Saturday, 11 July 2020

GE2020 results: PAP wins 83 of 93 seats; WP takes two GRCs

PAP returns to power with 83 seats, but loses Sengkang and Aljunied GRCs in hard-fought COVID-19 election
By Warren Fernandez, Editor-in-Chief, The Straits Times, 11 Jul 2020

Singaporeans returned the People's Action Party (PAP) to government, handing it 83 of the 93 seats, but there was a major upset in Sengkang GRC, which fell to the Workers' Party (WP), amid a stronger showing for the opposition.

In what was dubbed a crisis election, or the COVID-19 polls, the PAP won 61.24 per cent of the votes, an 8.7-point swing from its 69.9 per cent share in the 2015 polls.

This was slightly above the 60.1 per cent it garnered in 2011, which was the party's worst showing.

The election, billed as the most significant since Singapore's independence given the backdrop of the pandemic, will see the opposition presence almost doubled to 10 elected MPs in the next Parliament, Singapore's 14th, since 1965.

Speaking at a 4.30am press conference, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the PAP had been given a "clear mandate" and a "good result". Although the share of the popular vote was not as high as he would have liked, it still reflected broad based support for the PAP, he said.

"I will use this mandate responsibly to deal with COVID-19 and the economic downturn and to take us safely through the crisis and beyond," he said. "At the same time, the results reflect the pain and anxiety that Singaporeans feel in this crisis," he added, noting that this was not a feel-good election.

He described the loss of NTUC chief Ng Chee Meng, as well as Dr Lam Pin Min and Mr Amrin Amin, from the Sengkang GRC slate as a "significant loss" for the country's fourth-generation leadership.

Flanked by several members of his Cabinet from the party's 3G and 4G leadership, he repeated his pledge that he and his senior Cabinet colleagues would stay to see Singapore through the COVID-19 crisis.

He noted that the election also showed that there was a "desire for more diversity" of views in Parliament, which would have 10 elected opposition MPs and two Non-Constituency MPs,

He added that he had called WP chief Pritam Singh to congratulate him on his party's good showing, and offered him the official designation as Leader of the Opposition. Mr Singh thanked him for this.

The fears of a wipeout of the opposition, which the WP and others had warned about, proved unfounded, he added.

Instead, the opposition turned in a strong showing, with the WP snagging its second GRC, as well as enjoying a near 10-point swing in its Aljunied GRC base, taking 59.93 per cent of the vote there, and holding on to its Hougang seat.

The WP's plea to voters not to hand the ruling party a "blank cheque" to shape policy at will appeared to have swayed voters.

But the other opposition parties, including the fledgling Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), which forced close fights in several seats, ended the night empty-handed.

PSP chief Tan Cheng Bock and SDP's Dr Chee Soon Juan both looked dejected early this morning, declaring that they were "disappointed" with the results.

The PAP had urged the 2.65 million voters registered for the polls to give its tried and trusted team a "strong mandate" to take the country through the crisis, securing their lives, jobs and future.

In the end, the widely expected "flight to safety" in a crisis, given the PAP's track record leading Singapore for over six decades, did not materialise.

Instead, the PAP's share of the vote was down from its high score in 2015, which was a Jubilee Year for Singapore, and which also saw the passing of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, which moved Singaporeans deeply, and contributed to the PAP securing a better result than most had anticipated then.

The WP pulled off the biggest upset, with its slate of mostly fresh faces in the newly carved out Sengkang GRC securing 52.13 per cent of the vote. Speaking at a press conference at close to 4am, Mr Singh thanked voters for supporting the party and said it will not let the results "get over our heads, as there was much work to do".

The key battleground seats in the east and the west proved to be close calls. Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, whose last-minute tactical switch to East Coast GRC caught most by surprise, pulled in 53.4 per cent of the votes, down from the 60.7 per cent the party managed in 2015. This was a tad down from the 54.8 per cent the PAP secured in 2011.

Over in the west, the keenly watched contest for West Coast GRC proved to be a nail biter, with the PAP holding on to it, but narrowly, with 51.7 per cent of the votes.

Amid the ongoing outbreak, voters had to cast their ballots wearing masks, after sanitising their hands, and while keeping a safe distance from others. This caused some delays which led to long queues forming at several polling stations, prompting an extension of voting hours to 10pm and drawing protests from the opposition camp.

