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A former Young PAP volunteer speaks

A former Young PAP volunteer speaks

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After observing the 2008 presidental elections in the US during a study trip, Bernard Leong quit the Young PAP.

ON 7th May, I will be voting for the first time. People around me murmur that this will be a watershed election, with the opposition making a breakthrough in one or two GRCs and the majority of SMCs.

Yet others say election results will favour the ruling party, with them taking the majority and conquering one of the two opposition forts. As for me, I’m an undecided voter who is following the debate closely.

For a time, I was ignorant about politics. That changed when I went to university. I started learning more about socio-political and economic issues in my General education modules. GE 2006 was around the corner then, and that piqued my interest in current affairs.

After GE 2006, I decided to get my feet wet by connecting myself with people on the ground. So I volunteered with the Young PAP.

Why them? Since the PAP had been a consistent winner, I want to see how they work. Furthermore, the government under the PAP has a relatively high annual defence budget, and this gelled with my pro-military stance. I also liked the fact that many of the military top brass are roped in to join the PAP as Ministers.

Joining Meet the People’s sessions allowed me to understand Singaporeans’ feeling and contribute back to society. I was also asked to be a tertiary students’ feedback coordinator to collate the opinion of young Singaporeans under 25.

In total, I was in the YPAP General Branch from Sept 2006 to August 2007. I must say that I’ve learned a lot from this experience under Tampines Changkat (MP Ms Irene Ng’s ward), which has many seasoned grassroots leaders whom I still respect.

My pro-PAP stance soon changed again. I went over to the States for further studies from 2007 to 2008, and there I witnessed the American Presidential elections where Obama won as the dark horse.

As a foreigner, I was an independent observer in the midst of the crossfire between my American friends of both Democratic and Republican camps. From then on, I’ve learnt to examine both sides of the debate. There is an old native Indian saying which goes something like this, “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.”

I came back home more discerning about politics. In 2009, I finally decided to become a independent research observer to give a fair and objective appraisal of public affairs in Singapore.

So I decided to leave the YPAP. At first, it was an unnerving decision because I always associated PAP as being synonymous with Singapore.

So I decided to leave the YPAP. At first, it was an unnerving decision because I always associated PAP as being synonymous with Singapore. One incident which enlightened me about the separation of government and politics, was my conversation with a US Army officer around the time of the American Presidential Elections in 2008.

To my surprise, he supported Obama instead of McCain. He said, “The government of the day is my boss but politics is separate. I will only accept constitutionally lawful orders from the President.” So this is the reason why America is the longest running democracy in the world. Despite its flaws, it can self-correct in the long run and it has the size to do so.

So I wrote an email to my friends at YPAP and grassroots leaders of Tampines Changkat to bid farewell, explaining my decision to start my own independent study to examine Singapore and its system. They were rather cool about it.

For this General Election, Singaporeans have to ask themselves: What kind of country do they want? I was struck by former Permanent Secretary Mr Ngiam Tong Dow’s remarks in a Straits Times interview in October 2003.

He asked aloud what kind of legacy does MM Lee wants to leave behind for Singapore, and concluded that our leaders have to accept that Singapore is larger than the PAP. He used the historical cities of Sparta and Athens. Sparta was a militaristic city where the leadership was largely self-selected from the best and the fittest through meritocracy.

Athens was a civic-minded city where there was diversity of views from the various Philosophers. In the end, Athens survived far longer and better than Sparta. Sparta ended up with dictatorship and elitism.

When I go to the polls, I will be asking myself the following questions.

1) What kind of legacy do I want to leave behind for the next generation?

2) Which party’s ideals and manifesto relate to me best?

Whatever our decision, we must be prepared to live with it for at least the next 5 years.

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