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PAP changing tack but same weak arguments

Howard Lee

In a sure sign of desperate times, the People Action Party has stooped to a new low.

Fielding none other than the holding (yes, Parliament has dissolved) Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, if for no other reason than to be assured of front page coverage in every daily, the PAP has finally attempted to address the group that they have neglected for so long, loosely termed "the middle income". Read it here.

Clearly, PAP is aware that they are losing the front on what was purportedly the hot-button issues for the election, since the opposition has taken every opportunity to demonstrate, with real numbers at times, to show how they have not delivered on reducing cost of living and clarified policies on foreign talent. As such, it would seem that they have decided to change tack and start a belated appeal to the middle income.

But why the middle income? Because say what you like about influence of first time voters, it is middle income earners, most well into their working lives, who make up a large percentage of the voting population. Statistics show that we have roughly 1.5 million aged between 30 and 55 – think supporting children and elderly parents, and the term “sandwiched class” pops to mind.

It is a broad generalisation, as middle income and sandwiched class might not be synonymous, but let’s take it that they do form a significant part of the population, and by all counts, this group has been mostly left out of all the goodie bags thrown at the nation all these years. Now, the holding PM would like to take time “to assure (them) that they have not been forgotten, even if they may have felt “a little bit left out from the discussions””.

Lee can say anything he likes now, but the truth is that the middle income has been out of the care equation for a long time. But let’s take it with a pinch of salt, and see what he has to say.

Today reported that, “In particular, he paid attention to this “sandwiched” group’s anxieties over the affordability of public housing – hinting that the income ceiling for a wider range of HDB flats could be tweaked in time to come.”

Only a hint? So much for the PAP chastising the opposition for their lack of concrete plans.

Need I also remind that we are now being served this after holding Minister for National Development, Mr Mah Bow Tan, secured a multi-part series in Today, replicated in his so-called blog and eventually compiled into a book, and subsequently had a six-minute long video produced to the same effect. In this series, Mah took pains to convince us that HDB prices remain affordable for most Singapore families. With 1.5 million middle income earners, I would assume that he was referring to this group.

Yet here we have his boss contradicting him in saying that more can be done. Who are we supposed to take seriously now? More importantly, what concrete steps can we expect to follow from this “hint”?

But there is more to come. Lee claims that education options such as School of the Arts and the ITE colleges have been introduced so that our future generation can "develop their abilities and aptitudes and not everybody has to squeeze everyone though the same narrow funnel".

Hang on, that sounded like what Reform Party candidate, Ms Vigneswari d/o V Ramachandran, is proposing to do more of at a recent rally. Only difference is, she also brought up the inequalities created by the school streaming system. In a very real sense, the streaming system is the very first narrow funnel that all students go through before they are 12-years old. While ITE has done a great job in training our students for vocations, and I for one am very proud of our ITE graduates, it does not account for the inadequacies of our streaming system.

It ends with an attempt to brush aside all the points that the opposition has brought up in their rally calls – “While there are still other issues which have caused Singaporeans “anxiety or unease”, such as foreign labour, Mr Lee stressed that the Government appreciates and empathises with these concerns and is taking measures to "try to ease the difficulties for Singaporeans”.”

So, after an over-watched television debate has been persistent in telling us that the increasing migrant population will be a hot-button topic, it has now been relegated to “other issues”?

At the end of the article, I felt vaguely insulted, not least because I am one of the “sandwiched class”.

Insulted for being told that the PAP has the most concrete plans for the nation, but now to be given this vague hint of things to come that would not likely bear fruit, unless Mah gets voted out on grounds of incompetence.

Insulted that, to this point, the holding administration has not proposed anything really new to allay the concerns of voters about rising costs of living and immigration policies, preferring instead to fall back on current achievements and Grow-and-Share packages.

Insulted that I am expected to believe that the solution to help the middle class is to grow the middle class – in effect, actually adding more competition and pressure without anything more imaginative to resolve existing issues.

Ok, maybe I wasn’t just vaguely insulted, but if you are one of the “sandwiched class” folks, do let me know what you think. But from my sandwiched perspective, the PAP needs to review its position for this election and stop contradicting itself, or they will start to sound wishy-washy amid the hurly-burly.

The writer is a sandwiched classer. Some people are not. Those are the facts, yes.