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What do our Singaporean readers really think about the current state of Singapore and the most important issues facing the country? In stage 1 of The Citizens’ Agenda, we asked them to answer the following question:

In your opinion, what issues do you consider important to Singapore? What do you think the candidates should be talking about as they compete for your votes in the upcoming election?

1,232 people responded. Unlike in 2019, where the responses were entirely online through New Naratif’s survey portal, this time we worked with a survey company, Vase.ai, to ensure that we surveyed a statistically representative sample of Singaporeans. The responses were extremely diverse, intelligent, and passionate. If you’d like to see the (anonymised) raw data, here it is (warning: some people used language that may be considered offensive).

As in 2019, we read through all 1,232 responses and then grouped all the responses into 23 broad issues. People brought up many different topics, from job security to environmental issues. Take a look at the responses below—and then go read the report for stage 2!

A note on our survey company: Vase.ai is a survey platform that has 3.6 million people across Southeast Asia in its panel. Through its platform, it aims to provide surveys as an automated service, thus making it easy and affordable to run statistically-accurate surveys across the region in different countries. However, this automation also involves constraints and trade-offs, and one trade-off is that we have to conform to its pre-defined panel demography. This includes only two genders (male and female), the CMIO racial categorisation, and a geographic location based on Singapore’s planning areas rather than constituency or other commonly-used geographic boundaries. In New Naratif’s own public survey, we sought to be more inclusive, but the majority of the data (1,215 respondents) comes from Vase.ai and the results are accordingly limited.


The Issues Summarised

For brevity in stage 2, we summarised each issue in under 280 characters. Each issue includes examples of the questions and concerns that people raised. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

