Singapore’s First Political Debate: More Like An Office Meeting, But We’ll Take It

Disclaimer: RICE does not endorse or support any political party in Singapore.

Last night at 8 PM, we finally got some hot, intense, policy-on-policy action between 4 of our leading politicians. All it took was a global pandemic and a CB for the sparks to fly at long last.

Was it brief, awkward and unsatisfying? Perhaps so, but a nation reaching CPF-withdrawal age will take what it can get. Here are some of the highlights:


Elephant In the Room: Foreigners v. Locals

As it turns out, Covid-19 is not even the biggest issue. It’s the competition between locals and foreigners for PMET jobs. When questioned on the job economy, both the PSP’s Francis Yuen and Chee Soon Juan went for the Foreign workforce like lions going for the jugular.

Mr. Francis Yuen cited the 400,000 foreigners employed in PMET jobs* and wants to ‘slow it down’. CSJ flat-out said: “We got to stop this foolishness where we continue to bring in foreign workers, especially foreign PMETs”—because they serve only to lower local wages for the benefit of companies profit margin. Only the WP’s Jamus Lim abstained, focusing instead on the GST.

Minister Vivian Balakrishnan countered their arguments point-by-point, but there was no stopping the piling on. The debate returned again and again to the PMET-foreigner issue in the second segment.

*MOM has since addressed some of these claims, which you can read here

Biggest Non-issue: SMEs

SMEs are important. Very very important. So important to our economy because they employ 70% of the population. We must do more for SMEs. Yes, much, much more because they are—did I mention how important they are?

As an SME employee, I can safely surmise that most SMEs are getting a fair amount of help from the government. We can debate the nuts-and-bolts of whether Jamus’s Import-Export Bank is better than Vivian’s skills-focused approach, but there’s little real dissent on this issue.

M18 Strongest Language: Francis Yuen’s ‘Repatriation’

Despite strong competition from CSJ, Francis Yuen takes the cake for suggesting ‘repatriation’ for excess PMETs.

The GEP Award For Most Homework Completed: Vivian Balakrishnan

60,000 foreigners retrenched. SMEs provide 70% of our jobs and 50% of the GDP. Real income for all Singaporeans grew by 3.8%, and 4.4% for lower-income Singaporeans. PMET growth rate is 3%  a year.

Whether or not you agree with the PAP’s policy of ‘growing the pie so everyone can have a larger slice’, you should be impressed by Vivian Balakrishnan’s ability to pull these random stats from memory. If nothing else, our education system has triumphed in the art of turning men into Wikipedia servers.

Press X to Doubt: 100,000 Jobs In One Year

Vivian Balakrishan claims that the PAP can create 100,000 jobs. Not in 5 years or 10 years, but in just one year, with the SG United Jobs and Skills Package. Granted, it will be Tharman-god who’s leading this charge towards full employment, but even so, that’s a very bold claim. One wonders if they’re getting a wee bit too overconfident.

The opposition candidates seem to share these concerns. WP’s Jamus emphasized that: “We don’t just want jobs, but we want good jobs which enable workers to work with dignity.” PSP’s Francis Yuen echoed this sentiment when he made a distinction between temporary jobs like “digital ambassadors” and the “lifelong careers” Singaporeans need. 

It does raise the question: how many of these jobs are traineeships and internships? Are they anything more than a Keynesian stop-gap measure? Will there be high turnover for the 25,000 private-sector jobs when government funding runs dry? 

The moderator looks like PJ Thum
Broken Recorder Award For Massive Boring Cliche: Vivian Balakrishnan

Yes, Singapore is a small city-state with few natural resources barring its people. You don’t have to tell me every single time we meet, or go out. In case you didn’t notice—WE LIVE HERE FOR CHRISSAKES.

Is the phrase tattooed unto the PAP member’s lower back during initiation ritual? Are they religiously obliged to say it at least 5 times a year like Catholics saying hail-marys? Their undying love for this cliche truly boggles the mind.

Biggest Dodge: Vivian Balakrishnan v. Jamus Lim and Chee Soon Juan

Chee Soon Juan notes that we’ve been trying to increase ‘productivity’ since 2003. Jamus Lim says that it’s all very good to have these various schemes, but have we evaluated their efficacy? 

Our Foreign Minister did not really answer this question to anyone’s satisfaction. CSJ’s point was completely ignored, and he was saved by the bell before he had a chance to really tackle Jamus Lim’s thorny efficacy question.

MTV award for Best On-screen Bromance: Jamus Lim and Vivian Balakrishnan

Jamus Lim probably ‘won’ last night’s debate because everyone was so impressed by this newcomer’s eloquence and cool-headedness. In fact, even Vivian Balakrishnan seems won over by this fresh-faced, tousled hair nerd from Harvard. 

First, there was the pre-debate selfie. Then, it was the affability and ease with which they addressed each other. They broadly agreed on most of the issues. Even when they did not, they gazed deeply into each other’s eyes, perhaps imagining what it would be like if politics had not made them star-crossed lovers …

The Angus Ross Prize for Sibei Cheem Engrish: Jamus’s ‘Meta-question’

Simi sai ‘meta-question’? Can eat anot? Knn Limpeh dissertation write about postmodern literature also first time hear ‘meta-question’.

The PJ Thum Award For POFMA-baiting: Heng Swee Keat Wants 10 Million People In Your Home

Chee Soon Juan claims that Heng Swee Keat is still sticking to the 10 million population goal. Vivian Balakrishnan categorically denies this and calls it a falsehood to his face. “Not even 6.9 million,” he counters.

Who’s right in the case? Here’s the Mar 29, 2019 report that Chee Soon Juan was referring to so you can decide for yourself: 


Cheapest Shot: Chee Soon Juan’s Cardboard auntie

With all due respect, Mr. Chee, please give it a rest with the cheap shots.

Income inequality is a problem. Social mobility is a problem. Vivian Balakrishnan making more money than your average uncle is not the real problem.

Bringing up cardboard aunties and Minister salaries in the same breath is the sort of shit you’d expect to see on a slow day in the ST comment section–below Peter Lim’s latest keyboard malfunction. Sure, it’s the symptom of a larger problem, but why turn a serious issue into a lame personal attack?

GG Best Metaphor: Jamus’s ‘Blank Cheque’

The PAP wants a strong mandate, and it will most likely get it. ‘What we are trying to deny them is a blank cheque’, said Jamus Lim, giving us the night’s most memorable moment. 

Say what you want about economists or the WP’s fairly limited ambitions, Jamus’ carte blanche was a really elegant way to avoid that old, boring, technocratic phrase: accountability.

It just goes to show: we’ve been really missing out all these years. Not all debates turn into ‘political theatre’, and an occasional trip to the theatre is anything but intellectually fruitless.

This GE, we’re not just interested in the winners and losers. Join RICE as we satirise, over-analyse, and dissect everything from how we talk about politics and politicians to what we think we know about how Singaporeans vote. 

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