The Singapore General Elections 2020 came and went earlier this month.
I was disappointed.
To clarify, this is not going to be one of those political analysis type posts. I’m not going to deep dive into who said what back when with what consequences. Many people have already written about the election and its results more eloquently and incisively than I can.
This post talks about the election. But it’s not really about the election.
What frustrates me about the election discourse
I watched several of the live broadcasts. Followed the latest happenings on the mainstream and social media. Read the political manifestos that I found in my mailbox.
The hot topics of this election were not much different from the previous two elections. Cost of living. Political diversity (or lack thereof). Jobs for Singaporeans (or lack thereof). Gerrymandering and censorship. There were a few new faces that stirred interest (and controversy). Otherwise, pretty much the same old issues, same old arguments.
But this election is not a “same old” election.
Singapore held this election under extraordinary circumstances. The election happened against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still accelerating in various parts of the world. Lives have been turned upside down and there is so much uncertainty about the future. It’s not just a public health crisis. The economic fallout will be massive and there will be social ramifications too.
Yet, I don’t get the sense that voters and politicians realise the magnitude of the crisis Singapore is caught up in. Folks do acknowledge that the COVID-19 situation is a big deal. However, many of the proposed policies don’t reflect that. In fact, people are too busy mudslinging and trying to cancel opinions that they don’t like by filing frivolous police reports.
Meanwhile, the world is changing. If Singapore continues to navel-gaze and ignore the wider context of global trends, the country will be screwed.
Jobs, for example, will fundamentally change
Take the issue of jobs for Singaporeans. Huge topic.
So much talk about putting Singaporeans first when it comes to jobs, reducing the number of foreign workers in Singapore, creating more jobs for Singaporeans (but unclear what kind), etc.
No mention about the fact that the nature of work is changing. Remote work is now the norm in many parts of the world and there are many benefits to it. What’s stopping businesses from hiring more people remotely if they cannot find the talent they want on local ground? Therefore, Singaporeans are not just competing with the foreigners they see in Singapore. Soon, Singaporeans might find themselves competing on the global stage.
I am also surprised that no one said a thing about the impact of automation and artificial intelligence. Digital transformation is now a priority for many businesses and governments are encouraging it. Automation and artificial intelligence are appealing because human resources are tight but work still needs to get done. Heck, my previous company, a startup, is working on artificial intelligence that essentially does the work of a sales development rep. Technology still has a long way to go, of course. But it could still end up displacing loads of jobs.
So, tell me again, how do we ensure jobs for Singaporeans in the light of remote work and technological advances?
How to prepare for an unknown future?
That’s just jobs.
I imagine that there will be fundamental changes in education, food, travel, healthcare, urban planning, etc. To be fair, it’s hard to see what those changes will be and how they will pan out over time. But that’s no excuse for not thinking and planning long-term.
Singapore will have to rethink many of the tried-and-tested ways it does things.
The country will also have to avoid getting even more polarised than it already is. Left-wing versus right-wing. Ruling party versus opposition. Young voters versus old voters. Majority versus minority. Locals versus foreigners. People can’t be disunited in the face of the crisis of a century.
What about at the individual level?
I believe in taking personal responsibility over my life. That includes making sure that my skills are sharp and that I am agile enough to deal with whatever life throws at me. I don’t feel entitled to handouts from whichever party is in power, just because I am a Singaporean.
How? I’m still learning and working that out.