Friday, 23 Oct 2020

PAP manifesto drives home high stakes in lives, jobs, and future

In 2015, the ruling People’s Action Party’s election manifesto was titled “With You, For You, For Singapore”.

In a year marking the nation’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, it spoke of a city of hope, heart, and home. It laid out plans and dreams of a brighter future that Singaporeans could build together.

Fast forward five years, and Covid-19 has decimated jobs, cratered economies, and ruined lives worldwide.

Amid the pandemic and the country’s worst recession since Independence in 1965, the PAP’s GE2020 manifesto, released yesterday, is markedly more sombre and urgent in tone than the last.

It seeks to focus Singaporeans’ minds on three things: their lives, their jobs, and their future.

The message is clear: This is not the time to play a game of chance with lives and livelihoods; the PAP has the capability and resources to tackle Singaporeans’ most pressing needs.

“Without a herculean effort by us, we cannot be certain that what we have painstakingly built over decades will continue to stand, and not collapse in the storm,” warned Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is the PAP’s secretary-general, in a live online broadcast yesterday.

He said that in a normal election, the party’s manifesto would focus on its long-term plans for Singapore. But given the pandemic, this year’s central focus is “how we will work together to overcome this crisis of a generation”.

In the foreword to the manifesto, he wrote that jobs are the top priority. “We have mounted a national effort to keep people in work, to help those out of work find replacement jobs, and to create new jobs and traineeships both in the public and private sectors.”

A cornerstone of this effort is the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, which seeks to provide 100,000 jobs, traineeship and skills training opportunities to those affected by Covid-19. The Jobs Support Scheme, which subsidises wages, has also enabled firms to keep their workers.

The Government has committed $93 billion in Covid-19 support measures over four Budgets, drawing up to $52 billion from past reserves.

Noting that the party has steered Singapore through every major crisis since independence, PM Lee said it has clear and bold strategies to rebuild Singapore’s economy, strengthen its society and plan for the country’s future.

On this count, the manifesto leaves no stone unturned.

It is sweeping yet specific, describing both current steps and future plans in public health, the economy, urban rejuvenation, social welfare and the environment.

As PM Lee promised, jobs are front and centre of the agenda. Separate sections are devoted to different groups of workers: those aged 40 to 60, seniors, young job seekers, lower-wage workers and those with disabilities.

The support is differentiated – those in their 40s to 60s, for example, would benefit more from SkillsFuture credits and mid-career pathway programmes, while younger Singaporeans will have structured traineeships and regional opportunities.

Similarly, social policies and measures are carved out to meet specific needs of various groups – from families and students, to seniors and those with special education needs.

Acknowledging another looming challenge – Singapore’s ageing population – the manifesto reiterates what party leaders have said, that to fund growing healthcare needs, the goods and services tax (GST) has to go up to 9 per cent some time in the next term of government, but not before 2022.

To help Singaporeans cope with the hike, there will be a $6 billion Assurance Package and an enhanced GST permanent voucher scheme.

The manifesto also sets out the PAP’s longer-term plans to build a dynamic, resilient and responsive economy, “no matter what happens”.

These include accelerating digital transformation across all sectors, promoting new growth sectors such as cyber security and healthcare, and diversifying the country’s sources of food and essential supplies.

While the manifesto is distinctly different in tone and substance from the previous one, there are a few perennial themes: expanding the social safety net, equalising opportunities through jobs and education, providing greater assurance in healthcare and retirement, and leaving no Singaporean behind.

When it comes to transforming Singapore’s physical and digital landscape, developments that have made headlines recently, such as Smart Nation, the Rail Corridor, Greater Southern Waterfront and Paya Lebar developments, were already set in motion in the manifesto five years ago.

Then, the PAP spoke of a shared purpose and involving Singaporeans in shaping policies – an idea that has evolved in the last five years to become the Singapore Together movement, now fronted by the 4G leadership.

This continuity is useful, as a party manifesto serves two functions: Internally, it sharpens the messaging used by individual candidates; and externally, it communicates a party’s values and value proposition to voters.

The Greater Southern Waterfront is a future mixed-use district of more than 2,000ha extending from Pasir Panjang to Marina East. It is among developments set in motion in the PAP’s manifesto five years ago.  LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

Exactly how it will be used in election campaign material remains to be seen. But to the voters, the party’s message is simple: We are consistent, we have a plan, and we can deliver.

As PM Lee said, this is not business or politics as usual, and Singaporeans want to know how the Government will solve their problems.

The aim is not just to survive the storm, “but also to maintain the long-term direction for the country, and keep on building and improving Singapore”.

“Hardly ever before has government been so crucial to protecting the lives and livelihoods of Singaporeans. This is why leadership is key, whom you choose to form the next government – and the quality of that leadership – is absolutely critical.”

He added that “what the PAP promises, the PAP will deliver”.

Whether that message resonates with voters, and whether they will deliver yet another victory to the ruling party at the polls, will be revealed come July 10.

While the manifesto is distinctly different in tone and substance from the previous one, there are a few perennial themes: expanding the social safety net, equalising opportunities through jobs and education, providing greater assurance in healthcare and retirement, and leaving no Singaporean behind.

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