Vote out of belief, not fear

Posted on 20 April 2011

Virgin Voter Dannon Har observes that some of his peers, who work in the public sector, fear voting for the opposition because it might stunt their career prospects.

Proud of being a Virgin Voter? Put this as your Facebook display picture! Enhanced from photo by STEPHANE TOUGARD / Creative Commons

I WILL be voting for my very first time this coming elections. I’m feeling a flurry of excitement coupled with apprehension, and I hope dismay won’t follow after I’ve done the deed.

What brings out such a mixed bag of emotions is that giant question mark bobbing above my head saying: “Does my vote really matter?”

As an average youth living in Meritocratic/Autocratic Singapore, I wonder if my vote will make a difference when opposition giants like JB Jeyaretnam and Chiam See Tong have failed or attained limited success?

Needless to say, the PAP government has been in power since day one. Those who have tried to step up and challenge them have been deliberately quashed under their iron fist.

I’m certainly not exaggerating: Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew admitted as much in his his series of interviews with the Straits Times.

Despite our turbulent political history, what disturbs me much is the indifferent, laidback, nonchalant attitude of many of today’s youths. What disturbs me even more is some of their ignorance or misconceptions.

To be fair, there is a notable rise of youth participation in Singapore’s political scene. Even though there’s plenty of nonconstructive rants online, the fact that more youths are voicing out is at least a sure sign of a diversification of views.

Yet many young Singaporeans only seem to care about the food on their table.

With an overbearing corporatist culture constantly looming over our heads, I fear becoming just another cog in the machine. And I know I am not alone in this.

Singapore’s citizens are described as consumerist, materialistic, and pragmatic. These are now our defining attributes as Singaporeans.

The drastic fall in Total Fertility Rate is a clear sign to me that we are thinking more and more in economic terms, putting all other concerns second place.

In a Straits Times article I read, a lawyer said regarding the reason for not having children: “It’s a question of opportunity cost, and I can’t afford the downtime from my career.”

Political sentiments in Singapore often reflect our materialistic culture.

During sessions of coffee shop talk with peers my age, they tell me they are going to vote for PAP this coming election, as they feel pressured to do so. But Pressured? Pressured by what?

The presence of such fear is a shock to me – regardless of whether there is any truth to it. Why should there even be fear of going against the ruling party – as distinct from the state – in a democratic society?

Apparently, there is an onset of fear about going against the grain. On the ground, there is fear that voting for an opposition party would result in indirect repercussions of some sort.

I hear of comments that are utterly ridiculous. Some tell me that since they work in the public sector, they had better vote for the PAP lest they get stunted career growths and diminished pay packages.

The presence of such fear is a shock to me – regardless of whether there is any truth to it. Why should there even be fear of going against the ruling party – as distinct from the state – in a democratic society?

Such ideas are plainly absurd. Then again, nothing surprises me anymore.

Other comments I’ve heard include feelings of gratitude for what PAP had done for us in the past. With this argument, some think we should continue voting for them since they have done so much for us.

They further add that the good track record is testament that they’ll do as well if not better in the future.

But I say that if a party’s recent track record is any indication, then recent hot potato issues like immigration, housing prices, and ministerial salary among others would indicate that the time for change has come.

I will be voting in Tampines GRC this coming election, where PAP veteran and minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan will be contesting.

He may not be very popular, based on online sentiments, but how many votes will actually swing in his favor simply because of PAP’s dominance?

My personal belief is that each and every contestant should be judged based on what they are really offering on the plate instead of party affiliations or worse, empty promises.

Sadly, the political game is often reduced to a shallow popularity contest rather than a substantial analysis of political manifestos.

In deciding who to vote for, I realise that jumping onto the same bandwagon as everyone else simply displays a lack of forethought on my part. I am given a mind for a reason, and that reason is to reason.

I can’t let others decide for me whom I’m going to vote for.

But I am not blindly advocating western ideals in Singapore, as each country is different and should be run differently. A system that works in one place may not work in another. I’m clear on this.

My beef is with people refusing to stand up for what they believe in, when they should be voicing out their concerns for a future they want to see happening in Singapore.

Seriously, if we look closely enough at the PAP government’s current policies and scrutise it, can we confidently say that we are able to sit down and stay passive?

At 23 years old, I am ready to do the little I can to express my personal beliefs, perspectives, and values in the political realm. It is my own conviction to eliminate indifference among Singaporean youths, starting from myself.

So to all my fellow Virgin Voters out there, be daring enough to do what you sincerely think is right for the sake of our own generation’s future.

And to all experienced voters out there, good for you if you have not compromised your ideals. But if you have and are thinking of voting ‘safely’ time and again, do not for a moment think that others will do the fighting for you.

As Dr Chee Soon Juan once mentioned, “Democracy cannot be wished for, it must be fought for.”

Dannon Har, 23, has studied in neighborhood schools all his life. He is currently majoring in Sociology and minoring in Communications at SIM University while interning at a prominent business news organisation. He spends his free time clearing his school assignments hanging out with his better half who keeps his humanity from dispersing as he chases the Singapore dream.

