Editors' Note: PN Balji hits the nail on the head with unambiguous terms such as "open(ing) the floodgates to foreigners", "over-crowding ... everywhere", "instant help, not delayed help". His candid observation of the likely positive impact of the "born-again citizens" (Singapore government called them NEW citizens) on the poll is thought-provoking, however the same policy may also backfire back at the ruling party in the coming election in 2011/12. Will 2011/12 Singapore election be the watershed year for local politics after the long dominant reign by the ruling PAP party for the last 40 years? My personal take is it may just be.
After giving the topic some thought, I concluded that is something I should leave to the politicians to grapple with.
Then a friend suggested: Why not turn it around and ask what the voters are likely to consider as they get ready to go to the ballot box?
Even for a country that has just above 2 million voters at the last count and a generally predictable population, there are so many strands in society that make a subject like this an uphill climb. Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew identifies these different strands this way in his new book, Hard Truths: Working class, lower middle class, middle class, upper middle class, the entrepreneurs and the very wealthy.
Then there are a myriad of sub-divisions: Singles, older people, younger people, new citizens.
Despite these diverse divisions, observations of what is being said in newspaper reports, blogs and conversations, three groups emerge as those who are likely to make a statement at the polls.
THE PAT-ON-THE-BACK GROUP:
This is the group that believes in the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) system and its track record. They have benefitted from a political and economic management of a country that has even taken some critics by surprise.
Some in this group feel somewhat stifled occasionally and may not agree with every Government action (like the decision to open the floodgates to foreigners) but they know which side their bread is buttered.
This group is strengthened by a growing group of foreigners who are taking up Singapore citizenship. I refer to them as born again citizens. Having experienced life elsewhere, they see that the Singapore grass is definitely greener. It is much safer, much more comfortable, much easier to make money and much easier to feel at home here.
And they are rabidly pro-Singapore, more so than the born-and-bred citizens. You do not have to guess what they will consider when it comes to deciding who they should vote for.
The DOWN-IN-THE-DUMP GROUP
They are the ones most affected by the forces of globalisation.
Despite various efforts by the Government to give them a leg-up, they are struggling to make ends meet. The last recession and the influx of foreigners have made their lot worse.
Dysfunctional families, those with aged and mentally-ill relatives to take care of and those caught in a hopeless trap of a money-not-enough situation look for instant help, not delayed help. Imagine what voters caught in this edge-of-the-cliff plight will do when they go to vote. The chances of emotion over-riding reason will be high.
THE PIN-PRICK GROUP
They are educated, have choices and expect zero-defect from their ministers, MPs and civil servants.
Many of them are single-issue voters. I asked one such voter, a 40-something carefree single what were the election issues she had at the back of her mind. "I am fed up with the over-crowding I see nearly every where. The trains, the markets, the gym, the cinema halls ... they are all crowded. There are days when I just don't feel like going out," she said.
Another single voter wants zero defect from her Government. She gave the example of a grassroots problem that has cropped up in her estate. She was very thankful that her MP was trying very hard to settle the issue but added: "The problem should not have happened at all. It shows that the Government agencies involved failed to anticipate the residents' unhappiness early enough and solve it."
Both want the PAP in power but if they get a chance to vote and if they think the opposition has a credible set of candidates in their GRCs, they may be prepared to give them a chance.
How many voters are there in these three groups? How they are spread out and in which areas?
How many will actually get the chance to vote? And, finally, where will the pin fall? There are other imponderables.
The last General Election in 2006 showed up two: The dangling of carrots (Hougang and Potong Pasir) and the incessant attacks on a political figure (James Gomez in Aljunied) put off many and they showed their opposition at the ballot box. Both instances reveal that even in Oasis Singapore, you can never know what issue will catch fire during the heat of the hustings and how voters will react.
P N Balji is the director of the Asia Journalism Fellowship, a joint initiative of Temasek Foundation and NTU.
Editor's Note: The following article gives quite a rather neutral and good summary of the ups and downs of Singapore politics over the last 5 years. For the general Singaporeans, are we having more good years compared to the last election? The question seems to be not so judging by the many complaints caused by the mismangement of the immigration issues over the last few years.
Singapore gears up for the polls
It was an unmistakable battle-cry to rally the troops.
When Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed the People's Action Party (PAP) at its annual conference (picture) on Nov 28 last year, he left no doubt that the ruling party was about to kick into high gear for the coming elections.
Citing the good economic performance in 2010, Mr Lee then said: "We have good plans and that's what we should be going into the elections for - to mobilise people to support these plans."