  • 💡 CIVIL LIBERTIES
    Will the government grant greater freedom of speech and freedom of expression to citizens? Will the government allow for greater media freedom?
  • 💸 COST OF LIVING & WAGES
    What is the government planning to do to address the rising cost of food, energy, healthcare and property? Why is the government raising GST and other taxes while the economy is still recovering? What measures are taken to increase wages to a decent living standard? 
  • 🇸🇬 CULTURE & IDENTITY
    What can be done to prevent Singaporeans from losing their sense of belonging and identity? How can we reduce our material (kiasu) culture? Can our society be more polite?
  • 📢💬 DEMOCRACY
    How do we prevent political apathy among youths? How do we ensure we have qualified, capable election candidates? Can we have a viable alternative government? Can we have electoral and parliamentary reform?
  • 🚸 DEMOGRAPHY
    Is the country prepared to address the challenges of an ageing society (aged care facilities, medical care, digital literacy, social protection, etc.)? How do we increase our low birth rate? Is there or will there be overpopulation in Singapore?
  • 🔌 DIGITAL INFRASTRUCTURE
    Is Singapore’s internet connectivity at an adequately high level? Is the government attracting or making enough AI investments? Should they regulate and include cryptocurrencies in the mainstream economy? Are our data protected?
  • 📊 📈 ECONOMY & JOBS
    How do we keep attracting investments to maintain our status as a high-income country? What policies are in place to provide more jobs to Singaporeans, not just foreigners? How can we improve local graduate employability?
  • 🎓 EDUCATION & HUMAN CAPITAL
    How do we keep attracting high skilled foreign talents? How do we nurture entrepreneurship and innovation among locals? Does the education syllabus need reform to produce a better-skilled local workforce? How can we upskill and reskill our workforce?
  • 🌏🌞 ENVIRONMENT & SUSTAINABILITY
    Are we prepared to increase clean energy and reduce carbon emissions? How can we reduce our food wastage and plastic consumption? Can we build more green spaces to reduce heat? Are we prepared to face the effects of climate change and natural disasters? Are our landfills sustainable?
  • 🐔 FOOD SECURITY
    How do we ensure a sufficient chicken supply if Malaysia stops exporting to Singapore? What long-term strategies can we formulate to address Singapore’s lack of local agricultural produce?
  • ♟️ GOVERNANCE & LEADERSHIP
    How do we make politicians more responsive to citizens’ needs? How do we make them accountable for their promises? How can we ensure we always have transparent and effective leadership in Singapore? Should the ministers’ salaries be so high?
  • 🏘 HOUSING
    Why are HDB prices so unaffordable to the average Singaporean? Should the government allow single citizens below 35 years old to purchase an apartment? Why must we have 99-year lease periods which prevents the accumulation of intergenerational wealth? Why is the waiting time so long?
  • 🌏 IMMIGRATION & NATIONAL INTEREST
    Why are there so many foreign workers and expatriates that are taking jobs away from Singaporeans? Why are many, if not most, permanent residents (PR) exempted from National Service? How do we provide greater protection and opportunity to Singaporean citizens instead of foreigners?
  • 🎲 INEQUALITY & SOCIAL MOBILITY
    How do we reduce income inequality and improve social mobility? Can we introduce a high wealth tax? What other ways are there to channel resources justly and establish a level playing field between the classes?
  • ⚖️ JUSTICE SYSTEM
    Should the death penalty be removed? Or should it be maintained, or even extended, to reduce crimes? Should our laws be so restrictive? How can we ensure that the rule of law prevails in Singapore?
  • 🧭 POLITICAL STABILITY
    How do we ensure the PAP keeps governing Singapore? Will the PM succession plan work? Does political stability take precedence over democratic ideals?
  • 🩺 PUBLIC HEALTH
    How do we better prepare for a future Covid-19 wave/new pandemic? Are our SOPs effective in curtailing infections? Do we have adequate protection from dengue, monkeypox, or other epidemics?
  • ⚙️🌳 PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE & SPACES
    How can we increase living space in Singapore? Should we reclaim more land? Can we build more parks? How can we reduce morning traffic? How can we reduce construction work on foothills?
  • 🫶 RACISM & DISCRIMINATION
    What steps are taken to prevent racial and gender discrimination in the workplace and in public? How do we combat Chinese privilege and achieve equality for all races? Should the government monitor hate speech?
  • RIGHTS & EQUALITY
    What policies are there to ensure justice for LGBTQ communities, for mistreated foreign workers, and for women? When can we repeal law 377A? Why doesn’t the government support marriage equality among LGBTQ?
  • 🔐🕊 SAFETY & SECURITY
    What steps are taken to address crime, which has become more frequent lately? Has the government done enough to protect us from physical and cyber threats including religious extremism? Can we maintain international neutrality amid the Russia-Ukraine war and US-China tensions?
  • ⚓️ SOCIAL SECURITY & WELFARE
     Should the state limit CPF withdrawal, or entrust members to decide? Should CPF Life begin earlier? Should the retirement age be lowered? Should there be more cash and CPF handouts? Is there enough support for the homeless, those in poverty, and drug abuse victims? Is there enough attention being given to childcare facilities and needs?
  • 🌻 WELLBEING
    Is the government addressing rising cases of mental health issues, suicide, and high stress levels? Should the government introduce laws to promote work-life balance and prevent work abuse by employers, such as a 4-day working week? Can our society focus less on work and academic achievements, and more on happiness via sports, etc.?

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Highlights

  • Jobs and the increasing cost of living were a consistent concern across the board, irrespective of age. For respondents in their early 20s, worries were centred around securing jobs after graduation; for older respondents, the main worry was the cost of living. There were also many who perceived unfairness in the hiring/enforcement of rules around foreigners in Singapore and expressed anxieties over losing their jobs to foreigners.
  • Racism and age discrimination, especially when it came to employment, were worrying. Respondents called for better workplace conditions and support including: 
    • childcare support,
    • shorter working weeks, and
    • better redressal mechanisms at work for harassment.
  • Triggered by the recent fresh chicken shortage in the country, Singaporeans are growing increasingly concerned with food security. The chicken shortage was caused by a temporary ban on fresh chicken exports from Malaysia, which was the result of Malaysia’s fears about its own food security (see the Malaysia Stage 1 Survey Report).
  • Reeling from the ongoing pandemic, many respondents highlighted the impact of Covid-19 on their lives, focusing on the economic and public health impact of the pandemic. Respondents also wanted to see better fleshed out economic recovery plans from the government, particularly for small businesses and for people who were retrenched.
  • Connected to the above, there was pessimism about the succession or transfer of power to the “4th Generation” (4G) of People’s Action Party (PAP) leaders and about the capability of the new leaders. There was also frustration with the destructive and unfair political landscape. Many people argued for greater opposition representation in Parliament to bring diverse views and/or act as a checks and balances mechanism on the governing PAP. As with 2019, the PAP itself, how the leaders behave, the lack of transparency and accountability, and the suppression of alternative voices, were all frequently listed as problems.
  • Respondents expressed their desire to see more support for LGBTQIA+ individuals and for human rights in general. Some explicitly called for Section 377A to be repealed
  • Singaporeans brought up mental health and mental distress, linking it to the high-pressure nature of Singaporean society. Many had also mentioned that such mental distress has only been exacerbated by the pandemic and the rising cost of living.
  • The climate crisis, especially rising temperatures and erratic weather, was a major focus. Many respondents are growing increasingly worried about the future livability of the city and call for better and more equitable climate change policies that don’t adversely impact low-income communities. 
  • Some changes from 2019: In 2019, only one person mentioned security, but in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, six people mentioned national security and most specifically cited the Ukraine war; likewise, in 2019, no one mentioned crime, except again in the context of the unfairness/inhumanity of drug penalties, but this time five people mentioned rising crime rates.

