In a press statement released on Monday (Dec 2), the Ministry of Finance (MOF) confirmed the Budget 2020 is scheduled for presentation in February.
MOF indicated the upcoming Budget will focus on “business growth, training and employment, support for families, and support for seniors.”
It also added that it is specifically looking at “how we can form stronger partnerships to address future opportunities and challenges facing Singapore.”
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is expected to become Singapore’s fourth Prime Minister sometime after the next election, said the Budget is a strategic financial plan to address both near-term issues and also how to build future Singapore together.
“What we put into the Budget reflects our values as a people, our aspirations as a society and our direction as a nation.”
“Over the years, we have invested heavily in developing Singaporeans and building Singapore. Through close partnerships with all in our people, private and public sectors, we have created new opportunities for Singaporeans to improve their quality of life.
“With changes coming fast and furious, we need to prepare ourselves to ride new waves by continuing to build our capabilities and transform our economy. At the same time, we remain committed to strengthening support for fellow Singaporeans, so that we can all progress together.
“This is how we will build our nation – where every Singaporean has a strong sense of belonging and a part to play in realising our shared future.”
The MOF press statement follows comments made by current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the upcoming Budget.
Last week, PM Lee told the press that the Budget 2020 will be strong and suitable to the needs of the Singapore economy, given the state of the world economy.
Highlighting uncertainties around Brexit, the US-China trade tensions and the spat between Japan and South Korea, PM Lee said it is not surprising that Singapore’s economy has slowed down given the slow growth globally, and that Singapore is preparing for uncertainties based on the state of the world today.
“Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and all the other agencies are working towards preparing a Budget which will be strong, and suitable to the state of the world, and what the Singapore economy needs,” he added.
The Government’s plans for Budget 2020 has fuelled speculation over the timing of the next General Election (GE).
Many expect the next GE to be around the corner after the Government announced that the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) was convened in August.
The formation of the EBRC – which reviews the boundaries of the electoral map – marks the first firm step towards the next GE.
Last year, PM Lee said, “it’s possible” Singaporeans may be called to go to the polls in 2019.”
When asked whether it is possible that an election will be called in 2019 to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in Singapore, PM Lee said, “It’s always possible. There are many reasons to bring elections forward or not, so we’ll see.”
Some political observers and members of the public have said that the next GE could take place at the end of this year while others believe that the election may take place in the first quarter of 2020, after the next Budget.
As the year draws to a close, Singaporeans seem less sure that an election will be called this year. Political observer Derek da Cunha is one commentator who feels the election will not take place this year.
Highlighting that the generally rainy December period would not be an ideal time for an election since it could impact the turnout at rallies, Dr da Cunha told the Straits Times earlier that calling an election in May 2020 could mean Budget 2020 may become an election budget.
Pointing out that both the 2006 and 2011 elections took place in May, Mr da Cunha told Straits Times the calling of the next election is the Prime Minister’s prerogative and it will be based on what would be the most beneficial period to call an election for his party’s success.
“Any number of factors could intervene that could either hasten or delay his calling an election.”
Singapore Management University’s Associate Professor of Law Eugene Tan felt that the election could be called in seven months or even a full year after Budget 2019, since the Government would need to make financial provisions for the initiatives that were announced in PM Lee’s National Day Rally 2019.
Speculating that next year’s Budget could even be pushed up, Assoc Prof Tan told TODAY the calling of the next election would depend on whether the ruling party has firmed up its slate of candidates and on the state of the economy, among other factors.
Others felt that the next GE may take place sooner than expected. Ex-People’s Action Party (PAP) parliamentarian Inderjit Singh told the Straits Times that calling snap elections in December or early January would give the ruling party an advantage over a potentially unprepared opposition.
Echoing Mr Inderjit’s views, Dr Felix Tan – an associate lecturer at SIM Global Education – told the publication: “There’s the element of surprise. How prepared will the opposition be to enter the fray in December?”
Speculating that the announcement on the EBRC’s formation would not have come so early if the Government intends to hold the election in 2020 after the next Budget, Dr Tan said: “With the need to have a stable government before the economy gets worse…the political landscape may not be too fertile for the PAP as time drags on.”
Contrary to Mr Inderjit and Dr Tan’s views that an early election would give the PAP an advantage, Dr Bilveer Singh, an Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Political Science, asserted that he believes Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong “will be facing the most organised Opposition in a long time.”
He based his assessment on the election preparation efforts of the various opposition parties in Singapore.
Mr Bilveer, who recently published a book entitled “Is the People’s Action Party Here to Stay,” pointed out that the three most notable opposition parties in Singapore – the Workers’ Party (WP), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and the new Progress Singapore Party (PSP) – have mobilised their troops and have been working the ground.
In an interview with TODAY, Assoc Prof Bilveer said that although a May election is popular given past election trends, waiting to call an election in mid-2020 may not be ideal of the ruling party given the ongoing trade war and geopolitics that impact Singapore’s economy.
Pointing out that the Government has called elections in December (1976, 1980 and 1984) and January (1997) in the past, Assoc Prof Bilveer said: “It will be a judgment call and a political gamble made by no one else other than PM Lee, who in my opinion will be facing the most organised Opposition in a long time. I think both the PAP and the Opposition are already ready to go to the polls.”
He predicted: “The longer you wait, the worse it will get for the PAP. The global environment and economy are bad. While there will still be support for the PAP in a bad economy, unemployment will still hurt them to some extent.”