From budget to elections – diversion tactics?

by Howard Lee

It seems almost deliberate. The announcement of the revised electoral boundaries came right smack in the heat of the budget debate.

What’s the big deal, you might ask. On the surface, nothing much, until you start examining the news. The printed conversation seems to keep the budget debate strictly in Parliament, while coverage on the opposition parties focused on the two-day pow-wow to sort out potential three-cornered fights in the pending general elections.

Read the papers often, and you might get the impression that our opposition parties are missing out on the budget debate, and are instead spending their time picking up the scraps of the revised electoral boundaries.

Perhaps it is really coincidental, and the fact that our opposition parties are eager to start campaigning is not really helping their public image as a worthy adversary to the ruling party in taking on the big issues. Or maybe the budget is not really that significant after all, in the general scheme of things – budgets happen every year, anyway. But if the opposition parties do not publicly challenge the ruling party on the budget now, they will likely be accused of dredging it up come campaigning week or in the next five years or so.

Articles like Eugene Tan’s “Deep fissures behind Opposition bravado” (Today, 7 March, p12) are doing little to discourage that from happening. Personally, I felt compelled to tear apart every argument put forth by Tan in this piece, full of portholes and misguided views as it is, but let’s stay focused on the larger picture for the moment.

In general, our traditional media is not doing citizens a favour through this skewed reporting, which seems to mostly ignore what our opposition parties, save those already in Parliament, have to say about how our country is run, and similarly have their inputs on the budget. By not putting this line of question to them, traditional media has so far prevented a level playing field of knowledge, making their readership less informed. This is a bane to democracy and choice based on complete knowledge.

But traditional media is wont to do that – news is more interesting (and I dare say less complex and messy) when we can (or are led to believe we can) easily differentiate the professional parliamentarians from the pot-shot salvagers.

Fortunately for us, the online world is less bounded by such limitations of news worthiness. And we also know a very different story – that our opposition parties do have inputs on the budget, one having already come up with a shadow budget of their own.

So for the record, the following is a brief run-down of the online literature – most of it, I believe. Browse as you like, and forward it to your friends who are interested or curious. I hope that it will give you more information to make an informed decision on which party will serve you best, come the general elections, the next financial year, and possibly the years beyond.

National Solidarity Party – The party secretary general posted a response to the budget two days after its announcement.

People’s Action Party – The main Finance run down is on the party website, and there are also snippets by other MPs. You can also find the other speeches on the official government budget website. Pretty factual, on-the-record stuff.

Reform Party – The secretary-general posted a video response the day after the budget was announced, which was followed by a dissection with suggestions for improvement. And if you are feeling up to it, browse through Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s blog, which carries his views on some other economic matters.

Singapore Democratic Party – The only opposition party that announced a shadow budget even before the official budget. In addition, the party kept a regular check on the debate and contributed its own take on various policies.

Socialist Front – Party chairman issued a news statement calling it Singapore’s Pork Barrel Budget.

Singapore People’s Party – One of the two opposition parties currently represented in Parliament, the secretary-general’s speeches during budget debate are carried on the party website.

Workers’ Party – The other opposition party in Parliament, they have offered up some interesting points, although proposals such as reducing the GST have been summarily refuted. These speechs are carried on their party website.

The writer is indifferent towards party politics, but please don’t get him started on just how badly our traditional media needs to start writing for the citizens.