the singapore elections

it was elections season, and i was probably 10. i was watching television with my parents in our 3-room flat in bukit panjang when the news came on. i can no longer remember the specifics of the bulletin, but i remember quite clearly that it was about the elections. now, some 15 years later, i can still see the blue and white and green images flickering on tv. it was something about the polls. at the age of 10 i had a vague notion of the meaning of the word 'government', and knew - in a very limited sense - that the government, the PAP, was in charge. other than that, though, i suspect i had no other feelings about the news bulletin that i saw that night.

but maybe not for my parents. my father was at that time in his early thirties. like his father he had gone into the construction business, which was at that time quite lucrative (singapore was then undergoing a construction boom). in addition to the 3-room flat, he could also afford a car. it wasn't much, but he had come a long way. he had barely graduated from primary school, so he couldn't speak much english, but was hardworking and very smart. my mother, on the other hand, had a little more education. she studied (and was a reasonably good student) and was in school until she was 14, when her family finances forced her to drop out. at that time there wasn't much stigma with dropping out of school. it was merely something that happened to many of my mother and my father's peers.

they were, i guess, solidly lower middle class.

i don't have to step into a time machine now and go back to that evening at our little flat and ask my parents to know who they would vote for, because i know the answer. 15 years on, today, they would still vote for the same party as they would have done then: the PAP. the incumbent party has always had my parents' outright, unquestioning loyalty. i remember a few occasions when i had some pretty heated arguments with my mother regarding this issue. i said i had read and had found many instances of the PAP being unfair, insensitive, autocratic, oppressive. it's everywhere: in reports collated by international agencies, in the alternative press, in the sentiments among many singaporeans on the ground.

but my parents were and still are firmly pro-PAP. they came from poor families (my mum to a greater extent), their parents earning barely enough to put their kids through school. my mother grew up eating porridge with soya sauce. a chicken drumstick was a luxury item for her, which she spent months saving up for. she also had a pretty large family: 4 brothers and 3 other sisters, and they lived in a tiny flat in queenstown, squeezing on the floor and fanning each other with whatever they could find because they didn't have a fan.

my mother, though, has never blamed the government for her family's poverty. for her, the PAP represents all the good things that she loves about her country - it's clean, orderly, efficient, free of corruption. she has never even once linked her family's situation with the government's policies, never once questioned if the government could have done better, never once doubted the ability of the government to lead the country.

i think my mother and my father represent a very large section of the population. they are fairly intelligent individuals, but their relative lack of education has, i suspect, led to a lack of awareness. they have never heard about some of the PAP's mistakes and indulgences, and have never really considered issues like singapore's lack of press freedom. it doesn't occur to them that our national newspaper is generally the government's mouthpiece and that it is quite silly to believe everything our mainstream media says. like many other singaporeans, there is an unquestioning quality to their allegiance to the government. i don't think this is a good thing at all, but in an entire population of voters, you are bound to have this section of people.

add them to the other group, which is those who are unhappy with the government but, out of habit or fear (both the fear of being identified as anti-PAP and the fear of voting in an opposition that might destroy the country), continues to vote for the PAP, and you get a sizable portion of the population which is helping to deter real, political change in singapore.

we come then to the issue of the opposition. among singaporeans there is a general sense that they want change, but perhaps not quite enough to believe in the quality of the opposition's leadership. maybe it's simply because no one good enough has stood up, or maybe because it's an ingrained singaporean mindset. we fail to realize that america, also another democratic society, overhauls its government fairly often. we can argue that with each new government, america sometimes improves, and sometimes worryingly deteriorates, but we can't say that any new government has actually destroyed america.

the story of democracy is that the people are supposed to know what's right for them, and democracy also assumes that these very same people are intelligent enough to identify the best leaders. what if, then, democracy is not our best choice? what if there is another way, another method, to organize our civil society? but that's an argument for another day.

the singapore elections are heading our way again. once every 5 years, we have a chance to put forth our 'democratic right' to choose our own government. the truth, though, is that singapore is not a real democracy. therefore, for us to wish for certain things (like being able to fairly vote up our favourite candidates into parliament) can be wishful thinking.

what do i think about the current government? i can't say that i am entirely anti-PAP, because i appreciate all that they have done for singapore over the last 50 years, and also because i understand that governance is an incredibly complex and difficult thing to do. for instance, when dissidents and people on the internet try to suggest that the PAP has not been helping everyone, i can't help but feel a little enraged. no one can help everyone. in every nation, the government, in an ideal world of course, tries its best to formulate policies that can benefit most of the people on the ground, but there're just some people that you can't reach - the ones unwilling to be helped, for instance. so i am not anti-PAP, in the sense that i can empathize with their difficulties, and i understand that they are imperfect, just like all humans are.

but there are other things i take issue with, which the anti-PAPs have already presented to death. PAP's lack of tolerance for the opposition (oppressing them with libel suits and crushing bankruptcy), their control of the media (a theoretically democratic nation should never be able to tolerate such a lack of press freedom), their square and sometimes unnecessary policies, the vulgar amounts of ministerial pay.... the list goes on and on.

the question is, do we need change in singapore? which then leads to the other question, who can best bring this change that we need? it's quite unrealistic to think that we can make any major steps towards this 'change' that we want this elections season. we will most probably see the PAP grabbing almost all of the 80 over seats in parliament again. but it's quite heartening to see changes happening amongst the people, the citizens, a sort of surge of emotion, which is quite possibly the same emotion that led to the civil backlash in egypt, or the first demonstrations in america. it's a kind of awakening, like an electric charge, that opens our eyes and hearts up, that wakes us from our deep sleep of habitual indifference and apathy.

we do have something to fight for. just like the cuban revolutionists, just like the underground communists, just like the ones who fought for democracy in hitler's nazist dystopia, we, as singaporeans, can be passionate for once in our lives, and stand up for this elusive change that might eventually come to us.


