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PM: Jobs the top concern of voters

Holding GE now will give new government mandate to deal with employment and other pressing economic concerns

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(from left) Low Yen Ling, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Janil Puthucheary, Lawrence Wong and Nadia Ahmad Samdin at an online talk show on July 8.

Singapore

IN THIS General Election, voters have raised one top concern to the People's Action Party (PAP) candidates whom they meet: jobs.

From a morning press conference to an evening talk show, the PAP highlighted the centrality of jobs amid the Covid-19 crisis, during the final day of campaigning ahead of the July 10 polls.

Rounding up the nine-day campaign in an online talk show on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said jobs and incomes are on everybody's minds.

From young graduates to small shop owners, voters have said that economic concerns are paramount, agreed fellow panellists Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Low Yen Ling, and first-time candidate Nadia Ahmad Samdin.

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These are major issues that any government must focus on once the elections are over, said Mr Lee - which is one of the reasons that they decided to call the election now, "so we can clear our minds and focus on these big things".

He acknowledged that calling the election during the pandemic was a major decision, which he had explained in a national broadcast at the time.

It was important to call it now, while the situation is stable, as no one knows what will be down the road for the next months or years, he added.

Stressing that the government has not been taking Covid-19 lightly, he said: "I've been very worried right from the very beginning."

Singapore's elderly population means the country will be in serious trouble if the virus ever bursts forth into the general population.

That is why Singapore did not take the chance of trying to "flatten the curve" like other countries. Instead, he told the Health Ministry, from the start, to not let the outbreak grow: "Protect our people. This comes first, before the economy."

Mr Wong, who chairs the multi-ministry taskforce on Covid-19, said that many have asked him when the next phase of reopening can start - to which his response is to remind them that this step must be taken very cautiously.

Other countries have emerged from lockdowns only to see cases flare up again, he noted.

In asking Ms Nadia - the PAP's youngest candidate, at the age of 30 - about young voters' concerns, Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary also raised the controversy over Workers' Party first-time candidate Raeesah Khan's comments about alleged discrimination against minorities by the authorities.

Ms Nadia, who is part of the PAP's team in Ang Mo Kio GRC alongside Mr Lee, said that her generation has different life experiences and points of reference. The youth of today want to go beyond tolerance or racial harmony, she said: "They are willing to have uncomfortable conversations."

Acknowledging this, Mr Lee said that both sides should try to understand each other. For a long time in Singapore, issues of race, religion, and language have been seen as sensitive matters to be handled very delicately, he said. The older generation has seen trouble and strife, but also how Singapore has built harmony in their place, and would not want these years of hard work to go to waste.

Mr Lee noted that the talk show made for "a very unusual closing rally". Instead of the usual emotional and rousing speech, they were calmly discussing issues, priorities, and solutions. But he added: "I think it is appropriate in this moment that we should be in this frame of mind."

"We are going to face a very difficult time over the next couple of years," he said. The question is thus how the strongest team can be given a mandate to look after the country.

A similar note was struck in a press conference that morning, where PAP office-holders said that voters were most concerned about tackling Covid-19, and laid out government efforts on that front.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing highlighted expectations of both global and domestic recession, warning of job losses, continued weak external demand, and an "uneven and gradual" recovery.

Voters themselves recognise that the major challenges ahead are securing jobs, securing investments and securing Singapore's supply lines, he said, giving an overview of efforts to uphold the global trading system in the face of growing protectionism.

In the next six to 12 months, it is crucial to "demonstrate to the world that we can have consistent and coherent long-term policies", he said.

Inconsistent manpower policies will erode confidence in Singapore and hurt its attractiveness to investors.

Labour chief Ng Chee Meng spoke on the role of the tripartite movement in creating jobs, while Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee gave a recap of social support that has been provided.

On the final day of campaigning, all parties made one last push online and offline, with doorstops, islandwide walkabouts, and livestreams just before the midnight cut-off.

Many ministers were out and about, including Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who spoke to the media during a solo walkabout at Bedok South Market and Food Centre, reiterating the gravity of the Covid-19 situation and the seriousness of this election.

Opposition parties, too, were busy both offline and online. In Teochew and Mandarin videos, former Workers' Party (WP) chief Low Thia Khiang thanked supporters and urged voters to "maintain the momentum" by electing capable young WP candidates.

With Mr Low not contesting this GE, one question is whether the WP will retain its hold on Hougang SMC and Aljunied GRC.

In the videos, Mr Low reiterated that his move is part of party renewal and that he is not retiring, but will still guide younger party members and walk the ground.

Having opposition members with alternative ideas in Parliament would provide a holistic discussion on policies, and "let the ruling party know that the support of the people must never be taken for granted, or like a blank cheque", he concluded.

Speaking to the media during a walkabout, Progress Singapore Party chief Tan Cheng Bock similarly urged voters to elect the party's candidates so they can "ask the right questions" in Parliament.

Most opposition parties held online talk shows or rallies on Wednesday night.

On TV, the final constituency political broadcasts aired, with candidates for Tampines GRC, Tanjong Pagar GRC, West Coast GRC, Yio Chu Kang SMC and Yuhua SMC.

Thursday is Cooling-off Day, with no campaigning allowed from then until the polls close on Friday.

But there will still be a second round of party political broadcasts on national TV on Thursday evening, in which parties present their final pre-recorded pitches to the electorate.

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