days.

Social policies

If there is one issue that will take centre stage, it is that regarding the attitudes, not just the policies, towards the not-so-well-off and those who will be hit hardest if a recession does happen.

In that context, the policies of the Ministry of Community, Youth and Sports -- helmed by a new face, Acting Minister Chan Chun Sing -- and the Ministry of Manpower will come under close watch.

Statistics that came out in the run-up to the Parliamentary sitting show the extent of the problem.

Incomes for those at the bottom fifth hardly changed in the last 10 years, showing that the gap between the haves and the have-nots are getting worse.

Add to this, the statistics revealing that if you are above 50 and have lost your job, getting back into the workplace is a long and heart-breaking experience. Many of them get so disappointed looking for a job that they are just resigned to a jobless future.

A new vulnerable group has also emerged: Those who don't earn much (about $2,600 a month), have meagre savings and have primary or secondary education. They don't qualify under the government's financial aid schemes and are likely to be hit hardest if a recession knocks on Singapore's doors.


This will continue to be a sticky issue though National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan has acted swiftly to take some of the sting out of the hot-button issue in the last elections.

With the Prime Minister saying that the public housing market will take four years to go back to some form of normalcy, the ghost of old policies gone wrong will haunt the House.

New media

With President Tony Tan highlighting the new media as an area of focus in his opening address and with the Ministry of Information and the Arts joining in to say changes to the rules of conduct are being considered, expect some heated debate.

The bone of contention will be this: Who should be the guardian of sharp, responsible debate in the online space?

It is understood that some ministers have already met some of the new media players to find an amicable solution. A sticking point is the government's view that views reacting to blog posts should be moderated.

On the other side is the view that interference like this will drive away eyeballs to other places. Even if there is a will to take this route, it will need a lot of resources to manage.


Although policies that shape the new Singapore will be the focus in the debate, it is the politics that will show how far the country has come as a mature nation.

The Workers' Party, with six elected MPs and two non-constituency MPs in the new Parliament, will want to show that its brand of respectable and responsible, but straight-shooting, politics is entrenched.

The People's Action Party, with its MPs already saying they are going to be more outspoken and occasionally cross the official line, will not want to be seen as putting down dissent or tearing into the Opposition with all its power and force.

For the WP, it will be snipe, snipe, then withdraw. For the PAP, it will be feel, feel then attack.

The PM and his team will have the harder task of making its game plan work.

P N Balji, who was a journalist for more than 35 years, is now a media consultant.