Quit playing games for my vote

Posted on 29 March 2011

You know it’s time for you to vote when all you hear in the news is the “PAP” and “The Opposition”. But you know it’s supposed to be about you and not them right?

By Justin Zhuang

I THOUGHT that Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng was shooting himself in the foot when he questioned the opposition’s motives of wanting to capture a GRC in the upcoming elections. Then again, he made a lot of sense.

“Some say they are doing it for party renewal, some want to be the first ones to do so, but what is the elections about? Is it about the ambitions of a political party or individuals to make history?” he asked.

Clearly, he didn’t seem to remember that his party, the PAP, also has intentions to capture a GRC for party renewal. After all, the party is trying to build its fourth generation team. But in case anyone gets this “team” mixed up with “government”, here’s a quick reminder: The PAP candidates need to be elected by the people first.

That aside, I think his remarks pretty much sum up the elections hustings thus far. All the politicians have been doing is talking about themselves or with one another.

And if history repeats itself, that’s probably how the upcoming General Elections will turn out to be — political entertainment served up once every five years. As usual, the PAP will have a field day caricaturing the opposition parties and their candidates, digging up any dirty and dismal past.

Just look at what they did in the 1963 elections, using cartoons on flyers to succinctly sum up their position against their opponents. The same thing in the 1967 by-elections was done on banners at a rally in Thomson. Nowadays, they just say it as it is, like in 1997 when they labeled Workers’ Party candidate Tang Liang Hong anti-Christian and a Chinese chauvinist. The medium may be different but the method stays the same.

On the other hand, all you hear from the Opposition parties is the plea to us to vote out the PAP — the exact rallying call of the Barisan Sosialis in the 1984 elections.

Yet, what is an elections really about? Is it just about who we vote in or what we are voting for? The problem with our elections here is it never seems to rise above petty politics (and personalities) to a proper debate about issues that matter. It’s like watching an entertainment show on television, with two sides trying to outdo one another, and you as a viewer (some people don’t get to vote, you see), you stand to receive prizes (goodies) just by picking the right winner.

One big reason for this is that neither side treats the voters with enough respect. We don’t know who we are as voters. The constant redrawing of electoral boundaries give us no sense of place. This elections, I am be part of Hougang SMC, but in the next I could be part of Aljunied GRC! Then, there’s the parachuting of candidates: people who don’t live in our constituencies or spend years with us are suddenly moved to stand in a constituency to suit the party’s strategy.

We don’t need a Cooling-Off Day to think about who we want to vote for, but we need certainty about who the candidates are as early as possible. How can we be expected to make an informed choice about a candidate in weeks? Especially when I have to live with the decision for five years!

But the true mark of a people’s candidate is when voters come up to you to take a photograph and an autograph. Not the other way around.

The uncertainty is further fuelled by the lack of a fixed election date, that leads to unnecessary time wasted on speculation. “When are the elections?” “Who will be contesting?” become the de-facto election questions when voters should be discussing the ‘Whats’ and ‘Whys’ of voting.

Uncertainty also breeds uncommitted candidates, because nothing is confirmed until Nomination Day. And in order to win our votes in such a short time, politicians on both sides end up engaging in mudslinging to make their opponents look bad. The opposition especially seems prone to that.

On the flipside, parties the party that can afford more, resorts to gimmicks and giveaways that are sometimes in such bad taste. In order to wrest Bukit Gombak back from the SDP after the 1991 elections, PAP candidate Mr Ang Mong Seng began celebrating the birthdays of children attending the constituency’s PAP Community Foundation preschools. Recalling how he won it back in 1997, Mr Ang told The Straits Times that not only did he sing them birthday songs and cut a cake with them, he even posed for a photograph with each child and autographed it.

Besides the likelihood that the children would have preferred to pose with Barney instead of Mr Ang, I wonder if they even knew who he was. At the very least, the children’s teacher who spends much more time with them in class is more worthy of being in this photograph.

This example pretty much sums up the elections in Singapore: It’s the candidates imposing themselves on us instead of convincing us that we need them. They stick themselves into our lives not necessarily because they want to, but they need to. And when voting is compulsory, it often becomes a choice of the lesser evil.

But the true mark of a people’s candidate is when voters come up to you to take a photograph and an autograph. Not the other way around. To get to this level of acceptance, candidates should start talking with the voters instead of to them.

Oh, and please leave the kids out of your politics.

Justin Zhuang is a Singaporean writer and editorial designer. He blogs about Singapore’s politics, society and visual culture at justrambling.sg

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- who has written 554 posts on New Nation.

Belmont plays the guitar, made Jamie Yeo sing his song, shook hands with Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, swam in the river above Bangladesh, visited Nagaland, outsmarted pickpockets in KL, was the editor of The Campus Observer and worships the writings of Nassim Taleb and Christopher Hitchens. He intends to be an astrophysicist, take up salsa and watch Led Zeppelin live at least once before offing it.

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  • sha

    well,i am intrigue by what have been commented above.My interest in singapore politics is the result of being a service worker dealing with my company customers who is very much the complaining singaporeans.And i conclude that because the Main political party do this kind of treats and to pamper the people it has become routine that every complain will be address by an MP.OR worst using the name of an mp just to show they have weight on the complaint.It is but one example on how we will vote for the GE.
    Do u really go for the one who can actually make things move or do you see the bigger picture of things that is bringing what and where we want to be in the next five years.
    The problem with us Singaporeans is that we have lived in a comfort zone,being pampered with,given treats,bonuses and knowing that all is well when there is no change.
    But to me it is only a matter of pushing legislation that will go through without us having a say at all.
    What i want is someone or a party or whatever to hear what we have to say when a certain legislation is proposed.What do we think,what do you think the impact will be on the people and what are the people getting in return if the law or the legislation go through?
    So far it has only been qn and answered by MPs in the parliament but at the end of the day the law will be passed.
    You can have a lot of review comittee doing this and doing that telling us what it is all about but at the end of the day no one can challenge the power of “aye” with 80 politicians belonging to the same team againts 2.
    I am not saying that this gov is bad cause the results is for all us to see,but the reality is that this gov is so good that we failed to see the other side of the coin.
    An example,the gov announce the goodies in the budget, then the bad guy announce that the electrical tarrifs will go up.Everybody complaints that what they give they will take back,but still you guys will vote for the guys who give you the goodies.
    So lies the qn,the team that can really challenge the PAP which is an almost nil.Apart from Mr Low WP,and maybe Mr Chiam SDA,the rest are just parties who wants to show that here we are,so vote for us for your alternative voice which i think more of an alternative meek .
    Mr low wp showed some fight in one GRC when sylvia took some 40 percent of the vote but MR chiam hold on to pp with only just.So the only way to actually have some challenge is for the rest of the opposition to look at themselve and think..fight as one..or just be the ones who will pick up the form and put your name in just so u can take part in the election.
    I belive the only way to have any say in a parliment is to only have two good teams who will have to LISTEN to what the people have to say.
    AND MOSt Democracies in the world have two good teams..and not a bunch of opposition who kept bickering on smcs and let the other guy win easily.