SINGAPORE: Every vote counts as Singapore heads to the polls on Friday (Jul 10), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, calling the 2020 ballot a “critical election” amid the “crisis of a generation” that is COVID-19.
“The PAP will do our best, but we cannot do it alone,” Mr Lee, PAP’s secretary-general, said in a party political broadcast on Thursday night.
“In a critical election like this one, every vote counts. We need the support of every Singaporean. Not just to return the PAP to government. But also to give it a strong mandate, to empower it to act decisively on your behalf and steer the country towards better days ahead.”
Mr Lee reiterated that this year’s General Election is “unlike any other we have experienced in our history”, as COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly around the world.
“Our economy has been badly hit, though the full economic impact of the outbreak is still ahead of us,” he said.
“We need a strong and capable Government. Not only to take decisive action to prevent another major outbreak, but also to save businesses and jobs, which is at the top of everyone’s minds.”
Mr Lee said while the PAP has “concrete plans and ideas” to achieve these objectives, it needs a strong mandate from Singaporeans to put them into action.
The Government is doing everything it can to save jobs, Mr Lee said, calling it a “top priority”.
READ: Fortitude Budget: S$2.9 billion to boost and extend Jobs Support Scheme; SMEs to get more rental relief
For instance, he said, the Jobs Support Scheme helps businesses hold on to Singaporean workers, while loans and rental waivers help companies, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, keep afloat and manage cash flow.
“So far, these and other measures have helped keep workers employed, and staved off retrenchments,” he said.
But Mr Lee said it will take time to turn Singapore’s economy around, warning people to brace for more job losses as the global recession drags on in the coming months.
“We may not be able to save every job, but we will help every worker,” he said. “Those who have been affected are already receiving support from the Government.”
READ: Fortitude Budget: Additional S$800 million set aside for COVID-19 Support Grant; S$100 one-off utilities credit
Mr Lee pointed to the COVID-19 Support Grant for those who have seen a significant drop in income, and the Self-Employed Income Relief Scheme for self-employed or gig economy workers.
“For now, these and other schemes will tide our workers over, and help you meet your daily needs as you get back on your feet,” he said.
For workers who have lost their jobs, Mr Lee said a PAP-led Government will do its best to help them find new ones.
The Government is setting up satellite career centres in every town to organise job fairs and provide career matching services, he said, with the first eight centres already up and running.
“We are heavily funding training to help workers pick up new skills, which will help them move to other sectors,” he said. “If you are willing to put in the effort, a PAP Government will support you all the way. Be of good heart.”
Mr Lee said a PAP Government will also aim to create new opportunities in the form of 100,000 new jobs and training positions in the coming year, three times the usual number.
These include 15,000 jobs in the public sector and traineeships targeted at workers in their 40s and 50s, as well as fresh graduates entering the “difficult job market”, he said.
“It is not easy to create new jobs in a deep recession, but we are determined to succeed,” he added.
Mr Lee touted the success of the country’s tripartite system, calling it the “secret of (Singapore’s) economic success since the early days of independence”.
He said Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is leading the National Jobs Council that will bring together job-related efforts across unions, business associations and the Government to multiply their impact.
The National Trades Union Congress is also is working through Company Training Committees in many firms, to identify the skills that workers need, company by company, to ensure efforts are “tailored and effective”, he said.
“Our tripartite partnership … will once again be key to our recovery.”
To create new and better jobs, Mr Lee said Singapore must continue to attract new investments.
Despite the pandemic and global recession, he highlighted that the Economic Development Board (EDB) has already secured S$13 billion in new investments, exceeding its usual annual volume.
“These investments will create several thousand jobs in the next few years, taking us one important step closer to recovery,” he said.
READ: GE2020: Maintaining Singapore's high reputation among investors a 'matter of survival', says PM Lee
Mr Lee said EDB could do this because investors have confidence in Singapore and value Singaporean workers as they are skilled, hardworking, multilingual and disciplined.
Investors also know the Government is of high quality, comprising an “honest, competent civil service led by first-rate ministers”, he said, and that investors admire Singapore’s social compact, with the Government and Singaporeans working hand in hand.
“Potential investors, and others too, are watching our election closely,” he added.
“They will want to know if Singapore still has what it takes to sustain our edge, especially in a crisis. In this crisis election, we must show the world that Singaporeans understand what our survival depends on.”
PREPARING FOR A DIFFERENT FUTURE
But the PAP must look to the future even as it tackles immediate challenges, Mr Lee said, pointing out that the pandemic and recession will one day be over and Singapore must be ready to resume its journey “onward and upward”.
“Hence, we will press on with restructuring and upgrading our economy, and re-skilling and up-skilling our workforce,” he said. “This will help our people adapt to the uncertainties ahead, seize new opportunities and improve their lives.”
READ: GE2020: PAP launches manifesto focusing on jobs, economy and keeping lives safe amid COVID-19 pandemic
Beyond economic prosperity, Mr Lee said Singaporeans have broader ambitions for the nation.
“We aspire to be a harmonious society, with full opportunities for all, where the human spirit can flourish. A more inclusive society, where we support those who need help, and every Singaporean feels they have a stake in the future,” he said.
“We want to be a community where Singaporeans believe that their children will have better lives than they did.”
Mr Lee said the PAP has plans to improve Singapore’s education system to bring out the best in every child; make healthcare more accessible and affordable, especially for the elderly; build new Housing Board towns and parks, new MRT lines and a new downtown on the waterfront; and prepare for climate change, which he termed “an existential threat to our little island”.
“In time to come, all these should be part of a better Singapore that we pass on to the next generation,” he stated.
To get there, Mr Lee circled back and said Singapore must first make it through the immediate crisis, even as “we do not know how the next few years will unfold”.
“But we give ourselves the best chance of success if we rally together, choose a competent, experienced and committed team to lead the country, and then give it our full support,” he said.
“We need leaders who care for Singaporeans, with experience and ideas to keep Singapore going, come what may. We also need Singaporeans who care for our country, and will work together with their leaders to secure it in the crisis, and beyond.”
READ: High stakes in GE2020 amid COVID-19 crisis, with biggest challenges lying ahead: PM Lee in virtual rally
Mr Lee said the PAP and Singapore are no strangers to adversity, adding that the party fought with the Pioneer Generation through independence and separation, then worked with the Merdeka Generation to take Singapore from Third World to First.
“Now, we are facing the crisis of a generation. Whether we rise to this challenge will determine Singapore’s future,” he said.
“As you go to the polls tomorrow, I ask you once again to put your trust in the PAP. Vote PAP, to secure our lives, our jobs, our future.”