Friday's general election is not only about which party or parties win it. It is about the consequences of that victory for Singapore, which lies at the most critical juncture of its history as an independent country. Singaporeans need to consider the arguments and counter-arguments being made during the campaigning period, which ends today before Cooling-off Day tomorrow, and vote for the leaders and their policies which they consider most likely to guide Singapore successfully through the difficult months and possibly years ahead.
Certainly, this is not the first general election to be held in a crisis mode. The first one after independence, in 1968, took the people's pulse on the way ahead for a vulnerable freedom that had been achieved three difficult years earlier. Singapore had belied expectations that it would crawl back from its sovereignty because of the unbearable economic and political pressures of independence. However, the Cold War was in full play, keeping South-east Asia within a violent orbit that could destroy a small country like Singapore unless it made the right choices on time. Citizens understood the stakes.
The circumstances of the 2001 election were no less pressing. Terrorism, in both its global and regional manifestations, threatened Singapore as a cosmopolitan, multiracial and multi-religious state whose economic interests were global. That globe included, importantly, the West, whose influence in world affairs the terrorists were determined to wipe out. Again, Singaporeans decided what lay in their best interests and acted accordingly.
The coronavirus pandemic is far more acute than the real threats which Singapore has survived. This time, there is no clear adversary against which moves can be planned in advance, whether it is the threat of the loss of sovereignty, the agency of terror, or the global imbalances that led to the Great Recession of 2008 to 2009. Covid-19 is a medical emergency with far-reaching economic implications whose contours have just begun emerging. No one knows how long the pandemic will last, how many times it will return, when a vaccine will be found, how equitably it will be available worldwide, and when the new normal will begin to have even the semblance of resemblance with the pre-Covid-19 normal. Meanwhile, a global downturn, expected to be the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, awaits. All these factors form a shorthand for possible looms.
Friday's general election is thus not a, but the, crisis election. What matters most is for voters to elect a government that can lead Singapore through the test of a generation. Voters should back leaders and parliamentarians who can bring the country together and take it forward.