Rumors of a General Election being called as early as this year have been circulating, especially after last November, when Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat was chosen as the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) first assistant secretary-general.
This is a designation reserved for the country’s next Prime Minister.
Many are wondering whether the country’s budget for 2019 is in actuality an election budget and if it would be a kickoff to the campaign delivered by Heng in his first budget speech as next in line.
Some analysts are pointing out that the budget the minister delivered yesterday has points in common with the budgets from the past two years when General Elections were called, in 2011 and 2015, as South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports.
In 2011, the PAP government distributed a“Grow and Share Package” worth S$3.2 billion.
Each adult in Singapore received between S$600 and S$800 in cash. And in 2014, the Pioneer Generation Package worth a whopping S$ 9 billion in health subsidies for older Singaporeans was announced.
For this year’s budget, Heng outlined the details of the Merdeka Generation Package (MGP), specifically targeted for Singaporeans from the ages of 60 to 69.
This package includes S$8 billion in subsidies for health care costs for this demographic.
Additionally, the Finance Minister also announced a Bicentennial Bonus worth S$1.1 billion, in commemoration of Singapore’s 200th anniversary.
More than a million citizens will be getting additions to their state-sanctioned health and educational accounts, plus as much as S$300 extra in a Goods and Services Tax Rebate.
But is #SGBudget2019 an election budget? This is possible since a package like the MGP is likely to forge ties between the recipients and the Government that furnished it, especially since the benefits that recipients will be getting are useful in the long-term.
This could cultivate gratitude and loyalty among the recipients.
But then again, maybe #SGBudget2019 isn’t geared toward elections. Two factors point in this direction, the upcoming generation of PAP leaders, and the budget surplus that the Government must spend before the next leadership turnover.
There is a sense that the fourth generation (4G) PAP leaders have yet to develop strong links with the citizenry, who do not yet clearly see where this new generation of leaders will be leading Singapore.
In other words, confidence in the new generation of leaders may still need time to grow. SCMP reports Singapore Management University’s Eugene Tan as saying, “For Heng and his fourth generation of leaders, Singaporeans are awaiting the ‘next big thing’ for Singapore that could get voters excited and confident that the new leadership has the wherewithal to keep Singapore exceptional.”
And instead of election promises, Heng discussed policy details, which included developments in social services, climate change, and foreign-worker quotas.
The Finance Minister has had much experience with these topics, as well as economic themes that he has been well-steeped in since his appointment in 2015.
Perhaps the Government’s bottom line will be the final determiner of when the next General Election will be called.
The estimated surplus of the present administration is estimated to be around S$19 billion. With Heng saying that he expects the deficit to be at S$3.5 billion, this leaves around $15 billion that the Government could possibly offer as incentives for the next General Election.
Under the country’s laws, the current administration must balance its books, in other words, it is not allowed to end with either a deficit or a surplus.
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