In the last ND Rally, there was expectation for PM Lee to talk about the problems and issues faced by the country but he gave a speech recapping the PAP govt's old achievements and on religiosity. However, with the elections coming, he now has to now focus on important problems faced by Singaporeans. PAP MP Teo Ho Pin got it right when he said
“If I am the one deciding, I will not call for an election this year. There are still issues which are not solved which may lead to some Singaporeans being unhappy with the government. Next year will be better......” (Translated) MP Teo in Lianhe Wanbao
Whether the elections is held this year or next, there is little time left to win the voters over. What PM Lee should have done was to focus on the problems and solutions in the previous ND rally and demonstrate the results in this one. Allowing the problems to worsen and unhappiness to fester for so long has been unwise. For this ND Rally, if he wants to limit the loss of votes at the election, he will have to show that he understands the concerns of Singaporeans and will take steps to address them. However, I believe it is a little late and voters will suspect he is just doing it just for the elections. He and his ministers wasted 4 years doing little to address the key issues and now the unhappiness is fairly widespread. The frustration surrounding these issues has grown into intense anger for some and that showed up as vitrolic criticism during the YOG - an event on which the PAP staked its reputation. All this ugliness ended with a critic arrested for "inciting violence" when he posted on the “I hate YOG organising committee” Facebook page
that it was time to "burn" Vivian Balakrisnan and the PAP govt at the next elections. It didn't matter to the police that everyone else can see that he was speaking metaphorically. That so much anger was vented on Minister Balakrisnan shows how deep the divide has become. Vivian Balakrisnan was after all the the minister that headed the "Remaking of Singapore" committee that held out hope for some that the PAP govt would become less "PAP-like" and was ready for change. We have since learned how unchangeable the PAP has become and this young minister who was once seen as one who would challenge the old PAP ideas morphed to accept and support them. It's like "change we can't"...and the ridiculous charges against of PAP critic Malik shows that when the going gets tough and they can't win, they will simply use and spread fear.
Before I discuss the themes that will be covered in today's ND rally, I digress a little to show a series of articles that has been appeared in the Straits Times: For the past few months, the Straits Times has published a number of articles that follows a common template - a PR, foreigner or new citizen with excellent accomplishments in school, in business or at work coming out to say how much they like the system in Singapore. It is not clear what the intent of these articles are but they keep reappearing in the main stream media. Some people believe they are trying to tell long time Singaporeans to be grateful for the wonderful system they live in. It is a little strange if that is the intent because anyone from a developing country would be grateful if they get to move to a developed country. Often coming from an impoverished countries with widespread corruption, these people would be happy and grateful whether they are in Germany, USA, Sweden or Australia. Because they are grateful, long time citizens have to also be happy with the system and their political leaders? German citizens have to be happy with Merkel because immigrants to Germany are happy and grateful to be there? Using immigrants to tell citizens to be grateful is a silly idea. This series of articles have an unintended negative effect. A significant number of citizens that have seen their incomes and living standard fall in the past decade facing intense competition for jobs and housing in a tough struggle to better their lives- emphasizing that foreigners come here and do very well rubs salt on their wounds and heighten their fears that the govt immigration policy will worsen their plight.
For the main themes at this years ND rally, I look forward to PM Lee speech on the economy and immigration. The main problem with our economy is the unequal distribution of wealth leading to biggest income disparity in the developed world. Many Singaporeans did not benefit directly from the GDP growth of the past decade and PM Lee has to explain how he plans to narrow the income gap and ensure that the benefit of GDP growth is more evenly distributed. The last time he spoke on this issue, he said that the GINI Index which measures inequality does not matter - I want to see if he continues to deny there is a problem here. Many Singaporeans are still waiting for an explanation on how the liberal immigration policies which has pushed up the cost of living, strained our infrastructure and depressed the wages of a large segment of our workforce actually benefits them. Early this year the govt appeared to be doing a U-turn when it said that it will moderate the foreign worker policy. PM Lee did a U-turn on that U-turn when he said that the growing economy means that an extra 100,000 workers will be imported in the coming year. This ND rally is a chance for him to further clarify the govt's stand on this important issue. If he can't convince Singaporeans that the immigration policy is beneficial to them, the unhappiness will translate to votes against the PAP at the next elections.