Nine years ago in the GE 2011 rally at Fullerton, then PAP Secretary-General Lee Hsien Loong made a rare apology for mistakes his government may have made. He made the apology amidst feedback that people were angry with his government’s mishandling of immigration policy (Reuters: Singapore PM makes rare apology as election campaign heats up, 4 May 2011).
So, for a party who was used to walkovers, it came as a shock to PAP when almost all the seats were contested in GE 2011 except for Tanjong Pagar GRC when the opposition team was disqualified over a technicality.
At the time, with the ruling party’s lax immigration policies, there was over-crowding on trains and buses caused by huge influx of foreigners and inadequate infrastructure support. Singaporeans were also angry with the higher housing prices then.
“If we didn’t quite get it right, I am sorry but we will try and do better the next time,” Lee told a crowd at Fullerton located in CBD.
Later he repeated, “Well, we’re sorry we didn’t get it exactly right, but I hope you’ll understand and bear with us because we’re trying our best to fix the problems.”
Even Chua Mui Hoong, a deputy editor with the pro-government Straits Times at the time, was surprised by Lee’s candour, “Mr Lee’s speech was remarkable for its public mea culpa. And it was remarkable for its — there is no other word for it — humility.”
NUS sociologist Chua Beng Huat said of GE 2011, “The PAP basically screwed up on immigration policies really badly. That has created all kinds of downstream hardships for Singaporeans.”
In 2011, foreigners made up 36 percent of Singapore’s population of 5.1 million, up from around 20 percent of 4 million people in 2001. Reuters reported then, “The fast pace of immigration is the hottest issue among locals who have complained about competition for jobs and housing and the dilution of the national identity.”
That GE, PAP garnered the lowest percentage of valid votes in the history of Singapore at 60.1%.
Lee: Investors will scrutinise the election results
Nine years later today (6 Jul), Lee was speaking again but in the GE 2020 rally this time.
He did not apologise anymore but warned that Singaporeans should not undermine a system that has served them well. The world is watching Friday’s election closely, he said.
Investors will scrutinise the results to see if Singaporeans are still one united people, strongly supporting the leaders they have chosen and working together to overcome the crisis, he added.
“Will we reveal ourselves to be fractious and divided, withholding our full support from the government we elect, in a crisis where swift, decisive action is vital to save jobs and lives?”
He went on to describe how his government had rolled out four Budgets since February totaling nearly $100 billion, and drawing up to $52 billion from past reserves, to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. “This is the difference that highly competent government can make to your lives,” he said.
He also mentioned that during the 1985 recession, he was tasked to chair the Economic Committee to reposition the country’s economy for the future. Drastic measures, including cutting Central Provident Fund contributions, were taken, he said.
“We did not just make one speech, or hold a press conference, and expect people to simply swallow the bitter pill… but Singaporeans understood the message and supported the tough measures. The measures worked and within a year, our economy was growing again. That is what political leadership is about,” he said.
PAP seeks not just Singaporeans’ mandate, but their strong mandate to lead Singapore through the present COVID-19 crisis, he said.
Even more job competitions from foreigners now
According to the latest population data as of Jun last year (2019), foreigners now made up 39 percent of Singapore’s 5.7 million, up from 36 percent of 5.1 million in 2011.
In terms of employment, close to 400,000 foreign PMETs now work in Singapore. At the end of last year, the number of foreign PMETs (Employment Pass and S Pass holders) hit 393,700. This was the largest increase at 3.3% since the last general election in 2015:
Meanwhile, many unemployed Singaporeans especially the retrenched PMETs are turning to driving Grab in order to make a living, something HR experts and others have cautioned against.
Prof Walter Theseira, a Nominated MP and an economist at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), is concerned about large number of PMETs driving Grab or taxi.
“The jobs offer no career path and do not provide workers with significant marketable skills. This means that workers in such jobs will inevitably end up disadvantaged compared to their peers who are able to stay in jobs that offer a career path and the opportunity to build marketable skills,” he said.
That is to say, PMETs who switched to driving Grab or taxi would have an even harder time getting a job in the market later because it would not help to build up their resume.