There may be a celebratory SG50 mood sweetening the ground, but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made clear yesterday that the ruling party does not think it is headed into "an easy election" on Sept 11.
Factors like the electorate's aspirations and "outlook in a new world" will make this election a hard-fought one, he said, emphasising that it is not guaranteed that the People's Action Party will be returned to power.
It is the first time since independence that all parliamentary seats in Singapore are being contested.
"I think there's a lot at stake because this is an SG50 election," said PM Lee, speaking at a customary post-Nomination press conference yesterday. "The country is at a turning point. Question is, in what direction do we now go?"
Regional neighbours, foreign powers and international investors are also watching the polls, he said, for signs on whether Singapore will remain politically stable and open.
PM Lee and senior members of his team rubbished the suggestion that opposition breakthroughs in the 2011 General Election had resulted in the PAP "working harder".
PM Lee repeated Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's argument that "the world did not begin in 2011" and widened it, noting that the Government has, actually, gradually built up stronger social safety nets since the days of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.
Secondly, he said the thinking that opposition votes put pressure on the ruling party to please the people reduces the relationship between Government and people into a "game".
This undermines and repudiates the system that has allowed Singapore to become one of a kind - a "unicorn" among nations, he said. "It's not a game where 'I threaten you a little bit, and then you do a bit more,' " PM Lee said.
"(Or) on the other hand, the Government threatens back a little bit, and then the voters shrink back. "If you play that kind of game, you will very soon be in the same kind of jam as other countries which do this."
Singapore has not followed that formula of contention and antagonism in its politics and that is how it has carved out its place in the world, said PM Lee.
Citing a report from political risk consultancy Eurasia Group that describes Singapore as a "unicorn", he said: "(We are a) one of a kind, miraculous animal. There's no other unicorn in the world. And it works well, it has unique solutions and the rest of the world is not sure what to make of it."
While Singapore also faces problems like others such as income inequality, its unicorn trait is in how the problems are tackled, he said.
"Our formula has been to work together, build the trust. The Government does the right things for voters to the best of our ability. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes it falls short of what the voters expect because it's harder to do than we imagined.
"But overall, there is that basic trust that I'm doing this on your behalf, otherwise I wouldn't be doing this," he said.
Referring to a Mandarin saying that means "to become an official is to become rich," PM Lee emphasised that in Singapore, "there's no money in this".
Senior Minister of State for Education and Law Indranee Rajah, who is standing for re-election in Tanjong Pagar GRC, added: "In order to achieve all those things that we've achieved, you need a strong government with a strong mandate and with good people to do the things that need to be done."
This article was first published on Sept 2, 2015.
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