The Youth Wing of The Workers’ Party will be holding a public discussion forum on the issue of lowering the voting age to 18 this Saturday, May 3. (See details below.)
Titled, “YouthQuake – Should Singaporean Youths Be Allowed To Vote At 18?”, it “seeks to educate, empower, and unite young people to bring youth-centric issues into the forefront of public discourse.”
TOC speaks to its Organising Secretary, Mr Bernard Chen, about the forum.
TOC: Why this issue? Why now? What is the purpose?
Bernard Chen: Singapore is very far behind in the public discourse on this issue. While other countries are talking about lowering the voting age to 16, we have not even started talking about voting at 18.
There’s no specific reason why I am bringing this issue up at this moment in time. I feel that it is important that youths are given the right to vote and YouthQuake provides this platform for me to bring out this issue to the forefront of public discourse.
My purpose is to bring this issue to the attention of youths in Singapore that being able to vote @ 18 is feasible and can be achieved if youths in Singapore want that to happen.
TOC: The name of your forum, “YouthQuake”, suggests that you want to cause a major awakening of sorts among Singaporean youths on the issue of voting at 18. Is that your intention?
Bernard Chen: YouthQuake symbolises the stirring/ awakening of youths in Singapore and encapsulate the concept of change with youths at the forefront of the movement. Youths in Singapore want to speak and can speak well. Let’s get moving!
TOC: Singaporean youths are said to be politically apathetic. Do you think they are interested in being able to vote at 18?
Bernard Chen: Has anyone ever wondered why are they apathetic in the first place? After 18 years of their life, and being told that their opinions only matter when they reached 21 and they should only be seen and not heard, is anyone surprised that many people over 18 feel turned off by politics?
Granting youths the right to vote at 18 will have a direct effect on their character, intelligence and sense of responsibility, taking the public-spirited nature of youths in Singapore into the political realm. Apathy will soon be a thing of the past.
TOC: Do you think Singaporean youths at 18 are mature enough to vote “wisely”, as the PAP like to say?
Bernard Chen: Is it at all possible that any Singaporean will vote “unwisely” or vote wrong? Did voters in Hougang made an “unwise” decision when they elected Low Thia Khiang to parliament in 1991, and again in 1997, 2001 and 2006?
If a youth is mature enough at 18 to make quick and wise decisions that will have repercussions on the lives of their fellow brothers-in-arms in the military, I do not see why they are in any way less mature when called upon to vote.
All voters have their own reasons when they vote for any party. We may disagree with their reasons, but we must respect their right to make a decision. That is what we must do with youths.
TOC: What is the most significant difference between being able to vote at 18 and voting at 21. It is, after all, only a 3 year difference.
Bernard Chen: I am questioning the double standards the government is applying towards our youths. It’s not a matter of the difference in the number of years. It’s the principle behind it.
Young Singaporeans can start pursing a life of choice and freedom at the age of 18. For instance, they have the freedom to smoke, to drive (all classes of vehicles), to join a political party, to sign legally binding contracts (scholarships especially), to work and pay taxes. In addition to that, Singaporeans at the age of 18 can be charged as a non-minor for certain legal offences. In this case, why is it that young Singaporeans upon the age of 18 cannot have the choice to choose who their representatives in parliament will be.
TOC: Is there consensus within the WP Youth Wing on this issue? What is it?
Bernard Chen: Internal discussion on this issue has yielded general consensus on calling for a lowering of voting age to 18
TOC: Is the Workers’ Party going to lobby for a change in the voting age?
Bernard Chen: At this moment, I am not in a position to make a comment on behalf of the leadership of the Workers’ Party.
TOC: What do you think will be the government’s response to your call to lower the voting age?
Bernard Chen: I expect their stand to be the same as the one they took in March 2007 during the Committee of Supply debate in Parliament. I quote, “On voting age, we do not intend to change that. Sir, voting in parliamentary elections or voting in election for the Presidency is a very serious matter.” – DPM Jayakumar.
I hope that with this forum, more attention can be paid to this issue.
For more information, refer to the “Speech by DPM Prof S Jayakumar during Committee of Supply Debate, 2 Mar 2007.”
TOC: What has the Workers’ Party Youth Wing done since the elections in 2006 to build or instill greater awareness among Singaporean youths for political issues?
Bernard Chen: The Workers’ Party Youth Wing involved itself in selling the party newsletter, “Hammer” at locations such as Bugis, Holland Village, Ang Mo Kio Hub, areas where there is a large density of youths, reaching out to them. On top of that, we did public outreach activities along Orchard Road during Youth Day and National Day. The Youth Wing will be organising more activities that are political in nature in the coming months, with YouthQuake being the focus of this effort.
TOC: What has been your experience in organizing this forum? What’re the main difficulties?
Bernard Chen: It has been a rewarding experience in organizing this forum. The main difficulty I faced was in trying to come up with a concept that will resonate with youths in Singapore. I am hopefully that the name, “YouthQuake” will eventually be synonymous with the WPYW.
TOC: How hopeful are you about the attendance or success of this forum?
Bernard Chen: I am hopeful that there will be a full house this Saturday; 60 – 70 individuals.
TOC: What is next after this forum, as far as changing the voting age is concerned?
Bernard Chen: The Youth Wing will continue to engage young Singaporeans on this issue and we look forward to hearing more from young Singaporeans on this proposal to lower the voting age to 18.
The details of the YouthQuake Forum are as follows:
Date: 3rd May 2008 (Saturday)
Time: 1400 hrs – 1600 hrs. Please be seated by 1345 hrs
Venue: 216-G Syed Alwi Road #02–03
Read more about the forum here.