Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced on Saturday (20 June) that the Government will drive a national conversation initiative, to hear how Singaporeans have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and how Singapore can move forward together.
While the initiative has drawn praise in some quarters, others are speculating that it could be a prelude to elections.
Mr Heng announced the Emerging Stronger Conversations series as he wrapped up the Government’s spate of national addresses on how Singapore will move forward from the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout. Touching on how the Government will pivot the economy to help Singaporeans in the labour market, Mr Heng also said that a need to strengthen society has arisen from the COVID-19 crisis.
Extolling the Seniors Go Digital and the National Care Hotline, which will help Singaporeans cope with the difficulties of the present and the changes to the future, Mr Heng said: “Be assured that, in Singapore, no one will be left to walk alone. You will be cared for if you fall on hard times. You will be part of our society’s progress, no matter your starting point or circumstances.”
He then unveiled the Emerging Stronger Conversations and painted it as an initiative that would help the Government understand issues people care about and help it make a difference through action. The PM-designate said:
“We want to hear how the crisis has impacted you, and how we can work together on your ideas to take Singapore forward. So we have started a series of Emerging Stronger Conversations. True to the spirit of Singapore Together, these conversations will lead to action.
“We will set up Singapore Together Action Networks – to bring together partners across different sectors, and turn ideas into new solutions. We have already begun forming these networks, such as the Youth Mental Well-being Network, UPLIFT and the SG Cares Community Care Network.
“We will form new partnerships around issues that you care about, and to make a difference through action.”
The DPM’s promise that the Government will act on issues Singaporeans care about comes as Singapore prepares to go to the polls. Asking Singaporeans to prepare for an election, Mr Heng said earlier that the sooner an election is held, the sooner the Government can rally the people together.
Some are saying that the latest national conversation series is aimed at improving the ruling party’s image, given the nosedive it took when issues in some of the ways it handled the COVID-19 crisis popped up.
Singapore’s COVID-19 policies was once dubbed the gold standard for virus prevention in the international community before coronavirus situation spun out of control when it started spreading like wildfire in the foreign worker dormitories. The nation now has over 40,000 total COVID cases and 26 disease-linked fatalities.
The PAP Government’s image subsequently took a nosedive, when the many u-turns it took on COVID-19 policies – like asking people not to wear a mask if they are not sick and then later making it mandatory to wear masks – drew scrutiny.
The Government is said to be preparing to call an election against this backdrop. Some observers are saying that the Emerging Stronger Conversations could indicate the ruling party’s desire to reverse criticism as it prepares to summon citizens to the polls.
The latest national conversation series has also made some recall the Our Singapore Conversation (OSC) initiative that took place in 2012, to create dialogue with Singaporeans on the issues they face and to create “a home with hope and heart”.
The motivation behind holding such dialogue sessions were scrutinised then since the OSC series was launched nearly a year after the PAP Government suffered its worst defeat at the polls in the 2011 General Election, when it lost a group representation ward to the opposition for the first time in over 40 years.
As some question the motivation behind the latest national conversation initiative, DPM Heng made another set of remarks that have been interpreted by some as a call to keep his party in power.
Calling on Singaporeans to remain united so Singapore can be secure in its place in the world, Mr Heng said in his national address: “Through this series of broadcasts, you have heard PM and my colleagues lay out our plans. We are committed to growing our economy and protecting jobs, strengthening our society, and safeguarding everything we hold dear.
“Our journey ahead is long, and our actions in the next five to ten years will chart the course of our nation for decades to come. Where there are winds of change, we must find new waves of opportunity. Each of us must adapt and learn fast in this changed world, turn anxiety to action, turn challenges to opportunities. As we move forward, we will deepen our trust and support for one another.
“I have every confidence that we will succeed. This Government has the will and the way to lead us out of this crisis. We will face the challenges ahead together with you, all the way. We will fight COVID-19 as Singapore Together. Everyone counts, and can be counted on. We will do what it takes to protect our lives and our livelihoods, to secure our future. We will overcome this crisis of our generation. We will be a generation that emerges stronger. Together, we will be the generation that sets our children and their children onto a path to an even brighter future!”
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