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Amid the hustings, an urgent call to renew Singapore's leadership
THROUGHOUT the nine-day election campaign, the big wigs from the People's Action Party (PAP) have trotted out a consistent message on their endless walkabouts, house visits and rallies - that voters are deciding more than just who governs Singapore for the next term; more importantly, voters are also picking the leaders who will work with the people for the next 15 to 20 years.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took it a step further at the party's lunch-time rally in Raffles Place, where he said that every vote for the 89 PAP candidates was, in essence, a vote for him as well.
"The candidate standing there is standing on behalf of the PAP. So by voting for him, you're voting for me, my team, my programme, my promise. And my promise is, we will work with you to make Singapore better for you and for your children," said the party's secretary-general.
Mr Lee is 63 this year and his two deputies Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam are 60 and 58 respectively; many members of the current core team in the Cabinet are also in their late 50s and early 60s.
Of late, the prime minister and other party leaders have touted the potential and abilities of some of the 24 new candidates - the 21 being fielded in a general election (GE) for the first time and three others who had lost in previous polls - that the PAP is trying hard to bring into parliament.
The list includes the likes of ex-chief of defence Ng Chee Meng, former second permanent secretary for trade and industry Chee Hong Tat and Ong Ye Kung, a former high-ranking union leader.
On more than one occasion, Mr Lee has stressed that he needs more strong, capable leaders in the Cabinet to carry out the government's long-term policies and plans. If these people cannot get past the first hurdle, which is the GE, not only would it discourage others from standing for election in future, it would make the task of running Singapore all the more difficult.
The PAP, whose campaign theme is "With You, For You, For Singapore", has never faced odds like these before in its history.
All 89 seats are being contested for the first time since independence. The Workers' Party (WP) is fielding a record 28 candidates in 10 constituencies, and is defending its turf in Aljunied, Hougang and Punggol East.
Besides the WP, seven other opposition parties are looking to make inroads at this GE, among them the Singapore Democratic Party, the Singapore People's Party and the National Solidarity Party.
Perhaps to put things into perspective, PAP chairman Khaw Boon Wan went so far as to say earlier this week that there was no guarantee that the PAP would form the next government on Sept 12, the day after Polling Day.
And even if the PAP did get re-elected, he warned that Singapore could well end up with a weaker government, unable to get things done for the people.
Meanwhile, PAP organising secretary Ng Eng Hen has called on all Singaporeans to set aside their political differences after the GE to address problems facing the country. With all manner of proposals and concepts having been raised during the hustings, he said he hopes for all segments, including the opposition, to adopt workable ideas together.
Earlier in the campaign, he also said that the government would have to be more collaborative than before, with its policies needing to be more flexible as society becomes more diverse.
Despite the fact that 2015 has turned out to be an election year, political watchers noted few significant policies rolled out in the months leading up to the GE in an attempt to sweeten the ground.
On its part, the government has taken pains to show that it has done much of the hard work over the last four years, and even before the last polls in May 2011; these have included introducing major initiatives to tackle the hot-button issues of immigration, housing and transport.
In the end, it was the controversial town council saga involving the WP that grabbed much of the attention early on. Both the PAP and the WP have already made their positions clear on the subject, and the two parties are seemingly content to let the voters digest the deluge of information and decide for themselves come Polling Day on Friday.
Since the first day of campaigning, there has been a diversity of views on all sorts of issues ranging from health care to education to the rising cost of living - not just from the political parties but from the people as well.
But as Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong emphasised on Wednesday, it is now time to bring down the temperature and focus on the most critical issue after the GE - which is to rebuild the national consensus and have Singaporeans working together as one again.
Again, the underlying message is that the PAP is in the best and strongest position to take the country into the next phase, all the way to SG100, and leaders have repeatedly urged voters to continue to place their faith in the ruling party.
PM Lee, fighting his third election since he took office 11 years ago, hopes that his government's report card over the last term and beyond will be enough to swing the votes in the PAP's favour.
The PAP has worked hard to improve lives, be it having the Pioneer Generation Package for seniors, ensuring affordable homes for young couples or raising the wages of workers over the years, he said at the lunch-time rally on Tuesday.
"The results speak for themselves. This is what the PAP would like to do with you, if you give us the chance," he said.
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