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GE2020

Economy, NCMP-vs-elected MP debate at front and centre on third day of campaigning

Population target, foreign labour also feature in discourse online and interviews on the ground

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The PAP's Yip Hon Weng (right) and the PSP's Kayla Low crossed paths during their walkabouts in Yio Chu Kang SMC on Thursday.

Singapore

TWO vastly different issues - economic concerns and elected representation - dominated the discourse on Thursday, the third day of campaigning in the lead-up to the July 10 General Election.

This duality was clear not just in the first round of party political broadcasts on national TV and radio, but also the parties' numerous online videos and media interviews on the ground.

As in past elections, parties that field at least six candidates are given national airtime.

Of the six opposition parties who made broadcasts on Thursday, the two with the largest slates - the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and Workers' Party (WP) - focused on the role of opposition Members of Parliament as a source of tough questions in the House and a check on the government.

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WP chief Pritam Singh once again warned against the risk that the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) could sweep all 93 available seats, while PSP chief Tan Cheng Bock called on voters to deny the PAP a two-thirds majority.

Dr Tan said sending the PSP's candidates to Parliament would mean they could check how the next government will spend the country's reserves over the next five years.

"The government will be spending billions of our reserves on post-Covid-19 recovery measures. This is our money. If the PAP dominates Parliament, who will check how the money is spent?" he said.

The Reform Party (RP) called for a "lasting change" in Singapore's economic model, with vastly improved social safety nets.

Inequality was raised by the Peoples Voice too, with party chief Lim Tean raising grievances over job competition from foreigners.

Foreign workers and the cost of living also figured prominently in the speeches by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Solidarity Party (NSP).

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat repeated the PAP's call for strong support so the government can lead the country through the pandemic and beyond, giving an overview of current efforts to "protect lives and save jobs", and longer-term plans.

A second and final round of party political broadcasts will take place on July 9.

With the absence of physical rallies during the Covid-19 outbreak, there will also be special constituency political broadcasts, running from July 3 to 8, in which candidates for each constituency will get airtime.

Beyond these formal channels, parties continued to get their message out via more extensive videos online, as well as on the ground.

Around the island, reporters pressed candidates for their views on the Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) scheme, after the issue resurfaced in a televised debate on Wednesday.

WP candidate Jamus Lim had argued for the need to deny the PAP a "blank cheque" and ensure opposition voices in Parliament, with Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan replying that the NCMP scheme guarantees at least 12 opposition members in the House.

On Thursday, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said that the PAP remains accountable to the people and does not have "a blank cheque".

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah noted that NCMPs will have full voting rights in the new Parliament.

The PSP's Dr Tan, however, called the scheme a ploy to entice voters to vote for the PAP and said that he would decline an NCMP seat if offered one, but would let other PSP members decide for themselves. NCMP seats are offered to losing opposition candidates with the highest vote share.

In a livestreamed dialogue by Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao on Thursday, WP candidate for East Coast GRC Kenneth Foo addressed the topic when asked about the role that the opposition plays, given that there are now more avenues - such as the Internet - for people to share alternative views.

The active political discourse online is a welcome phenomenon, replied Mr Foo.

But having an elected representative who can speak on behalf of constituents is still different, he added, as an elected MP has both the formal platform of Parliament, and the ability to represent voters.

The dialogue also included Mr Chan and PSP's West Coast GRC candidate Hazel Poa. Ms Poa argued that the NCMP scheme disadvantages opposition candidates, making it even harder for them to be elected, and agreed with Mr Foo's point about the significance of being elected.

Being an elected MP is not about merely being able to speak in Parliament, but about representing constituents, she added.

Another hot issue on Thursday was a back-and-forth over the SDP's claim that the PAP government has the intention of growing Singapore's population to 10 million by 2030.

DPM Heng disputed this and said that the government has never proposed this. In the afternoon, however, the SDP declared that it had accomplished the "one no" - "No to a 10 million population" - in its "Four Yeses, One No" campaign.

Multi-party productions aside, the respective parties continued with their own programming, including hours of e-rallies by the SDP, and a live Zoom session by the RP. The PSP is set to hold its first e-rally of the campaign on Friday night.

In the second episode of their nightly Hammer Show video series, WP candidates discussed the party's views on inclusive growth, productivity, and economic sustainability.

The economy was a key focus for the PAP as well, which pushed out three episodes in its Straight Talk with PAP video series, on the economy, jobs, and housing respectively.

Jobs were also the topic of a Malay-language talk show with three PAP candidates, including first-timer Fahmi Aliman.

As for constituency-specific proposals, the PAP team for the new Sengkang GRC - led by labour chief Ng Chee Meng - said that they intend to create a new Town Council dedicated to the constituency within three months if they are elected.

READ MORE: PAP failed to deliver promise to lessen cost of living: Chee

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