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Man kept out of two elections because he was homeless

Man kept out of two elections because he was homeless

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In 2006, he was barred because he did not have a residential address. This time around, he cannot vote because his name was struck off the register of electors.

Text and Photos: Terence Lee

Nick (centre), has his wife and friend for company. And the cats too. It's obvious that the decor of the house is bare bones: the floor is pure concrete, and the walls thinly painted. But Nick is fairly satisfied with his living environment. "It's actually quite spacious," he says, "nowadays even the HDB flats are getting smaller."

WHEN Nick Chan, 41, moved into a rental apartment in Dakota Crescent with his wife Katai, a Singapore permanent resident from Thailand, the house already had a furry resident.

Nick, of course, is referring to Ah Lai the orange cat, whom he was patting. The cat is one of five felines that regularly visit his small apartment for free meals.

The couple thinks they have something in common with this posse of cats, which also includes, Patches, Dopey, Stripey, and Hairball (the only female of the group).

“These cats are strays, like us, so we take care of them,” he says.

Every General Election, some Singaporeans will be left out on Polling Day, either because they are homeless, overseas, or in prison. For the homeless, some are fortunate enough to have their poll cards sent to the shelter they reside in. Others are excluded because they do not have a residential address.


A few days ago, Mountbatten PAP candidate Lim Biow Chuan dropped by to pass him these handouts: a box of cooling pads, and some cleaning wipes. Despite the gesture, Nick is still unhappy. "Why is he visiting me only now? What about the last five years?"

Forced to sell his house after a divorce in 2004, Nick had nowhere to go, except to live in his shop in Katong Shopping Centre. He sold comic books, a trade he still continues today. Although profit margins were negative, he got by on odd jobs and income from his wife’s work as a hairdresser in Golden Mile Complex.

He has a diploma in Information Technology from 20 years ago, but it was deemed worthless by employers.

At the lowest ebb of his life, he thought the very least he could look forward to was voting in the 2006 General Election. “I thought voting could give me a voice.”

But a call to the Elections Department brought him back to reality. It turned out that because he did not have a residential address, he was denied his voting rights. Although he was pissed at the limitations, he decided to let it slide.

“Poor also cannot vote, lan lan,” he says. At least I can vote in the next elections, he thought.

Tough luck.

Last Saturday, he was puzzled why he did not receive his poll card while all his friends got theirs. He called the Elections Department again, and the ensuing conversation outraged him.

They got married seven years ago in a simple ceremony. "I pitied him, that's why I chose him," joked the wife Katai. They got together when Nick was living in the shop. The small photo of the boy, above, is the wife's son who is residing in Thailand.

His name was struck off the register because he did not vote in 2006, but he claims he wasn’t informed about this. Worse, it was already too late to register for the coming elections, since the government had already issued the Writ of Elections.

But Nick swears he wasn’t at fault.

“They told me that they did send a letter to my place, but the address they sent to was an apartment I stayed in for only one month!” he says. He has never seen the letter.

“Why is it that five years ago, when I called, they didn’t tell me to register?” he quizzed the officer on the other line. But the civil servant kept insisting that he should have been told.

“I felt cheated, and worse, they seem to be saying I’m the one at fault,” he adds.

When Nick continued to press him, the officer decided to check his address on the computer system. It turned out that his Dakota residence was already reflected. Soon after moving to his new apartment four years ago, Nick ensured that he changed the address on his identification card.

“Why is it that after I ask them to check, they managed to find out my correct address? So why didn’t they send me another letter to my new address to ask me to register?”

In the end, the officer told him to reinstate his name for the Presidential elections, due in August. But he says it’s not the same, since he has no problem with President Nathan.

“He used to visit my comic shop before he became President,” he says, “he’s a nice gentleman.”

Nick believes the Elections Department can do a lot more to get voters involved in the political process. Asking voters to check the register of electors in the newspapers is hardly enough.

“What happens if I don’t like today’s copy of the Straits Times? Wouldn’t I miss the announcement?” he says. He wonders if the reason why the Elections Department does not spend much attention in reaching out to the homeless is because of their dissatisfaction against the ruling party.

“We’re more likely to vote against the PAP after all.”

When New Nation spoke to at least three other homeless folk, however, all of them said they would vote for the PAP.

But Arthur, 55, may not get to vote too. He is a construction engineer by trade who has exhausted much of his savings in a $300-a-month rental apartment. In the end, he was forced out and has been seeking refuge in a shelter for the past five months.

When he called the Elections Department on 2nd May, he was told that his polling station would be in Boon Keng, even though he cannot remember which constituency he’s in. But there’s a snag: He has not received his poll card, even though all voters are supposed to have gotten theirs by 3rd May.

The reason could be because he only changed the address on his identification card four weeks ago, which is way after the register of electors was finalised.“I really don’t know how am I going to vote,” he says.


Nick buys comics from places like the US, and sells them to interested buyers here. He stores these comics in his house.

On the other hand, Tay Teng Long, a 62-year-old former male nurse, will be voting on 7th May. He received his poll card through the mailbox located at the homeless shelter he resides in. “I’m perplexed though. The letter says I’m supposed to go to Marine Parade to vote, even though I don’t live there anymore.”

The address stated on his identification card is that of the shelter.Teng Long will be voting for the PAP, because he appreciates the $780 monthly pension he is receiving from the government. He used to work at Woodbridge hospital, a mental institution.“I don’t want to be ungrateful to the government, although I do think we need more checks and balances in Parliament” he says.

New Nation has contacted the Elections Department to find out more about their procedures. We have yet to receive a response.

For more pictures, click here.

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