April 28, 2011 at 3:37 AM C said...

you said everything that is in my mind! like EXACTLY. how do you read my mind?? haha. love ya!

April 28, 2011 at 1:35 PM Anonymous said...

I think your post reflects what this generation truly feels. We are sort of sandwiched between our parents, who most probably are pro-pap, and our fight for a change, a more transparent government. Great post.

April 28, 2011 at 5:09 PM Joe said...

As polling day approaches, I am still very afraid.. afraid that the result will still be all white. Many that I have spoken to still very supportive of the whites. Let's all do our part, go and spread the words around to your family and fri...ends. Especially to the elderly who may still be ignorant of whats going on, still grateful to MM Lee for building SG etc... Tell them! Their vote is for the good of their sons and daughters! It's for the good of their grandsons and granddaughters! It's not for them! I speak crudely here... they may not have many years to live, so it's not voting for themselves anymore! Vote for the sake of their childrens! Help their childrens to have a better life, improvements! In turns, if their childrens can do better, only then can we (childrens) take better care of them! So, their votes matter and it indirectly affect them (Thru the childrens). Don't keep living in the past and think that they owe THE WHITES a lliving. Spread the word to your parents and plea, beg or whatever, to vote wisely for the sake or YOU and I.

April 30, 2011 at 12:35 AM Xiaowei said...

the benefits of this elusive change is highly theoretical. in practice, what will you get? lower paying job, declining stock market, declining property market. How is that good? Your parents have more to lose, that's why they are not interested to try their luck with opposition candidates.

April 30, 2011 at 9:36 AM Yan said...

when i was 10 or so, i used to think i like goh chok tong because he would stand out among the other ministers whenever i see him on news as he is tall and have nice white hair.

when i get older, i got abit wiser to realise i have been giving him or the people around him too much credit.

a) wayang-ing
i don't understand why they are always given a rockstar/king treatment. having bodyguards are fine. but cleaning up a place just for their arrival and waiting, standing when they come by seems just too much. look at the events they were invited to come. and if anyone has been to the army, they will know about this even more. moreover, they are using taxpayer's money isn't it?

it seems like every five years, my neighborhood will be super extra clean. and their gang would appear to be friendly and be seen making faces around the neighborhood.

b) rich gets richer, the poor gets poorer
by increasing gst, setting up erp so that they could rob more money from the rich? where did the money go to? to pay their expensive wages and increase them perhaps.

i have been to banda street once, an one room flat in chinatown just because the street is one alphabet different from my real name. i was there to take photography and everything feels like death. so lonely. there are still a lot of people finding for food and waiting to live by each day. it could be better if they are getting back all their funding from their own cpf or if the utilities didn't just increase to 6.5% or if seeing a doctor or paying a visit in the hospital isn't that costly.

if you are reading this, it's pretty fortunate for you already cause we all can afford internet and live comfortably. there are still people earning 500 bucks doing cleaner job. there are still people going around picking up cans and cardboard just to sell them at 10 or 30 cents a kilo (?). there are still people who can only afford bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner. having three meals to them may seems a luxury.

what do they need? do they need gst offset? no. do they need grow and share package? no. do they need rare donations of rice, milo and necessities? yes but that doesn't help for the long time. they need people with compassion in the government that have suffered before or know what the poor are doing, have been doing. they need these people to care and help them with taxpayer's money.

i once had a heated argument with my mum who is a pro-PAP supporter. she told me i can donate my money to them if i want to be that compassionate.

and with that statement i further reassured myself that there are a lot of people only care about themselves, think for themselves. they care about if they can live by and get by by putting food to the table.

they probably haven't been to the army before and doesn't know how much food have been thrown away everyday. those amount alone can save a poorer country seriously.

April 30, 2011 at 9:36 AM Yan said...

c) cost of living
i was asked if i support opposition parties. well, the truth is i don't really care about politics. and the answer is no but i just don't support whatever pap that has ruled for so long and got complacent. passing statements, giving impression and policies that are non compassionate.

yes, bukit timah will soon have three mrts in just one small place. are they paying more tax than the others? maybe. but i fear for the my favourite chicken rice in the hawker centre to be raised to 8 bucks. and everything else raises. bus or mrt fare. the cost of flats. and gst might even raise by then.

d) suppression of wages
i don't know if my history is right. but singapore grew because the coolies' wages were being suppressed back then. hence why it's cheap labour here. and because of that jobs have been made. people came from everywhere else just to get the job, the chinese, the indian, the malays. and because of cheap labour, it became an attraction for rich merchants who want to set up their base here or do trading here.

it worked. people came. people have jobs. people endured and fight on. the rich gets richer. the economy grew progressively as people gets smarter as as the technology.

but will this work in today's context? no. not for a place like singapore where houses are damn expensive and the cost of living are comparable to the big cities. people now needs to slog for their life just to pay their housing. their wages are suppressed. their savings are controlled. generally their life has been moderated.

ok. i'm too tired to continue. if they want to continue to rule, they should do things with their heart instead. not reading from scripts, not always trying to find excuses, not wasting time on apple polishing. and take mrt and buses for goodness sake. it's not just simply crowded but how many buses will i miss before i get to take one on peak hours? and go around to the neighborhood and one room flats and see what poor people are doing and struggling to meet their needs.

getting foreigners to play ping pong for us is a big joke. and to those big singapore companies, getting foreigners as our ceo is another joke. does that mean they are better and we are crap?

April 30, 2011 at 8:08 PM lw said...

"lower paying job, declining stock market, declining property market"

as a result of a few more alternative voices in parliament? highly theoretical too.