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GE2020: Manifestos, manifestos, manifestos

And here we are: it’s Nomination Day tomorrow! All the candidates will have to submit their paperwork and then we will know for sure who’s standing where, and whether there’ll be any multi-cornered fights. (Here’s a map of the constituencies with the latest information on who’s contesting. Also check out this page for more coverage.)

If you’re still looking for a run-down of how the elections work in Singapore, here’s a comic explainer that I wrote for New Naratif, illustrated beautifully by Shirin Rafie.

Read them manifestos!

(This was me today.)

In the meantime, one thing that I’ve been asked by multiple people is whether there’s a place where they can look at the manifestos/party positions of all the political parties without having to hunt down everything individually. I didn’t know of any page that did that, so I read/scanned through eight manifestos — of varying length and quality — today and compiled this spreadsheet which lists the parties’ proposals across different categories.

The GE2020 Manifestos Spreadsheet

I’ve gone off what I could find in their manifestos (or what passes for their manifestos), because I wanted to only log what they’re officially running in GE2020 on. If they’ve made some comments to the media about some issue, but it isn’t in their manifesto, then I didn’t add it into the spreadsheet.

I’ve linked the manifestos that I went through in the spreadsheet itself, but there’s also a separate Google folder here where someone has organised party manifestos into a single folder, and provided summaries. I encourage you to still read the manifestos in full yourself — a number of the parties do go into more detail than can be captured in spreadsheets and summaries!

What I learnt studying manifestos today

Reading manifestos is the best way to get a sense of a political party, its values, and how substantial it is. When you look through the manifesto, you get an idea of how much thought and care and work has been put into considering and formulating their proposals and positions.

In terms of work and level of detail, the Singapore Democratic Party takes the cake. It’s got a range of policy papers, covering healthcare, cost of living, climate change, etc. — and every one is written with lots of background and citation and explanation. I’ll admit that while I went through the papers picking out their policy proposals, theirs is the only manifesto I didn’t read in full, because there was just too much to get through. Top marks for effort, but that’s actually my criticism, too: it doesn’t really make sense to expect people to click through from one page to another and read a bunch of separate PDFs, which means it ends up being a waste. The only way to get the manifesto as one consolidated thing is to buy the hard copy for $42. I totally understand the need to raise funds, but if there’s one thing you want to make foolproof and easy for voters to access, it’s the manifesto. Pare it down, put it together and PDF it, please!

I was pleasantly surprised by the Workers’ Party manifesto. For a long time we’ve talked about the SDP as the party as most aligned to civil society causes and civil liberties, but WP’s GE2020 manifesto is encouragingly progressive, touching on important but often overlooked points like the need to recognise unpaid labour, forgiving public rent for low-income families in HDB rental flats during the COVID-19 lockdown period, priority for citizenship naturalisation for foreign spouses (with some conditions), and addressing the gender pay gap. I appreciated the breadth and depth of the thought that appears to have gone into the document.

The Progress Singapore Party has been attracting lots of attention recently, particularly with Lee Hsien Yang campaigning for them and making videos. But their manifesto was disappointingly thin. Given the impossibility of PSP forming government, and the asymmetries in information and power that I wrote about in a previous issue, I wasn’t expecting heavy detail and costings, but I thought there could have been more for voters to chew on.

Multiple parties are proposing a minimum/living wage for Singapore. Even the People’s Action Party is kind of proposing something that looks like one, in the sense that they say they want to expand the Progressive Wage Model to more industries. I’d still prefer a living wage rather than this sort of model (especially since the Progressive Wage Model covers citizens and PRs, but not others like work permit holders), but with so many parties leaning in that direction hopefully more low-wage workers will have good news soon.

Some of the other proposals that popped up in more than one manifesto: lowering the voting age to 18, more scrutiny of public spending, anti-discrimination legislation, unemployment insurance.

Issues I was disappointed to see unmentioned: 377A (no one seems to want to touch that), capital punishment (apart from the WP mentioning that death sentences should only be imposed with unanimity from the bench), more on ending the exploitation of migrant workers beyond dormitory conditions (which only WP and PAP mentioned).

Pick your “opponent(s)”

Reading all the manifestos in one day made my eyes cross 😵 a bit, but I was glad I did it. Collectively, the manifestos covered a very wide breadth of issues, demonstrating that Singapore does have many people out there, of a variety of political leanings, who have put much thought into the sort of country that they want to see.

There wasn’t a single manifesto from any party where I agreed with everything, nor was there one where I disagreed with everything. That, for me, emphasises why it’s important that we have a diversity of voices in Parliament — because oftentimes coming up with a solution isn’t just a matter of finding the one right voice, or even two voices. It’ll do us good to have more voices in Parliament to properly scrutinise and challenge proposals, and to champion different causes and push for different issues. For example, while I’m glad that WP brought up media reform, I appreciate that the Singapore People’s Party talked about divesting from carbon-intensive industries. I like that the PAP says they want to open more Special Education Schools to cater to different needs, but I take the point from a number of other parties (WP, SDP, SPP) who say that class sizes need to be reduced in primary and secondary schools.

One really important thing to remember is also that choosing a party to vote for isn’t an exercise in identifying perfection. It’s not about finding the party that we completely agree with. Instead, it’s more about finding the “opponent(s)” that we want to have moving forward, because democracy doesn’t end after we vote. As citizens, we’re still going to have to do the work of making sure the politicians we elect are accountable to us, that they keep their manifesto promises, and that we continue to have a role and a voice in decision-making in our country. The people we elect are the ones we’re going to be advocating to, collaborating or arguing with, and perhaps even protesting against at Hong Lim Park. It’s all part and parcel of a democratic society, and it’s important that the politicians understand this too — while a vote-share might indicate a mandate, it doesn’t mean the people don’t get to speak again between elections.

P.S. Of course, it’s not like any of us are getting to choose from a range of parties. But it’s good to know about the parties who aren’t contesting in our constituencies anyway, because it can help us identify potential allies who we can lobby or work with on causes we care about.

Best of luck to all the parties submitting their paperwork tomorrow — maybe it all go smoothly with no bad surprises. And now I’m going to go watch some utterly mindless romantic comedy to rest my brain…

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