SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Many Singaporeans voting Friday under the cloud of the coronavirus pandemic say a big electoral problem concerns job prospects and whether their wealthy little island needs so many foreigners playing games better paid roles.
No one expects a change of government on this rock of stability in Southeast Asia. The People’s Action Party has been in power since independence in 1965 and has always won an overwhelming parliamentary majority, even when its vote has gone wrong.
But this election will be a test of the two peoples’ confidence in the government’s management of the coronavirus crisis and its next generation of leaders, while Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – son of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew – plans to retire in a few days. years.
Even small changes in support for the pro-business PAP can lead to policy changes, and the coronavirus crisis has rekindled a national debate over the share of foreigners in the prosperity of the city-state.
Opponents say foreigners in high-level professional positions resonated with voters, analysts said. And a series of reports of strangers breaking lock rules and having their work cards revoked, fueled resentment.
“The COVID-19 epidemic has brought the issue of strangers to the fore in an even more striking manner,” said Nicholas Fang, founder of the Singaporean consultancy Black Dot Research.
Analysis firm Meltwater found that the problem attracted voters’ attention to social media, with only pensions and the cost of living mentioned more often than “foreign talent”.
Eugene Tan, a professor at Singapore Management University (SMU) and a former member of parliament, said that the image of the well-paid foreigner has become a “scarecrow” in the political debate.
“This is a problem that arouses deep emotional appeal,” he said. “The question is whether voters can balance this … with an objective and rational examination of whether we can do without foreign labor.”
Eight of the ten opposition parties have called for a reform of hiring policies to favor locals in their manifestos.
However, business groups are concerned that the barriers to recruiting will hinder growth in one of the most open economies in the world.
“Without foreigners, large corporations cannot necessarily operate and invest in Singapore as they have always done,” said Latha Olavatth, senior director for Asia-Pacific at global migration services company Newland Chase .
QUESTION OF PERCEPTION
According to demographic statistics, around 29% of Singapore’s 5.7 million inhabitants are non-residents, which represents a constant increase compared to around 10% in 1990.
Most foreigners are domestic helpers or low-wage manual workers, but it is the number of so-called professional, managerial, managerial and technical (PMET) positions that irritates Singaporeans with ambitions for their well-educated children .
“We must put an end to this nonsense of continuing to bring in foreign workers, especially foreign PMETs,” said Chee Soon Juan, a leader of the Democratic Party of Singapore, in a televised debate last week.
It touched a nerve. Vivian Balakrishnan of PAP responded by saying that PMET’s local workforce was almost seven times larger than PMET’s foreign workforce, that it was growing and that recent job losses had most affected foreigners.
“What more do you want us to do?” Asked Foreign Minister Balakrishnan.
When similar problems arose in the 2011 elections, the PAP garnered a record 60% of the vote and tightened international hiring rules to respond to voter sensitivity.
“For me and my friends, one of our main concerns is about job opportunities,” said Xuan Na, a 21-year-old student about to enter her final year. “We fear we won’t be able to get a good job.”