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.
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