Governance of a City-State
[The Angle] The road to GE2015: Weekly Round-up (5 – 9 September 2015)

During the final five days of the nine-day campaign period, the People’s Action Party (PA) held 18 rallies and the opposition held 31 rallies. These were the key themes that emerged.


“Insurance Policy”

During the Worker’s Party (WP) East Coast GRC rally on 6 September, Ms Sylvia Lim, WP chairman called on voters to view the WP as their “insurance policy” for Singaporeans. Said Ms Lim: “The only way Singaporeans can protect their future is to buy an insurance policy – build up another party to take over if PAP fails”. She called on voters there to help “reinforce and renew the ranks of the WP in Parliament” by supporting the younger team comprising Gerald Giam, Leon Perera, Mohamed Fairoz Shariff and Daniel Goh.

On the PAP’s view that having more opposition MPs in Parliament would result in an unstable Singapore, she said “the PAP has got it wrong – with diverse political representation, Singapore will not be weaker, and instead we will be stronger”.

PM Lee Hsien Loong, Secretary General of the PAP responded on 8 September saying “insurance is good but you must buy the right insurance from the right company and the right policy”. He went to say: “But if your insurance company is an opposition party, no track record – or worse, don’t know how to handle money, not interested in you, it only wants your commission – then you pay your premium now, you feel okay, but when one day you run into trouble and you look for the insurance company to pay out – then you know you’re in trouble.”

PM Lee added that the argument put out by the opposition parties that the Government had done a good job because voters elected for the opposition was “perverse” and “upside down”. This, he said, would lead to a strengthened but incapable opposition.

Gerald Giam of the WP responded to PM Lee’s comments during a walkabout at a market in New Upper Changi Road on 9 September saying “you don’t buy insurance policies when you meet with an accident. You buy insurance policies before you get sick, before you meet with an accident. So we want to inform the voters that it is important to build up a credible, responsible opposition party while we have the time, and not when the ruling party has lost the support of the people”.


Changing the Guiding Principles for Governance

At the WP Rally on 6 September, Leon Perera gave a speech where he said the PAP government lacked humility; it was not able to admit to the policy mistakes of the past that led to “the lost decade before the 2011 general election”. He referred to problems caused by the influx of immigrants into Singapore as a “massive failure of planning”.

Mr Perera also said that the PAP’s manifesto was “backward-looking” with a focus on the past 50 years without any vision for the future and was expecting Singaporeans to have “blind faith” in it.

Mr Perera shared the four guiding principles that the WP would abide by:

  1. Balance instead of dominance.
  2. Passionate striving for improvement instead of complacency.
  3. Admitting mistakes and preventing their recurrence instead of pretending that there were no mistakes.
  4. Humility instead of arrogance.


The Cruise Ship Analogy

During a walkabout at Aljunied GRC on 6 September, Emeritus Senior Minister (ESM) Goh Chok Tong advised residents of Aljunied GRC to vote for their best interest and a team that will serve them, rather than feel the burden of providing opposition parliamentarians for the country.

He likened voting to choosing a cruise ship to travel on in the sense that, “(i)f you go with the PAP, you’re embarking on a cruise ship with a definite destination, you know the path it will take, you know the captain, the crew members, you know the quality,” he said.

On the other hand, he likened voting for the opposition choosing a cruise to nowhere. “If you’re a gambler, then of course you take the casino ship. But if you’re not a gambler and you worry about your children’s future, you’ll take the other ship,” he said.

In response, Low Thia Khiang, Secretary General of the WP, likened the PAP to the Titanic. In a reply to reporters on 7 September, he said: “I’m afraid the cruise ship is over capacity limit. It used to be a luxury cruise ship. The designer claimed that it’s not sinkable. The name is Titanic.” He added: “There are not enough lifeboats, no preparations or provisions for failure”.

ESM Goh responded to Mr Low in a Facebook post that evening saying: “Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. The PAP cruised over 50 years under three captains. All on board are safe.”

