As the general election (date unknown) looms ever closer, it is important to remember the man who many call the founding father of Singapore once said.
“When people say, ‘Oh, ask the people!’, it’s childish rubbish … They say people can think for themselves? Do you honestly believe that the chap who can’t pass primary six knows the consequences of his choice when he answers a questions viscerally on language, culture and religion? … we would starve, we would have race riots. We would disintegrate.” Quoted in Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas, 1998
We have had an uninterrupted Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) dominant government for the past 50 years. Given that the PAP is founded by the late Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), is it fair to say that the current 4G leadership holds the same views?
How often have we had policies presented to us fait accompli even if they have been controversial from the get go?
Let’s take the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) as an example. When POFMA was still in bill form, it was heavily criticised for possibly having a numbing effect on free speech, fair comment and ensuring government accountability.
In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) had said that POFMA was not aimed at stifling free speech and is enforced independently of the election cycle. However, it is important to note that POFMA took effect on 2 Oct 2019 and now less than a year later, we are confronting the polls imminently.
Is the timing a coincidence?
With the changing landscape brought on by COVID-19, the election focus may have shifted. Instead of being about holding the incumbent government to account for past events and policies, the narrative is now about how the PAP can be the stable party to ensure that our country weathers the storm of a global pandemic and economic downturn. Isn’t that what the televised speeches from cabinet ministers about?
However, that is only part of the story.
Voters will need to judge the capability of the PAP to lead us into the next chapter of our country’s journey by its track record. Has it handled the crisis well up to this point? There can be no bright future if we do not learn from the mistakes of the past and voters will do well to remember this.
But it would appear that the Government isn’t really giving a chance to think about this. Everywhere we turn, the messaging is about how the Government can provide jobs and cushion us from the ravages of an economic downturn.
Another hot potato that seems to have been forgotten is the coming Goods and Services (GST) hikes. Just like the date of the election, we know it is coming but we know not when!
Earlier last year, Minister for Finance, Heng Swee Keat confirmed that the Government would be raising the GST by two percentage points (from 7 to 9%) sometime in the period from 2021 to 2025.
At that time, there was speculation that the Government would not push up the proposed tax hike until we have had the next general election (due by 2021). There were concerns that the Government was trying to take two bites at the cherry — first, win the general election then impose the hike.
Now that the general election is upon us, we are still at square one. While the government has confirmed that the GST hike will not take place till after 2021, it can still take place any time between 2022 to 2025 and we are none the wiser as to when. Is this fair to people who may need to plan their finances?
In light of the coming general election, shouldn’t the Government at least confirm when they plan to raise the taxes? However, as of now, the silence on that topic is deafening. Instead, we are being assaulted all round by how the Government will provide jobs, jobs and more jobs with no concrete proof that it can actually deliver.
Despite having the trappings of a democratic nation, we still don’t have much say as to the big issues that affect us, such as our right to speak and question; and what our consumption taxes will be.