While the road map ahead may have been visualised last year by the Economic Strategies Committee, the work to get Singapore on the move has only just begun.
Come February, when the Budget is delivered and the ministries announce their latest policies, Singaporeans will have a clearer idea of the route the Government has in mind for the country.
It could be a matter of months after that when Singapore votes, with those plans fresh on the plate for all to consider.
The big question left is: What will Singapore be voting for?
Cost of living
Bread-and-butter issues are a staple in every Singapore election. When you have children to bring up, parents to support and a rat race to run, it should be no surprise that cost of living will be one of three key themes in the coming general election, which must be held by February 2012.
Last month's inflation figures - at 3.8 per cent, the highest since January 2009 - could be a timely reminder of this. Transport and accommodation costs were on the march all year.
For the former, the latest escalation in car prices has been making waves recently. But one suspects that Certificate of Entitlement (COE) prices will hardly cause a ripple at the elections. Another "C" may be the reason for that: Congestion.
There is a growing sense that there are too many cars on the road. Besides, COE premiums have not commanded a premium at the hustings after the first time the quota scheme was introduced in 1990.
Housing, on the other hand, has and is likely to continue to do so.
The only difference this time is that, compared to recent elections, housing has truly become a cost of living issue.
Where once Singaporeans were told starkly that a vote for the PAP was a vote for upgrading - otherwise, do not complain about living conditions - and what that meant for housing values, rising property prices are now the prickly problem.
Home ownership is firmly weaved into the Republic's political tapestry, just as it is surely part of the Singaporean dream. And though we may already be a nation of homeowners, even parents are fretting now about their children's chances of buying their own flat and starting a family early.
There is another issue related to cost of living that the ruling party and the Opposition look set to cross swords over: The gap between the wealthy and the less fortunate.
Cabinet ministers have already shown a willingness to enter the debate on whether Singapore should have a minimum wage policy. There will be more of such calls and policy suggestions from the Opposition.
While there can be many predicted and possible issues that could become a bone of contention during the elections, there is one that the Opposition will surely sink its teeth into.
Immigration has become so important that a National Population and Talent Division is being set up to oversee such policy issues. And in an open country such as Singapore - and with its ageing population - it may not be surprising if that division one day morphs into an entire ministry of its own.
At the elections, the question that could be asked and answered is how convinced the electorate is that Singaporeans have always and will always come first.
What will be intriguing is whether the Opposition will not just raise the issue as an emotional totem pole to rally for votes, but if it can also take on the subject on all fronts, from the logical and economic front to the nation-building and identity-seeking viewpoint that Singaporeans inhabit.
What would be welcome are debates, for example, on whether there should be a Citizens First policy on jobs, where employers are free to hire foreigners as long as they have proven that no citizen can do the job to the satisfaction of the company.
It is easy for immigration to become a talking point at the polls because it is an issue that Singaporeans confront on a daily basis - when they take crowded trains, when their estates have an influx of foreign construction workers and so on.
But whether it will emerge as the most important factor at the ballot box is another matter altogether. As a singular issue, it may capture attention. Will it also capture votes? The Opposition will certainly do better if it does not put all its eggs in one basket.
If the Opposition has already given indication, through recent political forums, what to expect from them at the elections, so has the PAP as well.
It was Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong who first said in October that the elections would unearth Singapore's potential fourth prime minister.
Mr Lee underscored this fourth generation theme at the PAP conference.
"We must induct new candidates with the potential to become ministers. And the new ones whom we'll bring in at the next election - they'll have to settle who'll be the next leader whom they'll work with and support and will take them and Singapore forward. It's an absolutely serious matter." he had said.
As a message to voters at the hustings, it will be one that is hard to dismiss: If you do not vote for this team, you could be losing a potential PM.
At the same time, the theme of leadership renewal is not new, as others have said. While the jury is still out on how many from the 2006 cohort may eventually be appointed to Cabinet, the 2001 elections most notably produced five ministers.
In 1997, two out of the 23 new candidates eventually were confirmed as ministers. In 1991 and the by-election of 1992, two future ministers were brought in - the same number as at the 1988 elections.
What can we expect from the Opposition then, apart from campaigning on policy differences?
There may be a clue. Some of the Opposition parties have already presented through the media some new candidates they have found: Ex-government scholars, working professionals, young and intelligent Singaporeans.
The Opposition will surely highlight the improvement in the calibre of its candidates. As a message to voters at the hustings, it will be intriguing: If you do not vote for the Opposition when it has never had a better team than now, you may kill off future hopes for the Opposition.
