Asia Politics

Singapore ruling party to focus on jobs during 'very tough' election, minister says

Key Points
  • Singapore's ruling People's Action Party will campaign on job creation as the city-state heads to the polls on July 10, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan told CNBC. 
  • He said the election will be "very tough," where all contesting parties will have to make their case in front of the electorate. 
  • As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, millions around the world have lost their jobs and new graduates face dim employment prospects in companies that are struggling to stay afloat.
  • Balakrishnan said his party would also aim to ensure adequate jobs as well as opportunities to re-train and upgrade skills for middle-aged Singaporean workers and senior citizens. 
Singapore's ruling party to focus on jobs in general elections campaign, says foreign minister
Singapore's ruling party to focus on jobs in general elections campaign, says foreign minister

As Singapore heads to the polls next week, the ruling party's election campaign will focus on creating jobs in what the country's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan described as "a very tough election." 

Singaporeans will be casting their votes next Friday, July 10. 

"I think this is going to be a very tough election," Balakrishnan said on CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia."

"Never, never take people for granted. Never assume that you have got their vote — each election, all parties have to make their case," he said, adding that there is a lot at stake in the upcoming elections. "I have confidence in our electorate, but I do not take it for granted." 

Last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced his decision to call for a general election as the country continues to ease most of its partial lockdown measures aimed at combating the spread of coronavirus.

Balakrishnan, a member of the ruling People's Action Party, outlined reasons why the government decided to call for an election despite the risk of infection cases potentially climbing again as social interactions recommence. 

"The first point I want to make is that we do not believe this crisis is going to recede in the next one year, or maybe even two years. It depends on when a vaccine is created," he said. 

View of the Singapore skyline.
Suhaimi Abdullah | Getty Images

Singapore has reported more than 43,000 cases, and more than 90% of infected individuals are migrant workers who live in dormitories. They are mostly men from other Asian countries who carry out labor-intensive tasks in the city-state. 

The second reason, according to Balakrishnan, is that by the constitution, the current parliament's term expires in January 2021. "If we don't have a parliament in February next year, we will not have a budget," he said. 

He added that with Singapore re-opening its economy, the country is in a "reasonably safe space" where the infection is under control and individuals are returning to work. It would be difficult, and likely more dangerous, to hold elections later, he said. 

Focus on jobs

The coronavirus pandemic — which has now infected more than 10 million people worldwide and killed more than 500,000 — is both a public health crisis and an economic crisis.

Due to lockdowns and stringent social restrictions, economic activity in most countries has slowed and a number of sectors, including travel and tourism, have been severely affected. Millions of people have lost their jobs globally. 

Singapore's central bank earlier this year projected a deeper-than-predicted recession for the city-state, which is heavily dependent on international trade. The International Monetary Fund for its part said the world is facing the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. 

... there will be retrenchments, there will be disruptions for the jobs sector. And that's why we are focused so obsessively with the situation on jobs.
Vivian Balakrishnan
Singapore foreign minister

Balakrishnan said the current crisis is undoubtedly a clear and present threat to lives and livelihoods. 

"The central focus of our campaign will be jobs, jobs, jobs. And jobs for all segments of our society," he said. "People who have just graduated, entering into the greatest depression that the world has seen, their number one concern will be jobs."

Thousands of fresh graduates in Singapore and elsewhere face a weak jobs market where many companies have become reluctant to make new hires due to the negative impact the crisis has had on their business this year. 

Those between 40 and 60 are part of a generation that has ongoing commitments and still face the brunt of the economic restructuring that is going on, Balakrishnan said.

Singapore's National Jobs Council is tasked with generating 100,000 opportunities — including jobs, attachments and trainee opportunities — in the next one year, the minister said. 

"We think because of the prolonged nature of this crisis, there will be retrenchments, there will be disruption to the jobs sector. And that's why we are focused so obsessively with the situation on jobs," Balakrishnan said.

The bulk of Singapore's massive 100 billion Singapore dollars (about $70.4 billion) fiscal stimulus has been focused on keeping firms afloat and encouraging them to hire Singaporeans, he added.

The PAP has been the ruling party in Singapore since 1959, even before the country's independence in 1965. In the last election in 2015, the People's Action Party won 69.9% of the total votes — sweeping 83 out of the 89 contested seats.