At WP’s Aljunied rally on 8 September, several candidates  capitalised on the cruise ship metaphor to make points about leadership and population policy. WP’s Chen Show Mao said: “Mr Goh says the Opposition’s ship has no destination. I want to tell him; PAP’s ship is moving towards a direction – in the next 15 years, the population will be 6.9 million.” He then added “The WP believes in the next 15 years, out of every ten people, six must be citizens. We think this is a better direction to go towards.” Finally, Mr Chen commented: “If you’re a ship’s captain, you have the right to lead the ship. (But) it’s our responsibility to tell you when you should change direction. We also have the responsibility of partnering alongside you, so the ship can cruise safely and we can reach our destination safely.”

Mr Low also weighed in by saying that in the last 50 years, the PAP government’s leaders have taken a luxury cruise ship, while “Singaporeans have taken a sampan”. This was in relation with his party’s claim that the PAP’s policies have failed to address issues facing the average Singaporean, such as the cost of living.

Finally, Png Eng Huat, candidate for Hougang Single Member Constituency (SMC), pointed out that contrary to ESM Goh’s claim that the WP was like a casino ship; the WP in 2005 had in fact opposed the Casino Control Act. “So, we are not on that ship – that ship belongs to PAP,” Mr Png said. He also added that the captain and chief office were “overpaid”, and the WP was here to “change crew”.


The Tharman Controversy

At a PAP rally on 5 September, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Assistant Secretary General of the party addressed criticism from the opposition that the Government is not generous enough when it comes to social spending.

DPM’s message was that “nothing is free, and there are trade-offs involved for countries which seem to have a more egalitarian system”. He also debunked the myth that increased social spending could be funded by the reserves, thus avoiding any increase in taxes. In fact, he said: “We are already maxing out the investment income from our reserves… there is no more money left there that you can just take without compromising the next generation”. He also dismissed talk by the opposition that the government may raise taxes after the election, labelling such claims as “scaremongering”.

At a lunchtime rally on 7 September, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) candidate Paul Tambyah praised the DPM as “the most brilliant of our current ministers”.  He added “many of us in the alternative parties hope that one day DPM Tharman will have a falling out with the Prime Minister (Lee Hsien Loong) and will come out to lead a grand coalition of opposition parties – Pakatan Rakyat Singapura – to present a real alternative to the current PAP government.” This,  despite him disagreeing with Mr Tharman’s take on the SDP’s economic and healthcare proposals.

In response, the PAP team for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC said that Professor Tambyah’s comments were “irresponsible”. Candidate there, Christopher De Souza said: “Do you think that seeking division in Cabinet is a responsible desire? Is hoping for discord among Cabinet a responsible thing to see? I tell you, it is a serious misjudgement to desire such discord.”

The anchor candidate in the GRC for the PAP, Vivian Balakrishnan said  the SDP candidate’s comments “reveals the mentality, the mindset and the attitude they have to politics”. He added “I have just one message to send to the SDP: in the PAP, we do not have the tradition of backstabbing our mentors. Why?… In the PAP, it’s not about you, it’s about Singapore. You will not get this kind of behaviour and thinking in the PAP.”


On Foreign Manpower

At the PAP’s lunchtime rally on 8 September, Lim Swee Say, Minister of Manpower touched on the issue of foreign manpower to highlight how the government had addressed the issue since GE2011.

He said that the foreign worker numbers had been trimmed significantly – the annual increase of Employment Pass and S-Pass holders had fallen by 70 per cent since measures were announced in the 2010 Budget. The drop in the annual increase of Employment Pass Holders was even more drastic, from a high of 30,000 a year, to an average of only 1,000 a year in the past three years –a 90 per cent reduction.

Mr Lim said these measures to tighten the inflow of foreign workers have been effective – the Singaporean core is holding steady in the workforce, at a ratio of 2:1 and if the workers in construction industry that is shunned by Singaporeans are excluded, the ratio would stand at 3:1.

Mr Lim also said that companies that were “double- weak” – those that did not have a strong Singaporean core and did not do enough to nurture Singaporean PMEs – would face continued scrutiny from the government.

Another priority of the government had also been to speed up the transfer of knowledge and expertise from foreign PMEs to Singaporean PMEs, so that local workers could to drive Singapore’s economy in the future. Leadership development in Singaporean employees would be crucial for that, and the SkillsFuture initiative could help with with that.


Table 1: Total number of rallies held during the nine-day campaigning period.


For more updates and analyses on GE2015, please click here.

For more publications by the Politics and Governance cluster, please click here.

Top photo by Bernice Wong from

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