Disconnection seems to be the theme of my first election. The People’s Action Party’s (PAP) flier detailed the benefits residents of Punggol East would enjoy should the PAP return to power – and not about issues important to people. The Workers’ Party flier explained the concept of a First World Parliament, without touching on issues people find important. The Singapore Democratic Alliance takes a different tack.
In the opening pages, the SDA mentions ‘5 burning issues that affect all Singaporean! (sic)’. They are cost of living, HDB prices (prices of Housing and Development Board flats), the income gap, job security and medical expenses. I’ve seen these issues surface in the opposition rallies I have covered. But this is the first time I have seen some of them in a single flier. Some, because government accountability and transparency and impact of increasing number of foreigners, among others, isn’t in the flier.
By mentioning these issues in the beginning, the SDA is suggesting that it will propose ideas to solve them.
They did not.
Just two statements directly addresses these issues. ‘…Medisave should be fully liberalized to cover all medical costs, with the annual limit on Medishield coverage raised’, and ‘Singaporeans ought to enjoy unlimited lifetime coverage as well’.
The rest of the flier is instead about the SDA’s promises to the residents of Punggol East. Specifically:
1. ‘Serve as full-time Member of Parliament’
2. Provide ‘Basic Personal Accident Coverage for every voter’ through the ‘Punggol East Sinpo’s community funds’
3. ‘Set-up Co-operative society’ to ‘assist residents to be self-sustainable’.
3. Allocate 1/3 of MP’s allowance to the above-mentioned funds.
4. Free counseling clinic
5. Free financial planning and counseling
6. Resident participation in Town Council’s monthly meetings, online or in person
The SDA’s most ambitious proposal is the ‘Punggol East Eco Haven’ concept, which is a proposed give-year redevelopment plan for Punggol East. This plain aims to build a ‘more sustainable future’ and create ‘a spirit of social cooperation’ led by a ‘group made up of members from the Town Council and residents themselves’. The Eco Haven’s master plan proposes building a cycling track, ‘Stress management Corners’, ‘Residents’ Corners’, and an open-air theatre and food and recreation facilities near Sungei Serangoon. This plan is based on 5 key ideas:
1. Eco-farming: encouraging residents to grow vegetables and fruits and rear chickens, ducks and fish for community
2. Localised business and job-creation: Unemployed residents can work at eco-farms, and residents ‘who create businesses within or for the community’ may ‘enjoy local produce at discounted prices’.
3. Renewable energy and recycling: Profit from local commercial activities ‘will be used to help drive renewable energy initiatives’; solar energy and recycling will be encouraged.
4. Localised travelling: Residents encouraged to start or work in the area, so they won’t have to travel elsewhere to work, leading to more quality time for family.
5. Eco-friendly facilities and environment: ‘Green walls’ that cancel noise in expressways; cycling tracks; solar panels for public lighting; relaxation corners; recreation and social facilities along Sungei Serangoon; and more public toilets at playgrounds, senior citizens’ corners and barbecue areas.
To be fair, some of these ideas are useful. Participation in meetings, free clinic and financial planning, community funds and accident coverage would be welcome. Encouraging eco-friendliness is virtually necessary in this age of global warming, and as an entrepreneur myself, I’m heartened by this call to the creation of localised business.
But there are more than a few flaws here.
Basic Personal Accident Coverage for ‘every voter’ implies that people who are ineligible to vote – that is, children, Permanent Residents and foreigners – will not be covered. A cynic might even think ‘every voter who votes for the SDA’ instead of ‘every voter’.
The proposed Residents’ Corners are located at flats on the edge of every block and next to roads and the Tampines Expressway. People live there. I doubt they would care very much for farms in the area: the high volume of noise, odour and traffic this generates would get on people’s nerves.
Residents who operate businesses in the area would ‘enjoy local produce at discounted prices’. This means establishing a regulatory system to determine who are these residents, what kind of discounts they would enjoy, a means of verification and a means of enforcement. There is nothing in the flier that suggests the SDA had thought this out.
I’m most concerned about this statement: ‘Profits from local commercial activities such as eco-farming will be used to help drive renewable energy initiatives’. There are no hows or whys given, beyond a statement to promote usage of solar energy and recycling. As an entrepreneur, when I look at that statement, I’m think of a localised tax system to take my profits for ends I may not be interested in. I don’t care to pay taxes upon taxes. This idea needs clarification or abandonment.
All the above ideas do not address the national issues raised by the SDA.
Cost of living will still remain high in spite of local businesses, because it’s affected by the national – not local – economy. Prices of HDB flats are determined by the HDB; there is nothing to say that the SDA will talk to the HDB. Measures to ensure job security and close the income gap are only partway addressed by the above proposal: not everybody wants to or can be be a farmer or produce seller, and farmers only start to make profits if they can capitalise on economies of scale. The farms at the RC will be necessarily small to accommodate people who live there; farmers will have little to no economies of scale, and local shops would be almost entirely dependent on the output of these small farms. Should something happen to the farms, the shops would have to scramble for more expensive suppliers, which further reduces profits. Of medical expenses, the SDA proposes nothing to ease them beyond accident coverage.
Fundamentally, the SDA’s flier doesn’t address the issues it raises. It’s like the flier comes in two overlapping parts instead of a single coherent whole. The obvious typos and errors suggest that the SDA could have done well by hiring a decent copywriter. While the SDA acknowledges the issues the PAP doesn’t raise, and addresses what it can do for local residents, the flier is internally incoherent and makes promises disconnected from reality and practicality.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from looking at campaign fliers, it’s that the content of fliers do not match rallies. The Workers’ Party, for example, proposed a lot of ideas during its rallies, ranging from improving quality of life for the disabled and reforming the Central Provident Fund system. On one hand, a flier can’t possibly cover everything a party stands for. On the other hand, it should give voters a snapshot of what the party and the politician will do, both locally and nationally. Many people will not be able to attend election rallies; parties have to assume that the flier is the only thing that a voter will see before polling day. The campaign flier needs to be an integral part of the party’s overall communication plan, the macrocosm captured in the microcosm.
Every piece of party communication should be an attempt to connect the reader to the voter. Disconnecting readers the way the PAP, WP and SDA did is no way to reach out to voters. Maybe, when the next elections roll around, the parties would have a better communication strategy. I’m not going to hold my breath, though.