The Nine Days is a socialservice.sg podcast covering the 2020 general election in Singapore (#GE2020), through daily five-minute news summaries, conversations with young voters, and interviews with academics and experts.
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Your preferred party won the English TV debate
Today, the top four political parties with the highest number of candidates running in GE2020 joined two debates. One in English, one in Mandarin. Each party sent one person to participate. Parties had about 30 hours to prepare, because invitations were only sent out at the end of the nomination process.
Let’s start with the English debate. There were two parts to the debate.
In the first part, the moderator asked the candidates questions. They discussed three topics: Unemployment, help for businesses, and social mobility.
The opposition members answered first. Each person had one-and-a-half minutes to answer. And then finally the People’s Action Party had 4.5 minutes to respond. That’s triple the amount of time for everyone else.
And then in the second part of the debate, the candidates asked each other questions.
Now, let’s go through some of the highlights:
PAP’s Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan was all about the crisis of the pandemic, and “jobs, jobs, jobs”. With the time he had, he described the government’s policies financed by the four COVID-19 budgets this year. But he was not necessarily as effective when he went on the offensive. He tried to argue that the PAP could have written the Workers’ Party manifesto.
Dr. Balakrishnan: “And that’s why people have called the Workers’ Party PAP-lite or PAP-like. It’s almost a position where whatever line or stand the PAP has taken, you basically use that as your reference point and take a half step to the left.” (5:28 to 5:49)
Progress Singapore Party’s Mr. Francis Yuen called for a stronger and more compassionate safety net. But in comparing the unemployment of local PMETs with the number of foreign expatriates in the country, it felt like a familiar strategy of appealing to nationalist sentiments.
Singapore Democratic Party chief Dr. Chee Soon Juan had a talking point on the concentration of elite schools in good neighbourhoods. He also did not hesitate to articulate his disagreements with Dr. Balakrishnan and the ruling party. But Dr. Chee did not fully explain how the SDP would fund its proposed policies, and instead spent a lot of time on the claim that the government plans to increase the population to 10 million.
Finally, Dr. Jamus Lim of the WP appeared a little nervous in the beginning and detailed a laundry list of issues, facts, and policies. Yet he shined during the question-and-answer round, and Dr. Lim was especially composed and articulate when responding to Dr. Balakrishnan’s questions.
So, who won the English debate? Between the PAP, SDP, and WP, I think it depends on who you have already chosen to support.
In other words, I don’t think it changed many minds.
The PAP swept the Mandarin debate
Next, let’s talk about the Mandarin debate. This was exactly the same format as the English one. In this case, the candidates were PAP’s Ong Ye Kung, PSP’s Leong Mun Wai, and SDP’s Bryan Lim.
There’s no question that the PAP education minister won this round. He was crisp, clear, and charismatic, and rhetorically outclassed his counterparts.
Also, I think it was a shame that the WP did not participate in this debate.
Both debates were not perfect. Given that the CMIO system remains a feature in Singapore, it’s hard not to notice that there were no debates in Malay or Tamil. People also criticised how the PAP had more time to make their arguments.
Even so, it was very fun to watch the debates. This doesn’t happen very often in Singapore. And if you look on social media, many Singaporeans would agree that we should do this much more often.
I’ll leave you with the most memorable soundbite of the day, which came from WP’s Dr. Jamus Lim:
Dr. Lim: “What we’re trying to deny the PAP isn’t a mandate. What we are trying to deny them is a blank cheque. And that, is what I think this election truly is about.” (2:25 to 2:37)