Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat remained tight-lipped on whether Budget 2019 is an ‘election budget’ as he fielded questions on Channel NewsAsia’s Budget 2019 Forum, that was broadcast live on national television and on Facebook, this week.
A day before the forum, Heng had set out the Government’s economic plan for 2019 in Parliament. As many Singaporeans expected, the Finance Minister revealed details of the Merdeka Generation Package and unveiled a Bicentennial Bonus that includes a one-off cash sum for Singaporeans.
The ‘goodies’ that were announced in Budget 2019 led many to call the budget an ‘election budget,’ especially given widespread speculation that the next General Election may be held as early as this year.
The moderator of the Budget 2019 forum asked Heng for his response to those who call Budget 2019 an ‘election budget’. Heng responded: “If they mean that they are very happy with the budget, then I’ll say that is good. But I don’t plan on that basis.”
He added: “First and foremost, the budget…is really a strategic plan to allocate resources for Singapore to remain successful, vibrant in the long run and to be fair across generations. So it’s not about we’re near the elections so let’s spend this, let’s spend that.”
Revealing that he plans the budget after “many meetings with various ministries and Ministers” who have long lists of requests that have to be cut down and meetings with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on national priorities, Heng said: “This is the way that we plan our budget and I must say that let us maintain that.”
While Heng said that he did not plan for the budget on the “basis,” of an impending election, he did not mention whether Singaporeans are right to speculate that this budget precedes an upcoming election.
In fact, the bonuses, rebates, and vouchers announced in this year’s budget – combined with the $100-$300 all Singaporeans received as a one-off bonus last year due to the exceptional Budget surplus of FY2017 – could signal that the next election will be held sooner rather than later, given past election trends.
The nation was celebrating its 50th year of independence in 2015 when the last General Election was called. Citizens received a “SG50” cash bonus in the run-up to the election, which the PAP won with an overwhelming majority.
In Budget 2015, middle-income earners who paid personal income tax received a 50 per cent rebate of up to $1,000. Besides this, eligible Singaporeans aged 55 and above received a one-off Seniors’ Bonus of $150 to $600 in cash, as well.
2015 was also the same year that the nation’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew passed on.
Political observers speculated at the time that the Government called a General Election earlier than expected during the last cycle, to capitalise on the wave of goodwill that poured forth after the political leader’s passing.
The General Election before that, was preceded by Budget 2011, in which the Government distributed $1.5 billion worth of “growth dividends” to Singaporeans. 80 per cent of citizens received $500 to $700 each that year.
With the trend of one-off cash bonuses preceding General Elections in recent years, it may come as no surprise to some if the next election is held within the next few months.