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PM Lee lists jobs and incomes as voters' main concerns

THROUGHOUT the campaign, the top concerns raised by voters have been jobs and the Covid-19 crisis, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a livestream on Wednesday night, rounding up the nine-day campaign ahead of the cooling-off period that begins at midnight.

In a talkshow with four other candidates from the ruling People's Action Party (PAP), he also acknowledged that the younger and older generations have differing views on how racial and religious issues should be handled, making reference to the controversy over social media posts by Workers' Party first-time candidate Raeesah Khan.

Jobs and incomes are on top of everybody's minds, said Mr Lee, secretary-general of the PAP.

His fellow panellists - Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, Senior Parliamentary Secretary Low Yen Ling, and first-time candidate Nadia Ahmad Samdin - agreed, noting that the voters, ranging from young graduates to small shopowners, that they met during campaigning said economic concerns are paramount.

These are big issues that any government must focus on once the elections are over, said Mr Lee. It 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".

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He acknowledged that calling the election during the pandemic was a major decision, which he had explained in a national broadcast at the time. Before deciding to do so, he had to be sure that it was safe to do so, and that the situation was "stable enough for us to do it safely".

It was also 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'm very worried. I've been very worried right from the very beginning." Singapore's elderly population means that the country will be in serious trouble if the virus ever breaks out among the general population.

Mr Wong, who chairs the multi-ministry taskforce on Covid-19, said many voters have asked him when the next phase of reopening can start, and his response has been 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.

Also discussed during the livestream was the question of how to address racial and religious issues, with reference to Ms Raeesah's allegations of discrimination by the authorities against minorities. Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary, who moderated the talkshow, engaged Ms Nadia and Mr Lee on the topic.

Ms Nadia, the PAP's youngest candidate at the age of 30, and part of the party's slate 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 the concept of mere tolerance or racial harmony, she said: "They are willing to have uncomfortable conversations."

Acknowledging this difference, Mr Lee said that while the older generation may have a different take on the development of Ms Raeesah's case, both sides should understand each others' point of view.

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. Things do change, and issues which would have been uncomfortable to discuss 20 years ago are talked about now, "more openly but still sensitively". The older generation has seen trouble and strife, but also how Singapore has built harmony, and would not want these years of hard work to go to waste, he said.

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