NUSS dialogue gives a glimpse of election issues

GE forum-4

While it was important to have representation from all political parties running in the upcoming election, the downside to Tuesday night’s pre-election dialogue at NUSS was the lack of time to truly delve into issues. Even with the session running over an hour late, there wasn’t quite enough time to get to the meat of most discussions as the 10 speakers struggled to condense their arguments into short, digestible soundbites.

Still, the dialogue offered us a glimpse of the issues that are likely to get thrown up during our 2015 election season.

The Straits Times has declared that town councils are set to be a major election issue, but NUSS’ dialogue demonstrated that there are many policies and problems that political parties are keen to set their sights on.

Population issues received plenty of attention from the speakers and questions from the floor. Concerns over the government’s immigration policy and its consequences – from the squeeze on infrastructure like public transport to rising costs of living – were a hot-button issue in the 2011 general election, but continue to worry Singaporeans. It might have been years, but Singaporeans have not yet forgotten the Population White Paper.

The problem of inequality was also raised by the opposition parties; despite what was characterised as the PAP’s “growth at all cost” policy, speakers like the Reform Party’s Kenneth Jeyaretnam highlighted that the benefits of economic growth has not been equitably distributed, leaving some Singaporeans vulnerable and lacking in support despite the nation’s wealth. Goh Meng Seng from the People’s Power Party also pointed out that while the import of foreign workers has resulted in huge amounts of money – in the form of foreign worker levies – going into government coffers, these funds have not contributed to social welfare such as retirement funds or healthcare costs.

Democracy and political freedom, too, was brought up. The question of trade-offs – of citizens handing over certain freedoms and rights in exchange for efficiency, stability and competency – has been debated for a long time. It surfaced in the last general election as focus began to turn to the need for more political representation, particularly with the Workers’ Party campaign slogan of Towards a First World Parliament.

During the dialogue, Gerald Giam of the Workers’ Party reiterated the call for a First World Parliament, and although the other opposition parties did not adopt the same language, there was a general consensus that Singapore’s time as a one-party state is up.

Benjamin Pwee from the Democratic Progressive Party repeatedly emphasised that Singaporeans can no longer afford to believe that solutions to the country’s problems lie within the People’s Action Party, while Harminder Pal Singh of the Singapore Democratic Alliance called on the need for people from diverse backgrounds to think outside of the box.

There have been many who have said that holding an election in the year of Singapore’s Golden Jubilee would give the PAP an edge over its rivals, but if the pre-election dialogue was anything to go by, SG50 and the passing of Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew has also sparked off soul-searching and reflection among the opposition.

In looking forward to the next 50 years for Singapore, speakers at the dialogue emphasised the importance of strong leadership for the country. And while the PAP would suggest that a continuation of their so far unbroken rule would be the best for Singapore, the other parties will lose no time hammering home the need for a more diverse Parliament.

Perhaps the ruling party would love the elections to be focused on town council issues, but with 10 parties involved in this year’s elections, it might be harder than ever for one party to set the agenda.