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Tan Cheng Bock’s PSP calls for lowering of voting age, prioritising citizens for jobs

SINGAPORE — Lower the voting age from 21 to 18 to give younger Singaporeans a say in choosing their leaders, and give priority to Singaporean jobseekers and Singapore firms gunning for government contracts. These were among the proposals floated by Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s Progress Singapore Party (PSP) at its launch on Saturday afternoon (Aug 3).

On Saturday, Dr Tan also hit back at DPM Heng Swee Keat for describing his remarks at a recent press conference as contradictory.

On Saturday, Dr Tan also hit back at DPM Heng Swee Keat for describing his remarks at a recent press conference as contradictory.

SINGAPORE — Lower the voting age from 21 to 18 to give younger Singaporeans a say in choosing their leaders, and give priority to Singaporean jobseekers and Singapore firms gunning for government contracts.

These were among the proposals floated by Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s Progress Singapore Party (PSP) at its launch on Saturday afternoon (Aug 3).

“Allow those 18 and above to vote in our General Election,” Dr Tan, 79, told about 500 people at the ballroom of the Swissotel Merchant Court in Clarke Quay.

The party held two launch sessions in the day, with one happening in the morning.

“At 18, they are old enough to drive. The girls enter university and the boys enter… National Service. Since they have a duty to defend our country, these 18-year-olds should also have the right to elect their leaders,” he added.  

Dr Tan, a former presidential candidate and one-time Member of Parliament with the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), noted that 18 is the predominant voting age around the world.

It is also the voting age adopted by all the member states of the Association of South-east Asian Nations, except Singapore, where the voting age is 21.

In Indonesia, it is 17, and Malaysia most recently reduced the voting age from 21 to 18.

Dr Tan, who is PSP’s secretary-general, said 18-year-old citizens are mature enough to assume the responsibility of collective citizenry, understand policies, and vote for the government they want.

Rejecting the view that young Singaporeans are apolitical, Dr Tan said he has not found this to be “really true”. “It would mean more to them if they are a part of our democratic process,” he said.

Speaking to TODAY after the launch, Mr Anthony Lee, PSP’s assistant secretary-general, said the party wanted to start raising awareness of the need for the idea to be explored.

“Voting is so important, and we can get our more educated young people nowadays to be involved,” Mr Lee, 40, said, adding that the party needs to be voted into Parliament to kick-start the process to lower the voting age.

When asked if the PSP has a schedule for lowering the voting age, Mr Lee said the party would unveil how this could be done nearer the General Election, which is due by April 2021.

JOBS AND GOVT CONTRACTS: PRIORITY FOR CITIZENS, S’PORE FIRMS

Turning to jobs, Dr Tan said his party would fight to ensure that Singaporeans are given priority in employment.

It would call for a review of the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Co-operation Agreement, signed in 2005. It was negotiated by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat when he was permanent secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Dr Tan said the agreement, which allows Indian professionals across more than 100 sectors to enter and work in Singapore, has led to much unhappiness among Singaporean professionals who felt vulnerable in their jobs. The agreement also allows Singaporeans to work in India.

He urged the Government to publish a “balance sheet” to show how Singapore and its citizens have benefited from the agreement. “How many local jobs have gone to Indian professionals, and how many Singaporeans have gone to India? We need accountability,” he said.

Meanwhile, to strengthen job security, Dr Tan proposed that more in-depth training be linked to jobs. This means that trainees should be matched with jobs after undergoing training.

The wages of vocational workers must also reflect their skills and difficulty of labour, he said.

Away from jobs, the Government must create a workable business environment that supports Singapore’s small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), Dr Tan said.

He suggested that Singapore companies be given preference when it comes to government contracts. Well-established government-linked firms should also focus more on overseas expansion and less on competing with SMEs domestically.

Beyond Singapore’s shores, Singapore companies must not compete with, but rather help, one another, he added.

Other issues cited by Dr Tan include the low fertility rate and efforts to support elderly people amid a greying population.

On healthcare, Dr Tan suggested that a primary-healthcare programme — composed of a complement of institutions outside hospitals — could help Singaporeans stay healthy in a less costly manner.

During a question-and-answer session, Dr Tan was asked about the issue he would tackle first if he were voted into Parliament and his policy to deal with the problem.

Dr Tan replied that amid fears of an economic recession, the uppermost priority would be to create jobs and manage the economy, and put in place policies for unemployed workers.

HITTING BACK AT DPM HENG

At Saturday’s launch, Dr Tan also hit back at Mr Heng, the Deputy Prime Minister, for describing his remarks at a recent press conference as contradictory.

In a press conference last Friday, Dr Tan cited the PAP’s decision to debate a dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings over their Oxley Road home in Parliament as an example of a lack of transparency.

Responding a day later, Mr Heng — the PAP’s first assistant secretary-general — said Dr Tan’s remarks were contradictory. That Mr Lee was prepared to debate the issue in the House demonstrated transparency, he said.

Wading into the matter again on Saturday, Dr Tan said Mr Heng’s understanding of transparency was “deeply flawed” and this was very troubling.

“His idea of transparency is to have it debated in Parliament, surrounded by an overwhelming majority of his own men, with no right of reply from the other parties,” he said.

For instance, Mr Lee Hsien Yang, the prime minister’s brother, was not in the House to explain his position, Dr Tan noted. “Where’s this question of transparency and accountability?” he asked.

TODAY has approached Mr Heng for a response.

Dr Tan noted that, in a recent interview with Malaysian reporters, Mr Heng said a more adversarial political system would not be good for Singapore. He said he was glad Mr Heng was taking a “different approach”. 

“That is very interesting because saying and doing are two different things,” said Dr Tan. “Let’s hope he really honours what he says.”

Dr Tan’s core party members on Saturday also took turns, over an hour, to deliver speeches on a range of topics, from the impetus for setting up the party and freedom of speech to ministerial salaries and mental health. 

They were Mr Lee, its assistant secretary-general, chairman Wang Swee Chuang, treasurer S Nallakaruppan, assistant treasurer Hazel Poa, and central-executive-committee members Michelle Lee and Abdul Rahman.

Related topics

Tan Cheng Bock Progress Singapore Party Heng Swee Keat Singapore politics

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