The PAP had sought a strong mandate to tackle the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. But in the end, in the face of the worst crisis to hit Singapore in many decades, most voters plumped for the party which has pulled Singapore through many a difficult moment in the past to take decisive charge, but without a blank cheque, as it shapes the country's response to the challenges to come.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Singapore GE2020: 5 questions with four political party leaders

PAP, WP, PSP and SDP chiefs speak on key issues like jobs, why voters should back them
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2020

Leaders from the four largest political parties - by number of seats contested - spoke on how they would address key issues like jobs, and why voters should support them, in a video launched by The Straits Times yesterday.

In the 5 Questions video, each party leader from the People's Action Party (PAP), Workers' Party (WP), Progress Singapore Party (PSP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) gave his take on a set of five questions posed to them.

They had up to three minutes to answer each of the following questions:

• What are the top three issues in GE2020, and why;

• How their party would secure jobs and livelihoods for Singaporeans;

• How they plan to address what they see as the main political and social changes arising from the COVID-19 crisis;

• How Singapore can best secure its place in the world amid changes taking place globally; and

• Why Singaporeans should vote for their party.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the PAP's secretary-general, said jobs and livelihoods are a main concern. WP secretary-general Pritam Singh and SDP chief Chee Soon Juan said likewise.

PM Lee said the pandemic has generated a "very deep recession", and while Singapore has taken steps to protect jobs and incomes, the situation will get worse before it takes a turn for the better.

"We have to be able to protect the jobs and keep our economy intact so that we can recover again and people can see through this time," he said.

Dr Chee said the economy has taken a "big whack" as a result of the pandemic. It is important to introduce a retrenchment benefit scheme so that there is a safety net for workers, he added.

The influx of foreign workers also suppresses locals' wages, he said.

WP's Mr Singh, meanwhile, noted the Government's plans to create 100,000 jobs and training opportunities this year through the National Jobs Council.

A key question to ask will be whether these opportunities will lead to a transfer of skills to Singaporeans over time, especially for high-end jobs, he said.

PSP chief Tan Cheng Bock said keeping the COVID-19 situation under control is the top priority, as this has further implications for jobs and the economy if left unchecked.

"(If) the (COVID-19) numbers are high, I don't think all these attempts to... get people to come here and also along with it the jobs, the investments, will be happening," he said, because there would be a lack of trust and confidence in the system.

On why Singaporeans should vote for his party, PM Lee said Singaporeans can trust the PAP, which has "never let you down" and will offer Singaporeans security for the future.

"For 15 years I have been PM, I have done my best to serve you. In the last term, you gave us a strong mandate. And we have delivered on that," he said.

PM Lee added that COVID-19 and the economic downturn will not be going away any time soon. "And unless we have good leadership from the PAP, I think we will be in a much weaker position."

Mr Singh said the WP represents a constructive opposition in Parliament. "We don't see the PAP as the enemy," he said, adding that the WP wants a Singapore with good outcomes for the country and for Singaporeans.

"We will have to work hard for those outcomes, but we feel that a diversity of voices in Parliament is critical for that to take place."

Dr Chee reiterated the SDP's Four Yes, One No campaign slogan, which includes saying yes to a payout to help retirees meet basic needs and yes to the PAP putting the people's interest first, and making sure they do not "capitalise and manipulate the system in their interest".

Dr Tan said he and the PSP's candidates will stand strongly by the fundamental principles of accountability, transparency and ensuring the independence of appointments of leaders, especially in the civil service.

PM Lee concluded that eventually, the COVID-19 crisis will pass, and attention will then turn again to building a better life for Singaporeans.

"And that means plans. That means resolution. That means resourcefulness and unity, to navigate the uncertainty and to go through together.

"That requires leadership from the Government and unity and support from the people which underlies all three things: lives, jobs, future."

Singapore GE2020 News and Online Rallies

GE2020: Tharman sets out plans for a more united Singapore

Social mobility remains the key, but Govt and community must take responsibility for all
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 8 Jul 2020

Singapore can emerge from the COVID-19 crisis as a better and more inclusive society, which allows everyone to move up an escalator of rising skills and wages to better lives, said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

To do so, the Government would have to play a key role, making deeper interventions earlier, to help level up children from less fortunate families from an earlier stage in their lives.

There would also be more help for workers to boost their productivity so that they continue to see their skills and wages move up over the years, said the Coordinating Minister for Social Policies.

While government policies are important, Singapore should retain a social ethos where people take pride in standing on their own feet, while also taking responsibility for one another, he said.

In a speech on strategies for an inclusive society and social mobility, live-streamed on the People's Action Party's Facebook page yesterday, he outlined Singapore's particular approach towards tackling inequality and ensuring security through every stage of life - from early childhood to working life to the retirement years.

