AS the fight for votes gets underway in Singapore's 2015 General Election (GE), the battle lines have been drawn, with the ruling party and the opposition framing the issues before the electorate in broadly different strokes.
And in the big contest of ideas that elections ultimately boil down to, the key players have their jobs cut out over the remaining seven days of campaigning, seeking to win over voters' minds and hearts, particularly the segment on the fence.
For the People's Action Party (PAP), the Sept 11 polls - Singapore's 12th general election since independence and the first that is fully contested - is all about securing the future of the country. After the exuberance of the nation's golden jubilee celebrations, Singaporeans are ready to reflect on what it would take to keep the country "special" and successful for the next 50 years. Good strong leadership to set the direction and deliver the right policies for the challenges ahead would be absolutely vital, and even over just the next five-year term, the next prime minister would have to be groomed to eventually take the helm, the party says. The ongoing need to restructure the economy and to manage an ageing population are immediate priorities, and socio-political issues such as a desire for diversity of views in Parliament are acknowledged - but as far as PAP is concerned, what is paramount is leadership for the future.
The opposition is, for the most part, broadly focused on rather more bread-and-butter concerns - perennial hot button issues of health care and housing, as well as retirement adequacy, but particularly the place of foreigners in the Singapore economy and society. As much as the government has sought in recent years to address the gripes and grouses over housing supply woes, overcrowding in trains, jobs for Singaporeans - notably by a sharp tightening of the foreign labour policy - opposition parties continue to rail against the government's immigration policy, blaming foreigners for taking away not only jobs from locals but also places in top schools, as well as pushing up property prices and adding to train congestion. Expect volleys of gunfire on the foreign influx from the opposition and robust responses from the ruling party - at least there would be engagement on policy issues. Indeed, after the close of nominations on Tuesday, a PAP minister hit out at the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), declaring that its proposed "tax and spend" programmes would lead the country to bankruptcy. SDP chief Chee Soon Juan has in response pointed to earlier SDP proposals that he claimed the ruling party has "copied" and implemented. In this regard, the Workers' Party (WP) too would cite policies that it maintains stemmed from ideas that it had raised in earlier election manifestos. But as PAP's Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister, put it recently, "the world did not start in 2011", pointing out that the government's focus on building an inclusive society came about well before GE 2011.
For voters lapping up all the action at the hustings - which today extend well beyond the campaign trail to exchanges in the social media - the cut and thrust of rally speeches and political debate should be a time to consider seriously not only the issues raised by the contesting parties but also what each party stands for. Voters must ensure that their votes lead Singapore towards the desired direction - something which each of the political parties seeking their ballot will be out to convince them in the week ahead.