Political Risks, Concerns & Challenges

It wasn’t long ago when no one knew of the novel coronavirus.

Today, it’s profoundly changing how millions of people live.

Singapore was one of the earliest countries to report cases of COVID-19 and as of 6 April 2020, Singapore has a total of 1,309 confirmed cases, with 6 deaths. To curb the spread of the virus, the authorities have engaged in a range of infection control methods such as quarantining contacts of confirmed and suspected cases, tireless engaging in contact tracing, implementing stay-home notices for those at risk, and slowing the spread through encouraging social distancing and self-monitoring.

Our interdependence with Malaysia has also been a point of vulnerability for Singapore when they made a sudden decision to shut their borders, which threw many companies into a frenzy. Concerns on food security were also raised, given how reliant Singapore is on external food supply.

Recently, Black Dot Research carried out a survey with a central motive to gauge the confidence of Singaporeans moving forward in the current climate involving economic uncertainties and the coronavirus outbreak. The survey compiled answers from 115 respondents, compromising of a mix of ages, genders, ethnicities, and education backgrounds to best represent the Singapore population.

COVID-19’S BATTLEGROUND

The COVID-19 outbreak has now infected more than 1 million individuals globally – Singapore included. Just a few weeks ago, Singapore was one of the worst-hit nations outside of China, but this has since changed after South Korea saw an over 30-fold increase in a week. Malaysia also saw a sudden surge, with two-thirds its 3000+ of infections stemming from a mosque event in Kuala Lumpur. Italy, with at least 115,000+ confirmed cases, has now become the epicentre in Europe. The United States has reported an alarming jump in numbers of those infected and dead, and is currently leading the world tally with more than 245,000+ confirmed cases.

SECRET TO SUCCESS?

The ability to contain the transmission of COVID-19 has been a goal that countries around the world are trying to achieve – something that Singapore in particular has won international praise for. Apart from making sure enough tests are being done and having effective contact tracing methods, Singapore has also enforced more restrictive measures that includes implementing stay-home notices, closing public spaces such as entertainment venues, bars, etc., limiting mass gatherings to 10 or less people, as well as issuing strong advice about safe distancing.

It is very possible that these measures have been successful due to our small population that is generally accepting of these expansive orders. At least 70% of our respondents agreed that there was strong support and compliance with the government-implemented measures for COVID-19.

REVERSING ECONOMIC NEGATIVITY

Deputy Prime Minister and finance minister Heng Swee Keat announced a stimulus plan in his budget statement on 18 February 2020 to deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic. A series of support packages worth S$6.4 billion were released to support businesses and consumers, as well as to fight the spread of the outbreak. While these measures were put in place to cushion the impact of the virus, at least 43% still think more effort is needed to boost the economy.

[UPDATE]: A second economic stimulus package – the largest in Singapore’s history, was unveiled on 26 March 2020. Singaporeans’ immediate reactions to the $48 billion “landmark” package has been overwhelmingly positive. It aims to address the impact of COVID-19 on Singapore’s economy and job security. The package also expands employment benefits, provides loans to businesses, gives direct cash payments to Singaporeans and helping households with daily expenses and flexibility on fees and loans.

MORE DIRECTION FROM THE PEOPLE

Our survey also managed to underscore the degree to which the virus has captured the public’s consciousness. A quarter of respondents now name the virus when they are asked to identify the biggest concerns facing them right now, and many of the other concerns named are related to the potential impact of the virus – including job security and unemployment, paying everyday bills, the economy and healthcare costs.

POLITICS OVER PANDEMIC?

With Singapore still grappling with COVID-19, the notion of an upcoming election raised questions about how such an exercise would be held amid this development. However, it is still too early to know the effect this crisis will have on the GE. Much will depend on the trajectory of the public’s perception on how the government will move forward in handling the pandemic. But given that a majority of Singaporeans have a good deal of trust in the government, could this, in theory, be the best time for election candidates of the ruling party to be running their campaigns?

IS A RECESSION COMING?

We can’t say we’re in a recession yet, at least not formally. Still, most Singaporeans (97%) are anticipating a negative effect on the global economy as a result of the outbreak – and their expectations are backed up by statistics regarding infection rates, case-fatality ratios and economic data.

This can come down to a trade-off that the government need to implement and Singaporeans need to accept – in this instance, between an emphasis on slowing down the spread of the virus at all costs versus an emphasis on maintaining employment and a viable economy. There was also added emphasis from our respondents when they were asked to rank their top national priorities; 78% chose protecting jobs for Singaporeans as their top priority, while 59% chose strengthening resilience and unity among citizens as their third.

BILATERAL HICCUPS A THING OF THE PAST?

As COVID-19 tightens its grip on the world with one-third of world’s population on lockdown, the case for international cooperation has never been stronger. In a previous poll, majority (72%) of our respondents mentioned that Singapore firms who rely on Malaysia’s labour force could be experiencing significant, short-term impact due to Malaysian Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s implementation of a Movement Control Order (MCO). Due to strong bilateral ties between Singapore and Malaysia, both countries have agreed to coordinate measures that will ensure uninterrupted flow of goods and cargo for the mutual benefit of their people by establishing a Singapore-Malaysia Special Working Committee on COVID-19.

While at least half (47%) of our respondents are unsure if a sudden change in Malaysia’s leadership can strengthen its relationship with Singapore, a joint mitigation plan against the virus could lead to a sustainable relationship. After all, the importance of a strong relationship between neighbouring countries has also been voted as a second priority by 64% of our respondents!

FLATTENING THE CURVE, REGIONALLY

In the face of this unprecedented pandemic, we now face a paramount question – and that is what path we must take. When we work together, we are protected together. Solidarity and cooperation among countries can prove to be the most formidable weapons in the battle against COVID-19. 69% of our respondents agreed that we should be pushing for regional integration with the countries in ASEAN. As part of a more “concerted strategy”, all 11 ASEAN countries have agreed to work with China to step-up cooperation in sharing health information and enhancing emergency preparedness.

We must all encourage transparency in the sharing of information, prevention methods and discourage unnecessary panic.

Let us know if you have any tidbits to share at feedback@blackdotresearch.sg. We would love a byte!

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