Lack of "feel-good" factor in Budget. By PN Balji.

Why this is not election year

PN Balji    

Budget 2009 has been praised by many as a budget fit for the times. And in a highly-calibrated statement, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam offered something for nearly every body and went close to the extreme to save jobs and get banks to start lending a bit more freely again.

 And if these were not enough, the historic decision to ask the President to dip into to the past government’s reserves was also made.

 Extraordinary moves for extraordinary times indeed.

So is it time to throw the dice and call for an early election this year with another three years left for the government’s term to run out?

 I don’t think so.

 The one thing this Budget lacks is a feel-good factor. As the Finance Minister said quite pointedly: “We cannot say when this recession will end…If we are fortunate and the US government’s fiscal stimulus spurs new demand, we may come out of the recession in late 2009.

 “However, many careful observers believe it is equally likely that the recession will last into 2010, and that the recovery when it comes, will be weak.”

 There you have it. A long and uncertain road ahead. And a government staring at the worst recession since independence.

This is just not the time for distractions like an election. The unpredicatability and unchartered waters must mean it is all hands on deck for the government to make sure that Singapore and Singaporeans come out of this storm stronger and better.

The job credits for employers to keep their workers and the measures to coax banks to open their lending facilities to companies that are trying to stay afloat look good on paper. But will the bosses and banks bite? Or will they shrug off their social responsibility and lay off workers and continue to be hard-fisted with loans?

These are areas that need careful watching and slick manoeuvering. The hassle of an election should be the last thing on the government’s mind.

There is another equally, if not more, important reason for not rushing into an election sooner than later. The PM and MM have repeatedly spoken about not having found the right fourth generation team to take Singapore into the 2020s and further. The next PM is likely to come from this team. To rush into an election now with that person and team still not in place will be very uncharacteristic of a responsible government.

Then why were letters sent out to civil servants about a month ago to tell them they had been selected as election officers.

I suspect that is to keep the government’s options open…if there is a need to call a sudden election, at least the machinery is ready to swing into action.

Snap elections have been called for some of these reasons: To get a new vote of confidence for a new leader, tackle a major threat like the 9/11 disaster or take advantage of a sweet ground.

 All the three conditions don’t exist today.