SINGAPORE — Opposition candidates called on the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) to stop fearmongering and creating anxiety among Singaporeans about a potential change in government.
Speaking at a forum organised by the National University of Singapore Society (NUSS) on Friday (3 July), the candidates were responding to a question on comments by Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing about a possible coalition government formed by the opposition after the 10 July General Election (GE).
Such fears and anxieties ahead of the GE are already being heightened by the current COVID-19 pandemic, they added.
Chan said during a dialogue organised by Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao a day earlier that the three biggest opposition parties here could join forces to form the next government after the election, adding that such a scenario had happened in other countries.
The four parties with the largest numbers of candidates contesting at the GE are the PAP with 93, followed by the PSP with 24, the WP with 21, and the SDP with 11.
The PAP second assistant secretary-general – who is contesting Tanjong Pagar group representation constituency (GRC) – also said that he took issues with some proposed policies put forth by the opposition parties and expressed concerns if they were to be implemented by an alternative government.
Reform Party member and criminal defence lawyer Charles Yeo, one of the participants during the NUSS forum, pointed out that the PAP has in recent years taken a more nuanced approach in “perpetuating its rule”.
For instance, the ruling party insinuated that its “so-called efficient” government has provided voters with a good life and one day, it could “be displaced by a motley crew of opposition parties”, he said.
“A coalition government of the three (biggest opposition) parties is as likely as the statement (by Chan) that cotton comes from sheep,” added Yeo, who is contesting Ang Mo Kio GRC.
Progress Singapore Party (PSP) Central Executive Committee member Francis Yuen agreed with Yeo, saying, “They should stop instilling fear before critical choices are made by the people. There’s fear lingering in people that if we vote for the opposition, the government will topple overnight and Singapore will come to a grinding halt.
“But Singapore will not.”
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chairman Dr Paul Tambyah similarly dismissed the “impossible” notion of the PAP losing a majority of the 93 contested seats during the election and being replaced by opposition.
“If Minister Chan Chun Sing thinks the PAP is going to lose 50 seats, I will be willing to bet him almost anything he wants,” quipped Dr Tambyah, who is contesting Bukit Panjang SMC.
“The PAP will be the largest party in Parliament...(and) be the party that would be asked to form the government of the day. Whether they choose to go with PAP-lite, extra-lite or super-lite – it’s going to be up to them,” he stressed.
Fears of the opposition taking over the government are perpetuated by the lack of political education in Singapore, added Dr Tambyah.
“We need a clear understanding of constitutional processes and how elections work in Singapore. This is the failure of education, even amongst the educated here,” he said.
The other participants in the two-hour-plus forum – moderated by sociopolitical commentator and former non-constituency Member of Parliament Viswa Sadasivan – were Michelle Lee, chairman of the newest political party Red Dot United; Harminder Pal Singh, chief media officer of opposition coalition Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA); and People's Power Party chief Goh Meng Seng.
During the event, the opposition candidates also spoke at length about the parties’ manifestos, which included proposed policies on the Goods and Services Tax (GST), providing jobs for Singaporeans, and revamping the educational system.
Govt lost focus on public health, distracted by GE
On the pandemic, Dr Tambyah, who is an infectious diseases expert, commended the government’s early efforts in curbing its spread in January through February but said “all hell broke loose in March” partly because of then-emerging talks of an election.
He noted that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had issued a statement telling employers – following the cluster of foreign workers at Seletar Aerospace Height construction site – that they were not allowed to bring workers living in dormitories for testing or risk losing work pass privileges.
To date, 41,978 of Singapore’s 44,479 COVID-19 cases are foreign workers living in such residences.
“I have an opinion as to why that happened, I don’t know for sure, that was the time they started talking about an early election. You wonder whether the (COVID-19) ministerial committee lost their focus on the public health and started thinking about the election,” he added.
“Even today, with the cluster of cases in Tampines, the (co-chair National Development Minister Lawrence Wong who is contesting Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) of the ministerial committee has to go to Marsiling to explain why they should vote for the PAP...he should be in Tampines trying to sort out what’s going on with the outbreak.”
All six opposition candidates at the forum agree that the crisis election, “irresponsibly” called for during the pandemic, would be a watershed GE like the one in 2001, with the odds stacked in favour of the incumbent government.
Dr Tambyah noted that GE2020 could result in the complete elimination of elected opposition in Singapore.
“We are really hoping that Singaporeans will not be intimidated and driven to a ‘flight-to-safety’ kind of thinking,” he said.
Lee, who is contesting Jurong GRC, said, “I have the same fears that it may go badly for the opposition, but for Red Dot United, where we are standing, we are new – it is not so much of a watershed but a starting step.”
Singh, who is contesting Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC against the PAP and the Peoples Voice, said, “In the post-COVID-19 situation, we cannot be the same people we have been all these while. It is time we improve the plight of Singaporeans by getting good leaders from alternative parties to come in.”
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