"The aim of all our strategies, economic and social, is to have a more fair and just society, where young people have hope, regardless of what social backgrounds they come from... where everyone can advance in their careers regardless of what qualifications they start with, and where our seniors can look forward to living life fully in retirement, and living life with a sense of security," said Mr Tharman.

Stressing that the COVID-19 outbreak had made this a more important issue, since it was "fracturing societies", he said this goal could be achieved only through programmes that could be sustained across generations.

"This is about real programmes - real programmes that we keep improving, learning over time what works. Never perfect, but constant improvement."

Since social mobility is key to Singapore's fabric, and most inequalities kick in when children are very young, the Government is levelling the playing field with plans to double expenditure in the pre-school sector over the next few years, said Mr Tharman.

It is also preventing a digital divide by ensuring that every child, no matter how poor, has access to broadband Internet and a laptop or computer at home. "We are achieving real progress, but there's a lot more to do," he added.

For those in working life, Mr Tharman highlighted another Singaporean approach that has stood it in good stead: "a massive infusion of skills at every stage of one's career".

Singapore has also managed to keep unemployment numbers much lower than those in other developed countries even during the COVID-19 crisis. The wages of its average worker have risen by a third over the past decade. The wages of low-income workers have risen by even more.

"Fundamentally, because we have raised productivity," said Mr Tharman.

Finally, he touched on the issue of security for seniors.

Mr Tharman said that in every election, there will be politicians who make "very nice-sounding promises" on what should be done to help seniors, including for Central Provident Fund payouts to start earlier or for the Government to pay more of Singaporeans' healthcare costs, such as by subsidising MediShield premiums.

But many of these measures will only end up hurting the very people they are trying to help, he added, resulting in higher tax rates for middle-income households, because nothing comes for free.

"Some promises look appealing, but they actually lead to greater inequality over time," he said. "Think hard about the need for a fair system, a progressive system, and a sustainable system. And that's basically what we're trying to achieve in Singapore."

People have to play their part, too, he said. Singapore could emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic a more inclusive society if everyone finds a way to help others, whether they are the elderly, the less privileged or the less educated.

He urged the younger generation to be more involved in their neighbourhoods and in society, and take part in the Singapore Together movement, which Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat launched last year for citizens to actively help shape policies.

"For our younger generation, in particular, this is actually a challenge for a generation: building an inclusive society, that doesn't just mimic efforts in other societies, but does it our way - does it in a way that doesn't impose a heavy burden on Singaporeans at large," he said.

"It's not about the Government; it's about Singapore Together. Find your niche, find your passion, the areas you want to work in. And let's help spiral up our whole system, our whole society," he urged.

"It can be done. We can emerge from COVID not more divided, but with a more cohesive society."

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

GE2020: Fullerton Lunchtime Rally online with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

Singapore needs capable govt with full support of people, says PM Lee
Country at critical stage in its history amid virus crisis, in high-stakes election, he says
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 7 Jul 2020

Singapore is at a critical juncture in its history as it tackles the challenges from COVID-19 and a weakened global economy, and needs a capable government with the full support of a united people to get through the present crisis, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

"Hardly ever in our history have the stakes been higher than now. We are in the middle of a crisis, but as tough as the past months have been, our biggest challenges lie ahead of us.

"This is what this election is about - whom do you trust to get you through the very difficult times ahead?"

He was speaking yesterday at an online lunchtime rally, which the PAP has traditionally held near Fullerton Square at about the halfway point of every election campaign. Started by founding secretary-general Lee Kuan Yew in 1959, the Fullerton rally was held online this year due to COVID-19.

PM Lee's message to Singaporeans was that they should not undermine a system that has served them well.

Investors, friends and adversaries of Singapore alike will be watching Friday's election closely, he noted, and the stakes are high.

With under three days left in the campaign, PM Lee posed this question to Singaporeans: "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?"

Yesterday's rally was PM Lee's seventh Fullerton rally since he entered politics in 1984, and his ninth general election so far.

In the years since, he said, the Government has had to contend with challenges such as the Asian financial crisis of 1997 to 1998; the Sept 11, 2001 terror attack, and the Jemaah Islamiah terror threat; the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003; and the global financial crisis of 2007 to 2009.

"Each was a grave challenge. Each time, we worried about the worst happening to us but each time, the Government led from the front, Singaporeans rallied together, and we pulled through," he said.

He gave a detailed account of the Government's response to the COVID-19 crisis, adding that without a team of capable ministers working closely together, Singapore would not have been able to implement all the measures it took to stop COVID-19 from spreading, and would have lost the confidence of Singaporeans.

PM Lee said those involved had to decide and act urgently "in the fog of war", based on incomplete information.

