Singapore: Stirrings Before The Hustings

2001

Eugene Tan

With the general elections round the corner (possibly by December 2001) and the economy slowing down, the People’s Action Party (PAP) government is naturally very concerned about the electorate’s pessimistic sentiments. Already, the PAP is positioning itself as a prerequisite for Singapore’s security and prosperity as the party of the future.

Given Singapore’s over-reliance on electronics and manufacturing, the sharp economic downturn is likely to continue, especially in light of the repercussions of the terrorist attacks in America, and will extract a heavier toll on the weak labour market. Nearly all labour market indicators have deteriorated with the less educated the most vulnerable.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s National Day Rally speech revealed the fundamental concerns of the PAP government and Singapore’s precarious future. His speech can be read as the precursor of the PAP’s election manifesto. The focus is to create a ‘New Singapore’ through a new economic strategy and the creation of a new social compact.

PM Goh recognised the Malay-Muslim community’s concerns as ‘legitimate… complicated issues which cannot be solved overnight’. They include madrasah education, Malays in the military and the type of Malay leadership. The principal concern remains the community’s adaptability to the ‘demands of the new economy’ and globalisation.

Performance legitimacy has been the rallying cry of the PAP. Increasing efforts will have to be made to diversify and transform Singapore’s industrial base within the next ten years so that it will not be overwhelmed by the upcoming economic juggernaut, China. Allied with this is the recurrent theme of fostering a culture of entrepreneurship, enterprise and risk taking. Yet, it is doubtful if this can be achieved within a heavily regulated political society with fear of failure. The focus on multinational talent, still a sensitive issue, will remain vital. A further challenge is to retain local talent, particularly important in a young nation-state.

The new social compact will be buttressed by the proposed ‘New Singapore shares’ scheme. Such shares, which will provide a guaranteed annual dividend for a fixed period and bonus payments when the economy does well, will be given when there is a healthy budget surplus with the lower income group getting more.

Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s August visit to Malaysia to sort out long-standing bilateral issues marked a relative warming of ties with Singapore’s neighbour. As with previous in-principle agreements, the devil is in the details, which officials have to follow up. But Lee again asserted that Singapore would attack Malaysia in self-defence if water supplies were cut.

WATCHPOINT: Postscript: After the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States and in tandem with both governments’ concern with the misuse of Islam, Singapore has vowed to support a global anti-terrorism effort. With Singapore being at the heart of Malay-Muslim world, strong American multinational representation, and the American military having access to various military facilities in Singapore, security concerns are likely to feature in the political landscape before and after the polls.

 

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