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EDITORIAL

With GE over, time for all to set aside differences and close ranks

THE General Election (GE) in Singapore is finally over, and after an extraordinary campaign that was largely conducted online due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the People's Action Party (PAP) was comfortably returned to power last Saturday morning with 83 out of 93 seats in the next Parliament, with a record 10 seats claimed by the opposition Workers' Party.

That gives the ruling party a nearly 90 per cent majority in the House, although the PAP's popular vote share dipped by almost 9 percentage points from the last polls in 2015 to 61.24 per cent.

With Singapore firmly in election mode for the better part of the last three weeks, the newly-elected government can once again devote its full attention to dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak and the economic downturn, and with not a moment to lose.

Top of the list has to be keeping the Covid-19 situation in check and ensuring infection rates remain as low as possible, even as the economy gradually reopens and more activities resume. Singapore is still recording large numbers of new Covid-19 cases each day.

On Monday, the Health Ministry reported another 322 infections, taking the country's total to 46,283 - a tally that is among the highest in Asia. The number of new cases in the community is still concerning. Since Singapore entered Phase 2 of its reopening on June 19, many days have seen double-digit increases in community cases.

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The PAP government under Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will also have to deal with the full brunt of the economic crisis, with many businesses struggling to stay afloat. All signs point to Singapore entering a technical recession.

Flash estimates for the second quarter gross domestic product (GDP) will be out on Tuesday morning, and economists polled earlier by Bloomberg expect Q2 GDP to fall by a median of 11.3 per cent year-on-year. In the first three months of 2020, the GDP was negative for the first time in a decade, with a 0.7 per cent contraction.

Then there is the issue of jobs. There were 0.84 job vacancies for each unemployed person in the fourth quarter of 2019, and this has dropped to 0.71 in the first three months of this year. Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing warned last week that the headwinds against Singapore's business activities will continue in the next three to six months, and the government will have to closely watch the retrenchment and unemployment numbers.

It all points to a very busy few years ahead for the government, with Singapore also set to witness a leadership transition sometime during the next term of Parliament as the prime minister hands the reins to his successor. Mr Lee, however, has promised that he will steer Singapore through the current crisis, together with his senior Cabinet colleagues and the fourth-generation ministers.

For now, the priority, as Mr Lee noted at the PAP's post-GE press conference on Saturday, must be for Singaporeans to set aside their differences and close ranks to support the government in navigating the country through the Covid-19 crisis safely.

Time is of the essence, and the entire country must work together to save as many jobs and businesses as possible in the coming months.

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