"We have managed to get to this stage not by chance, but by dint of immense effort. Crucial decisions had to be made. It was the ministers who made these decisions and are accountable for them."

In comparison, he said, the opposition has said nothing about how to tackle the pandemic: "They have been completely silent on how to tackle COVID-19 during the last six months, and in this election campaign.

"What contribution will they make in Parliament, adding 'contrast' to the discussions, if they get elected as MPs? What will happen to Singapore, if they form the government?"

He also questioned their ability to get the country out of the downturn, grow the economy, or create new jobs.

"They prattle on about a minimum wage, or a universal basic income. These are fashionable peacetime slogans, not serious wartime plans," he said.

"How will a minimum wage help somebody who is unemployed? It will just add costs to employers, and pressure them to drop even more workers.

"Do you really want to vote for parties who in a crisis come up with nothing better than old recycled manifestos?"

In comparison, the Government has rolled out four Budgets since February totalling nearly $100 billion, and drawing up to $52 billion from past reserves.

It has given help systematically, such as through the Jobs Support Scheme which subsidises wages so that firms can retain workers, and extra support for households and the self-employed.

Emergency legislation was also passed for rental and contract waivers - an "unprecedented move", said PM Lee.

But the emergency relief cannot be sustained indefinitely, and the more fundamental solution is to turn around the economy and attract more investments, so that more jobs can be created.

To do so, maintaining companies' confidence in Singapore is critical, he said, adding that everything the country has gone through since the beginning of the year has made clear just how important a good government is to fighting the virus, supporting the economy, and getting out of this crisis intact.

He pledged that he will steer Singapore through the current crisis alongside senior Cabinet colleagues and the fourth-generation ministers, even as the PAP ensures there is continual leadership renewal.

"You have my word: Together with my older colleagues like (Senior Ministers) Teo Chee Hean and Tharman Shanmugaratnam, as well as the 4G ministers, I will see this through," he said.

"I am determined to hand over Singapore, intact and in good working order, to the next team."

But to get through the crisis, he would need the help of the strongest team he could muster to work with him, as well as with Singaporeans.

"I also need full support from all of you."

He concluded: "At this critical moment, Singapore needs a capable government, with the full support of a united people, more than ever."

Monday, 6 July 2020

Report symptoms of COVID-19 to a doctor

Singapore wasn't the first country to ease COVID-19 restrictions; we took our time and cautiously entered into phases one and two of our reopening only after being sure that we were ready.

This will help us as we can learn lessons from other societies that have reopened, such as Beijing, Melbourne and Seoul.

I believe a second wave of infections is inevitable. If we accept this premise, we can then look into the potential causes of this second wave. I posit that the most likely cause of a second wave is residents being infected with the coronavirus and not reporting their symptoms to a doctor, perhaps fearing that if the number of cases in the community suddenly goes up, Singapore will reinstate circuit breaker measures.

People may mask their symptoms with over-the-counter drugs to quell their fever and herbal remedies to soothe their cough. This will trick the system in place to prevent sick individuals from spreading the virus, but will not trick the virus.

Some of them may never know they have the virus and continue to spread it in the community - this is not what we want.

I urge individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 to seek medical care immediately.

It takes maturity to cancel plans with friends and family to prevent the virus from spreading to our loved ones.

It's imperative that we remain socially responsible and keep our community safe from this unforgiving virus.

Harsh Hiwase, 19
Full-time national serviceman
ST Forum, 6 Jul 2020

Sunday, 5 July 2020

GE2020: Half-time-report

Singapore GE2020: 6 key election issues, from jobs, COVID-19 to population
Insight looks at six issues that have surfaced as the campaign for GE2020 enters Day 6 today, 5 July 2020

Safeguarding Singaporeans' jobs in a crisis
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 5 Jul 2020

With a global recession looming, political parties made their case for how they would keep Singaporeans in jobs and tackle unemployment.

The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has put jobs front and centre of its election messaging, making it a key prong of its manifesto titled, Our Lives, Our Jobs, Our Future.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed out that the Economic Development Board was able to attract $13 billion in new investments in the first quarter of this year, which will generate several thousand jobs over the next few years. In a video message on Wednesday, he said this was possible because investors know the Singapore Government has strong popular support and can get backing for "policies that will grow the economy, attract talent and investment, and eventually create jobs for Singaporeans".

"In a crisis, it is even more critical for us to reinforce these fundamentals, in order to attract more investments and jobs to Singapore," he added.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo disclosed last Friday that 12,000 have been placed in new jobs under the SGUnited Jobs Initiative since March, as part of the Government's efforts to create more opportunities for work and traineeships amid the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic.

