Road to GE: The political positions of Singapore's parties
Updated: Feb 12
By Christalle Tay
SDP secretary-general Chee Soon Juan shaking hands with a member of the public during the party's walkabout at Ghim Moh on 3 Nov 2019. PHOTO: YAHOO NEWS FILE
In the third of a four-part series on how political parties in Singapore are gearing up for the next General Election, Christalle Tay examines their respective policy positions.
Read part 1 on Singapore political party websites.
Read part 2 on what Singapore political parties have been doing on the ground.
Read part 4 on how Singapore political parties are structured.
Slogans do little to distinguish political parties from each other. Typically, they revolve around themes about the future and the people.
In the 2015 General Election, the People’s Action Party (PAP) unveiled its “With you, for you, for Singapore” slogan. It is not too dissimilar to the Singapore People’s Party (SPP) calling for “Service before self. For the nation. For the people” or Progress Singapore Party (PSP) stating it is “For country, for people”. In comparison, the Reform Party expresses hopes of “A brighter future tomorrow, today”.
But the competing parties are well aware that voters are more interested in specific policy details. The PAP, for instance, recently shared measures taken on personal mobility devices (PMDs) and the subsequent grant to help food delivery riders replace their devices, as well as amendments to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act in October – for which the PAP produced a Facebook video summarising the significance of the changes.
Three of PAP’s subgroups – PAP Women’s Wing, Young PAP and PAP Seniors Group – represent the interests of women, youths and seniors, and make policy recommendations from the perspectives of the demographic they represent. The fourth, the PAP Policy Forum, engages the party on policy matters.
ILLUSTRATION: LORAINE LEE/ SOURCE: PAP (11 NOV 2018 - 10 NOV 2019)
Besides convening dialogues, the subgroups also write position papers. The Women’s Wing, in a paper released in July, proposed measures concerning affordable childcare, inclusivity of children with special needs, mobility for women in the workplace and better access for women to In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).
The Seniors Group’s position paper was released in January, suggesting measures such as the increase of the Central Provident Fund contribution rates for older workers, group homes for seniors and allowance for those who care for their elderly relatives full-time.
On the other hand, the Workers’ Party (WP) thinks that parliamentary sessions are the best showcase for its sitting 6 MPs and 3 Non-Constituency MPs (NCMPs) to outline the party’s positions on different issues. Videos of parliamentary speeches are regularly posted on Facebook, and the accompanying speech transcripts uploaded to its website.
WP also occasionally publishes press releases. The latest one, published in October, showed its support for concerns brought up at the SG Climate Rally on Sept 21. It highlighted the proposals in Parliament by WP MPs to mitigate climate change effects such as calling for the use of sustainable building materials and technology.
The party in other press releases spoke against Malaysian vessels encroaching on Singapore waters in 2018, cautioned against amending the Protection from Harassment Act to protect the government in 2017, and called for more inclusivity for people with disabilities in 2016.
Public statements by WP and commentaries written by its non-Parliament members on issues such as the proposed Goods and Services Tax hike and public schools’ current class size are published under its news section. Policy papers and speeches made by the WP MPs during the previous Budget debate are also available on its website.
This includes a policy paper on housing published in November, which floated five proposals to assuage the depreciating value of housing leases. One notable suggestion posited the expansion of the Lease Buyback Scheme – a scheme wherein short leases are sold to the government.
In what the party termed the “Universal Sale and Lease Back (USB)”, the scheme that is currently restricted to the elderly would allow all homeowners with leases expiring in 30 years or less sell their leases to the government. The flats bought back under USB could then be resold with shorter leases or used as flats for rental.
Other proposals outlined suggestions to expand the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers), create a more viable rental market, and to peg BTO prices to median income.
SDP has been the most active on the policy front, and was the first to launch a manifesto for the next general election. The manifesto, which was launched on 29 September, highlights its proposals for healthcare and education. You can read our story here.
In place of the three pillars of national healthcare financing – Medisave, Medishield and Medifund – the SDP is suggesting a single insurance scheme, the National Health Investment Fund. Its “alternative education policy” tackles elitism head-on, calling for the nationalisation of preschools and the scrapping of Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE), school and class rankings. The policy proposes broader curriculum and smaller class sizes – of no more than 20 students.
One proposal by the SDP has received considerable media coverage: the Non-Open Market (NOM) scheme for public housing, first floated in 2012. Pitched as the solution to Singapore’s depreciating 99-year-lease problem, NOM flats would exclude land costs from their prices and only charge for construction costs. These cheaper flats would exist in tandem with normal, open-market flats, but unlike open-market flats, would be sold back to the Housing Development Board (HDB).
The SDP in a population paper published in June asked for immigration reforms that would prevent “too many foreign workers into Singapore”. The article and two of the SDP's Facebook posts were attacked by the Ministry of Manpower for carrying “falsehoods”. MOM had taken issue with a phrase the SDP had used — that Singapore was experiencing a “rising proportion of Singapore PMETs getting retrenched” — and invoked the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) on the post. The SDP challenged the use of the law against its posts in the High Court but was unsuccessful.
On the other hand, PSP has been keeping its policy ideas close to its chest. But the speeches given by PSP’s central executive committee members at the party’s launch on 3 August hinted at its stances on policies. Secretary-general Tan Cheng Bock called for more transparency and a review of the India-Singapore’s Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), specifically its effects on employment of foreign talent. PSP also called for greater government support for local businesses, affordable healthcare, lower ministerial pay and a lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18. We covered both its public conferences. You can read them here and here.
Dr Tan wants accountability and transparency in the government – a familiar narrative echoed by other opposition politicians. When he was a PAP MP, Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew had portrayed him as a voice of dissent within the party, according to the retired doctor, who now aims to play the same role as an opposition politician.
The PSP also crossed paths with Pofma when its member, Mr Brad Bowyer, was asked in November to correct false statements he made on his Facebook about investments by GIC and Temasek. In a party statement released a few weeks later, PSP said the application of Pofma "(fell) short". It said fake news and misinformation needed to be curbed but should be handled by the judicial courts — independent of politics.
But unlike the SDP, Mr Bowyer did not appeal the directive.
It seems except for the SDP and WP, policy positions are pretty sparse. For the PAP, articulating policy positions would be redundant since it forms the government and should have put its policy into action.
Its sub-groups, helmed by its MPs, appear to have scored with some proposals that will be policy. After the Seniors' Group proposed the raising of CPF contribution for those aged 55 and above in January this year, the prime minister announced during the National Day Rally 2019 that the government will do so over 10 years, starting from 2021.
Updates with Workers’ Party’s November 2019 paper on housing policy and Pofma cases between November 2019 and January 2020. The PSP has since taken concrete positions on Singapore's economic policies with recommendations for the Budget 2020.