Issues Not (or Infrequently) Mentioned

Interestingly, respondents ignored many issues identified by the current PAP government as urgent:

  • Foreign Interference: while the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act has just come into effect, no one identified foreign interference, as defined by how the PAP has campaigned about it, as a problem. In other words, no one was worried about hostile information campaigns run by foreign governments, about Singaporeans acting as local proxies for foreign principals seeking to disrupt Singapore, or in general about hostile foreign governments and foreign funding. On the contrary, the main fear around foreigners was in the ways in which the PAP government openly facilitates and encourages foreign interference: foreign PMET workers being privileged over Singaporeans; companies exploiting low-wage migrant labour; foreign money (e.g. buying property) raising the cost of living for Singaporeans. This suggests that the priorities of the government are very different from most citizens.
  • Fake news: No one mentioned deliberate online falsehoods (“fake news”) and disinformation campaigns as a problem. This is undoubtedly a genuine issue, and it even recently swung the Philippines Presidential elections, but the lack of mention of this suggests that either people know about it but regard it as less important relative to other issues, or that people do not know about it, in which case they are ignoring the PAP government’s strident warnings about it.
  • Race and Religion: Very few people (only three, and only one from the majority Chinese race) mentioned racial or religious faultlines. Instead, race and religion were discussed in terms of reducing discrimination, increasing mutual understanding, and facilitating honest and respectful exchanges. It was usually mentioned along the lines of the pledge: one united people regardless of race, language, or religion.

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By the Numbers

Longest response: One response consisted of 1776 words, longer than many journalism articles on New Naratif and nearly 300 words more than the longest answer from 2019 (1497 words)! It covered only four issues: “Recovery from COVID-19”; “Freedom of speech, expression, assembly, and the press”; “Election reform”; and “Cost of Living”. The vast majority of the answer was devoted to the second issue, freedom of speech, expression, assembly, and the press;

Honourable mention goes to the person who simply cut and pasted the entirety of our previous Citizens’ Agenda research from 2019 into their answer. Did they simply google “most important issues facing Singapore” and then cut and paste our article? Or did they feel that nothing has changed since 2019?

Shortest response: Unlike in 2019, no one submitted “jobs”, but many people submitted essentially the same thing: “Money”, “Inflation”, “Employment”, “Cost of Living”. Technically, however, the shortest answer goes to the person who wrote “LGBT”, presumably meaning discrimination against sexual orientation and identity.

Most amusing, exasperating, and yet inadvertently revealing response: “I’m not supposed to talk about anything political related in Singapore (sic), not allowed as am not a citizen of Singapore.” It’s a sign of how internalised this belief that non-citizens are not allowed to comment on Singapore politics is that this person has responded this way. The truth is, of course, that the PAP government is more than happy for foreigners to comment on and interfere in Singapore politics—as long as they agree with the PAP.

We’re not going to tell you which were the most popular responses, as we don’t want to influence your response in Stage 2, but here is a word cloud:

Finally, a demographic breakdown of the 1,215 respondents on Vase.ai. Percentages are rounded to the nearest percentage point, and so the percentages may not add up to 100%:

Location:

Now that you’ve seen the breakdown, you can learn more about the top five most important issues facing Singapore! Share your takeaways with us and spread the word.


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