Singapore opposition sees ‘Wipe-Out’ threat by PAP

Political party logos - Singapore

Political party logos – Singapore

By Ivan Lim
Former AJA President, Contributor to AsiaN

SINGAPORE: Temporarily side-tracked by a 10 million population debate, the ruling PAP has refocused its campaign on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and its S$100 billion budgets to help Singaporeans cope with business and employment problems.

Party leaders from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, downwards are confident that its promised packages to restore health of the people and economy would beat the opposition parties hollow in the July 10 polls.

“You are choosing the team who will work with you to steer Singapore through the worst economic crisis in decades,” said up-and-coming leader, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

The PAP juggernaut’s move has caused the main opponent Workers’ Party to sound an alarm, seeing it as a threat of an opposition ‘wipe-out’. This prospect stems from a crisis scenario painted by the PAP campaigners that the party alone could lead the country out of the Covid-19 wilderness.
Further, opposition concern was heightened by a scenario drawn by the existing Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP)that provides for a dozen opposition candidates to be chosen from among the best losers in the election to be inducted into Parliament.
Opposition parties see the NCMP’s suggestion as a ploy to ensure a PAP clean sweep by assuring voters there would be automatic opposition representation in Parliament.
“Look at countries that change governments regularly,’’ PM Lee told voters in a key online Fullerton rally speech on Monday (July 6).“Their political consensus has frayed…These countries have not done better than Singapore.

“…Don’t be taken by those who say that it is important just to have more choices.”

In response, Worker’s Party (WP) chairman, Ms Sylvia Lim, described Mr Lee as presenting voters with a “false” choice. “There is no reason why the government will not be effective in tackling Covid-19…. with a Parliament which does not consist of only elected PAP Members of Parliament,” she told reporters during a walkabout yesterday (July 7). She cited “robust democracies” like New Zealand and Taiwan which had successfully handled the pandemic.

Singapore is still battling the Coronavirus, with daily outbreaks of over a hundred among foreign workers in dormitories and an average of 10 cases in the local community.

PM Lee had lauded the taskforce helmed by two ministers for stabilising the Covid outbreaks, and slammed opposition parties for being silent on ways to tackle the pandemic.  This drew a spirited rebuttal from opposition party leaders.

“I disagree with him (PM Lee). I think we never took our eye off Covid-19. They took their eyes off Covid-19…because they ‘re concentrating too much on this general election,’’ said Progress Singapore Party (PSP) leader, Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who had earlier rapped the PAP for putting lives at risk by holding the election in the midst of the pandemic.

Pointing to its manifesto, Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief, Dr Chee Soon Juan, said: “The budget that the PAP has passed, that is all for the immediate future. What happens when we go beyond the Covid-19 period…and this is where we want to legislate retrenchment benefits, …entrench income for the elderly…and minimum wage.”

More pointedly, the government’s management of the pandemic will come under scrutiny under the WP’s proposal for an independent medical advisory board to make recommendations to the pandemic taskforce, including how to prevent blindspots.  For instance, it said the government’s initial policy on optional wearing face mask seemed to have been dictated by a shortage of supplies.

Citing what he said were the ministerial taskforce’s failures, People’s Voice leader Lim Tean said the party had called out the government for not implementing social distancing and working-from- home measures in February ahead of the circuit-breaker restrictions imposed from April 7.

The opposition parties’ counter-attack against the PAP has turned bitter as the government began to invoke the Protection from Online Manipulation and Falsehoods (Pofma) Act to parry some of the criticisms as falsehoods.

SDP chairman Paul Tambyah had touched on a sore point when he said during an interview with the   Online Citizen  on Saturday that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had issued an advisory that states “if workers who are pre-symptomatic were sent for testing, that the employers would lose their workforce privileges.”

This drew a rebuttal from Covid-19 taskforce co-chairman, Mr Lawrence Wong.

He said Professor Tambyah had claimed the taskforce was not taking the advice of medical experts and that the MOM advisory to employers was issued against the advice of medical experts.
The Minister for National Development added that both statements were “baseless and false”.

Prof Tambyah denied making the first statement. “I did say that MOM issued the (second) statement… It’s just the way it gets spun is just, it’s just so bizarre.”

In the interview, Prof Tambyah, who is contesting against a PAP candidate one-on-one in a single constituency, had made the following comment: “In January and February the ministerial committee was taking the front and centre of the role.

And this was different from Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). In Sars, there was a ministerial committee, but (it) was in the background. And you had the scientists and public health people in the front.”

The Pofma Office has issued correction orders to National University of Singapore Society, the Online Citizen, Facebook, Channel News Asia and New Naratif for the videos, audio recording, articles and posts of Prof Tambyah’s interview.

The five organisations are required to carry correction notices saying the online contents contain false statement of facts.

At the same time, the Ministry of Health and MOM gave their version, saying:

“Workers should not be sent to hospitals unless there was a medical emergency. If a worker is unwell, employers should send him to a general practitioner so a proper assessment could be made on whether the worker needed to be sent to hospital.’’

Prof Tambyah said: “I think the MOM trying to shirk responsibility.” He added this was not a good sign.

Standing his ground, the infectious diseases expert added: “I am sure they consulted their own doctors but, ultimately, the decision was not a medical decision.”

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