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  • seriously?

    The best part about political enlightenment is that once you have seen the light, your vote pretty much stay the same until the changes you wish to see is materialized by any party.

    if we were to maintain this course. the alternate views are just going to get more support as the day goes on. This election will be significant but the actual one that i am really anticipating is the next election where i believe major changes will occur, even if the ruling party gets an outstanding result in this coming election.

  • agreed

    agreed. fully. and one more thing above fear is that too many people are looking at the short term. they care for their “safety” NOW instead of looking at attempting to have the end goal in mind of ridding this fear off the people in the future.

  • Dannon

    I’m pretty hopeful for this year’s election tho..we may not see such a big difference this GE but I think the seeds of change are already planted. Hopefully they will receive the water it needs to grow. By the next GE i am afraid certain ‘measaures’ might have been institutionalised to curb any possible alternative government from taking over. In fact there already is…

    yes you are right and that is exactly what I am appaled at. The longer one incubates the fear the bigger it will grow as well, so it is hopeless for some already.

  • Redd

    Thanks for making the effort and taking the time to pen your thoughts. For a 23-year old, you certainly display a lot more political maturity than your peers. I only became as aware as you at a much later age.

    While I do share your plenty of your views, I think we must all bear one thing in mind: everyone is different, processes information differently, and hence will have differing viewpoints. Not everyone is blessed with the intellectual ability to process information the way you do, hence the term Information Overload. That is why elections can degenerate into popularity contests, because there will always be a segment of voters that would rather act on how they feel about a person in a more emotional way than you would expect.

    Also, there is a segment of people out there who are pro-PAP, not out of fear or because they have been ‘brainwashed’, but rather because they value stability and security, over a desire for a more open, accountable government. Such a desire may be borne out of bad experiences of having lived in other countries where there is more violent crime, for example. Whatever it is, it is important to respect their views. After all, that is what a democracy is all about, isn’t it?

  • seriously?

    need not worry Dannon. The progress of democracy cannot be halt. Even though the world have this view of asians as docile and giving but push hard enough even dogs will jump over the wall( chinese saying 狗急跳墙)

    i am not trying to be dramatic here but there are more than enough examples to show that the collective voice of people is a powerful tool. the only thing that will be lacking is the reason to gather them together and in future the reason will be more obvious if the ruling party does not do a good job this time.

    as the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you. fool me twice, shame on me. I doubt we will take the shame and swallow it whole.

  • Dannon

    Thanks for your kind/enlightening words. I think I still have much to learn too. I do agree with you that some people do enjoy the stability and security found in Singapore above all else. After all, democracy like you say, should be the embodiment of the people’s genuine perspectives. Having said that, Singapore can’t exactly fit into that description now can it?

    Also, similar to your view, nothing wrong with an emotionally charged decision making process, provided it is not a misinformed one.

    You are very positive in your outlook. Maybe I should be too. I do hope you are right about Singapore’s future. I guess it is up to us to make it happen :)

  • Ivan

    Being a Singaporean, isn’t this what Singaporeans are all about? Being afraid and selfish? Though many would say they’d vote for the opposition, but will they actually do it on the day itself is another thing.

    For my ‘virgin’ vote, everyone (well, almost everyone) in my family told me not to ‘fool around’ and vote for the ruling party. My friends, too, say the same thing. They have complains about the ruling party (esp taxi drivers) but are they doing anything about it? It seems that everyone doesn’t want their areas’ upgrades to halt or to be ‘pushed back to a later date’.

    To put in a word of fairness, to be honest, some members of the opposition party hasn’t really shown their ‘worth’ and ‘determination’ to win the GE. How does reading off cards and scripts on national television helps us gain confidence in them? They don’t seem well prepared and these are the people whom, people like me, remember very well and it affects their party’s credibility in one way or another.

    I’m just curious, is democracy what we are getting now or is it something else? Even if we do vote for the opposition party, how are they able to proof that they could actually help us in this short period of time? What Singaporeans need is assurance, if you can give it, you can have it.

  • terence

    Ivan, its a chicken and egg situation, isn’t it? If opposition do not get into parliament, how can they improve and gain experience, as well as gain credibility in the eyes of the population? But if they are not perceived as being as experienced as the PAP, they won’t get into parliament.

    So this raises the question: Do we want to start voting opposition only when the PAP really screw up and bring the country down the wrong path? Would it be too late by then? It’s not a matter of if, but when. So why not get the opposition into parliament now, to act as a check against the PAP?

    We argue that the NCMP scheme is sufficient. But remember, NCMPs have only limited power in parliament, and cannot vote against money and constitutional bills.

    How would I vote? Give opposition party members who show promise a chance. Evaluate them based on their ideas and abilities.

  • Something to consider

    What beliefs we can believe in? There are only three parties in Singapore: SDP and its offshoots, Workers Party and PAP. It’s like an oligopoly.