And there is no denying that the Opposition is in dire need of new leadership for the future. Mr Chiam See Tong has been in Parliament since 1984 and Mr Low Thia Khiang since 1991.
It certainly seems that the Opposition is going to field more candidates than ever before, burying for good the by-election strategy it once used to get Singaporeans to vote without fearing about toppling the PAP government.
What will the outcome be? That depends on what Singaporeans are voting for.
The writer is a senior editor at MediaCorp NewsHub.
* * * * *
Another good observation from a Todayonline.com reader:
Works there, why not here?
I AM worried. Despite the assortment of pro-family measures dished out by the Government over the years to address Singapore's low fertility rate, it continues to drop further ("S'pore grapples with low birth rate, integration", Dec 31).
While our total population is steadily increasing, we are aware that this is due mostly to the number of transient workers and immigrants who become Permanent Residents (PR). Singaporeans have groused about this massive influx of foreigners. The nub of their complaints is not only with the number, but also the quality, of the immigrants.
We can all agree that we need transient workers for jobs in sectors such as construction, food and beverage, and cleaning. Since these industries have been reluctant to increase wages or improve productivity, foreign labour seems to be the only option at the moment to meet manpower demands. What we need to be concerned about, however, are immigrants not working in these labour-intensive industries.
As a human resource practitioner, I have noticed that the quality of workers applying for and obtaining permanent residence has decreased over the years. In the past, when the Government was espousing the need for foreign talent to work here, start businesses and create jobs for Singaporeans, potential PR applicants had degrees, diplomas or higher-level certificates and/or a wealth of experience.
In the last six years, however, I have noticed that even workers with three O-Level credits are granted PR status once they have worked here for a year or two. Skilled as they may be, do they contribute to our economy by creating jobs or do they take jobs that can be done by locals? If only real foreign talents are given PR to work and stay here, and they do create jobs for the locals, then my guess is that most Singaporeans would not mind their growing numbers.
We need to worry about why we cannot arrest the decline in our fertility rate when pro-fertility measures implemented in other developed countries seem to work. In Australia, the goal is to reach a fertility rate of 2.1. Their current rate is 2.0 - impressive if you compare that to our dismal figure of 1.22 last year.
Australia has flexible working arrangements for employees, dating agencies for singles and a government-run baby bonus scheme for parents - which we also have in Singapore - yet theirs seem to work and ours do not. Why?
One contributor to the Today online forum puts it aptly with this analogy: When pandas in a forest are not reproducing themselves sufficiently, do you add other bears to the forest (where resources are scarce) and then expect the panda numbers to increase?
When we find that our spaces get more cramped, wages do not increase, modes of public transport are packed, jobs are threatened, housing options are becoming limited and their cost increased, et cetera, it does not take much to realise that these factors will impact our country's fertility rate.
In addition, our long working hours and demanding workloads are the main killers of fertility. Having better maternity benefits, flexible work arrangements and baby bonus schemes are measures that treat only the symptoms of our underlying problems - and until we truly fix these, our fertility rate is likely to continue its decline.
Cleanliness on the decline
Source: The Straits Times Jun 28, 2011
I AM a Canadian who visited Singapore in 1995 for two weeks. It was the cleanest city I had ever been to. I came back a year later, and again was impressed by how immaculate the country was.
I returned on June 2 this year to enjoy Singapore's famous food and the Great Singapore Sale, but was very disappointed. The cleanliness of the city is gone. I spent days walking and taking public transport to various parts of the city, and noticed an appalling amount of paper and plastic rubbish in the parks and on the streets.
I asked those I met why there was a litter problem, and one common comment was that it was due to the people's attitude. Another common response was: 'It's the immigrants.'
A garbage worker said the problem had become worse in the last five years. A young woman said: 'Singapore has a lot of problems. We have to worry about our money and how to make a living; the litter is not our problem.'
I soon witnessed acts of littering and it infuriated me. A woman with her teenage son and daughter tossed a green plastic drink bag over a railing onto the grass. I yelled at her from down the street, but she just laughed. I saw a construction worker walking past a rubbish bin and placing a can on a wall a farther 10m away, before continuing on his way.
It really upsets me to see the once-pristine Singapore turning into just another grubby, trash-laden metropolis. This litter problem is a blight on Singapore's reputation, and I hope Singaporeans will address this disrespect for their country.
One way is for people to take all rubbish with them after leaving public places and place it in a trash bin, and not on the ground, a wall, a bench or in the park.
Community groups can get together to clean up the streets in their neighbourhoods. The city can promote cleanliness through mass media campaigns.
Keeping Singapore clean is the responsibility of everyone - citizens, immigrants and tourists.