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In Singapore’s brewing election battle, immigration anxiety takes centre stage

“The campaign message hangs on one issue: foreign workers,” said Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party, during its campaign launch last month.

In his speech, Chee argued that while foreign workers had made significant contributions to Singapore’s growth, an increasing reliance on this workforce threatened national identity and aggravated income inequality.

Chee vowed that his party would urge the government to “say very categorically” that it would “significantly reduce the inflow of foreign workers”, adding his party would work towards formulating policy alternatives until the election.

“Opposition parties are likely to focus on areas where Singapore faces intense challenges – cleanliness of institutions and government figures, cost of living and inflation, influx of foreigners that burden an already stressed infrastructure, employment in better-paying jobs for Singaporeans – and hold the incumbent party to task in its management of these challenges,” said Kasthuri Prameswaren, a lecturer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences who specialises in the politics of Singapore and Southeast Asia.

“We welcome foreign professionals to work in Singapore, but it is controlled,” he said. “Because if it is not controlled, I think we will be easily swamped. We cannot afford to be like the UAE, where the local residents are only less than 10 per cent of the population. They have a different compact because they use the oil and gas revenues to provide everything for the citizens.

“In return, they just allow foreigners to come in freely. That is not possible in Singapore.”

The presence of foreign professionals in Singapore has long been a hot-button political issue, particularly during election season.