Jobs was also a central topic in a live debate last Wednesday.

Workers' Party (WP) candidate Jamus Lim highlighted the party's proposals for a national minimum take-home wage of $1,300 a month for full-time work, as well as a redundancy insurance scheme.

The scheme would see workers pay $4 a month, matched by employers, into an Employment Security Fund, and retrenched workers would receive a payout equivalent to 40 per cent of their last-drawn salary for up to six months, capped at $1,200 a month.

Progress Singapore Party (PSP) candidate Francis Yuen said Singaporeans have to get priority in jobs, by freeing up jobs held by foreign professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

"We believe that we need foreign PMETs to complement, but we need to believe that there is opportunity for us to slow it down," he said. On small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), he highlighted the need for them to thrive and prosper, to keep jobs available to Singaporeans.

MOM's Mrs Teo later said that the Government has taken pains to ensure Singaporean jobs are protected, by tightening foreign worker policies over the years. The schemes rolled out in the recent Budgets were specifically targeted to offer wage support for Singaporeans, signalling to employers that they should hold on to their local workers, while shedding foreign workers if need be.


The PAP's Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who is also Foreign Minister, said job security is at the forefront of PAP's campaign. Citing the Jobs Support Scheme, which subsidises wages so that firms can retain workers, he said the Government was in effect paying three-quarters of the median wage of Singaporeans during the circuit breaker.

He also pointed to measures such as the income relief scheme for the self-employed and the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package that will create 100,000 opportunities in the form of jobs, traineeships and paid skills training places.

He said: "(We have provided) emergency treatment and are looking beyond the horizon. And that's what we have been focused on - jobs, jobs, jobs."

How to have a good, long life with CPF

Those who put more in CPF LIFE and defer payouts till 70 will have more cash each month
By Tan Ooi Boon, Invest Editor, The Sunday Times, 5 Jul 2020

The longer you keep your money in the Central Provident Fund (CPF), the more you will earn because of its high interest rate. This is why more Singaporeans are trying to keep their funds for a longer period in this safe haven.

No wonder the CPF Board has to do more to get eligible members to start collecting payouts when they hit 65. At that age, members can start receiving monthly payouts under CPF LIFE, the Board's longevity insurance scheme. But many choose not to ask for the payouts.

Although members get reminders six months before their 65th birthday, about 60 per cent let their funds stay in their CPF accounts.

And even after four more rounds of yearly reminders, half of those reaching 70 still do nothing.

To solve this problem, the Board now automatically disburses the funds the moment members hit 70.

While it tries to help vulnerable seniors who may not understand the scheme, many do not want to get their payouts at 65 as they will gain even more with each passing year.

Some of these retirees are likely to be savvy investors or even professionals who are still working. Indeed, a few wrote to Invest to ask whether they can pay into a second CPF LIFE account!

As they are still enjoying a steady flow of income, they choose to receive their CPF LIFE payouts only from 70. They can receive up to 7 per cent higher payouts for each year they defer their payouts.

Take a member who plans to set aside the maximum retirement amount of $288,000 in 2022. If he takes the payout at 65, he will get an estimated $2,400 a month. But if he does so at 70, he will get over $3,200.

Just like the tortoise that wins the race with the rabbit in the children's fable, members who start receiving their payouts later in life will slowly catch up and get even more.

Imagine a couple with two sets of such payments - they will have over $6,000 to spend every month just from CPF LIFE. This alone can pay for a comfortable retirement, leaving aside cash savings they are likely to have as well.

The reason CPF LIFE is the best longevity insurance scheme that money can buy is because it is backed by the Government. Unlike some other plans that may end after a number of years, the CPF LIFE payment will continue as long as you live, even beyond 100.

This is good news for future generations of seniors as their average life expectancy is likely to go up. As it is, about a third of today's 65-year-olds are expected to live beyond 90.

Also, unlike private annuities that may cost over $1 million for similar payouts, the threshold for CPF LIFE is far lower. This is possible because the "premium" that you set aside for CPF LIFE will continue to earn up to 6 per cent minimum interest.

The monthly payouts will first come out of your CPF LIFE premium. When your own premium is depleted, you will continue to receive the monthly payouts from the interest that you have accumulated within your plan, as well as the interest from the CPF LIFE pool.

You should go to the CPF website and use its very informative CPF LIFE "estimator" to see the patterns of monthly payouts based on the retirement sums you have set aside.

This interactive tool is only a guide and the results do not reflect the actual payout that members will get, due to their varied profiles.

But it does give a very insightful peek into the three CPF LIFE payout plans that you can choose to have when you hit 65.