4 overlooked issues this presidential election

Posted on 26 August 2011

It all starts by considering making voting voluntary. Hopefully, the rest will follow.

By Belmont Lay

This presidential election, there has been a lot of reasoning, defining, extrapolating and refutations about what the president can be, should be and would be and what the electorate wants and deserves.

And when we think about all these issues, there’s more.

So here goes:

1. Why not make voting voluntary?

Singapore is a First World country (supposedly). Singapore has a free economy. Singapore is where you are ensured running water and electricity.

Singaporeans are literate (although I doubt their numeracy, considering the number of people who got scammed by structured products).

The average lifespan is 75 years long.

Since we have covered all these bases, why can’t we progress and make voting in elections voluntary?

Isn’t that the way a truly mature, democratic state operates?

People shouldn’t be obliged to show up to vote. No one should be compelled by the threat of soft or hard sanctions to mark an ‘X’ even when they don’t feel like casting their ballot.

Sure, people can spoil their votes, but that’s functionally different from not showing up in the first place.

Because if voting is not compulsory, it allows people who care about the election to go ahead and decide.

And then allow people who don’t care get a state-sanctioned holiday and reason enough to go to JB for cheap seafood or Batam to raise a second family or stay home and make love or sleep.

True demcracy, I hasten to add, provides you the god-given right to choose.

Yes, it also encapsulates the right to choose not to choose and the right to not give a rat’s ass.

If you don’t care, you forfeit your right to have a say. How much fairer you want it?

And true democracy also gives you the right to campaign in an organised fashion against anyone you don’t like.

Like against Tony Tan, for example.

On this count, we’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.

2. Non-compulsory voting provides the president a clearer mandate.

In a related point about voluntary voting, wouldn’t the total voter turn-out provide a much more defined picture of how strong is the elected president’s mandate?

With a system of valid and spoilt votes now, it is not exactly ideal.

With things as they are, people with half an opinion, people who are clueless, people who find it hard to hazard a guess and people who just don’t care are given the same obligation to mark an ‘X’ on polling day as the next informed voter.

So if misguided, error-prone, coerced votes are mixed in a big pot, they might cancel each other out, right?

Ideally, that should be the case.

But sadly, errors do compound.

Regardless, here’s a little thought experiment: Assuming voluntary voting rules are in place this presidential election, wouldn’t it be interesting to know how many people were indeed for the winning candidate?

If he receives, say, 5,000 votes in a country of 2.3 million eligible voters and still wins, it says a lot about our new president, doesn’t it? And it says a lot about us too, right?

Are we scared of being honest about who we truly are?

3. What mandate, SR Nathan?

If voting for a president is to discharge an important democratic duty since it provides the elected head-of-state the mandate to preside, what about SR Nathan?

Nathan has two free passes to the Istana. Elected unopposed twice, what mandate of the people are we talking about here?

Why are we banging on about the “people’s mandate” only now?

4. The eerie silence of SR Nathan

It’s all so quiet… Shhhhhhhhhhhh…

Nathan has resolutely refused to comment publicly about the current slate of candidates.

As the only guy alive (since all the ex-presidents are indeed dead), he has refused to talk about what he does in an official and unofficial capacity. Except that the office of president has constitutional obligations.

For $4.2 million a year, he could be more verbose and not simply be the highest paid wallflower around.

He could, if he so choose, in one fell swoop lay to waste all the needless speculation way before polling day come Aug. 27 about what he does as a president and the sort of precedence that has been set so far.

But no, he is waiting until September to publish his tell-all memoir. Even then…


So, back to the original question: Why not voluntary voting?

I thought about this for a long time – 15 minutes to be exact – and I can only come to the conclusion that making voting voluntary would require a country to have a lot of balls to pull off.

With voluntary voting, there is the assumption that the citizenry cannot be insecure, are concerned enough to want to fight about things, to negotiate, to find a way and invest precious time and money just to get a debate started and ended, only to start another again.

At this point, I gather that Singapore is just too paranoid to feel secure about herself. About what exactly, I’m still trying to fathom.

The free and open economy, the provision of basic needs and the level of prosperity and education are necessary but insufficient conditions for politically-active citizenry.

We need to grow some passion.

We might be putting the cart before the horse if we think we can get more people involved just by making voting voluntary.

Then again, it could just work.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/applerocks9 Ng Ruenn Sheng

    Making voting voluntary to make our voting system more pro-active? Genius idea! But then, will our society allow just that? They seem to prefer numb citizens

  • http://www.myf33ling.blogspot.com —ur—

    voting IS voluntary. If you do not want to vote, you can stay put at home and go out and have a party. Your name will only be striked off the registry of voters. Get your facts right.

    • Belmont

      Getting struck off the list is a soft sanction against not voting. Non-compulsory voting does not come with any repercussions at all. Read the article.

      • Terence Lee

        not to mention there’s a fine involved…

  • jolly

    With respect, I disagree with voluntary voting because I believe in democracy for all people. The right to choose, even if none of the choices are desirable. The choice of not choosing is not a choice, it simply displayed a lack of conviction and/or courage to put an X next to a decision made, and commit to that decision.

    If anything, more education and communication on the reasons for voting to reduce the number of spoilt votes are probably more beneficial to the democratic process, instead of the current “voting is compulsory, not voting is an offense” fear-mongering message.

    • Terence Lee

      i can’t agree. it sounds ironic that people are forced to vote in a democracy. compulsory voting could in fact skew results — apathetic voters could end up picking candidates they don’t feel anything for, which is especially the case for PE.