This election….reflections of a young Singaporean living abroad

The following letter is by a TOC reader.

Dear Singaporeans,

I am a young Singaporean living and working in Australia for the last 7 years. Like many, I was a product of the highly efficient Singapore education production line.

According to our world-class and oft praised education system (for which I am still grateful for), I was an average student, “streamed” into EM2 (Primary 3 or 9 years old) and then EXPRESS stream in secondary school followed by 3 years at Temasek Polytechnic.

From that time forward until I left for Australia (to further my studies), it was forever etched in my mindset that the best I was ever going to achieve in my life is to be an AVERAGE – a mediocre Singaporean male.

The decision to pursue an I.T education was not one of my choosing either, but rather drummed into my parents and the society psyche – you see back in the late 90’s I.T was THE future or so said all sides of media and our government (you will remember the biotech generation and then the finance generation or late).

At the tender age of around 16-17 years old when we were still figuring out all those testosterones and hormones, we were “encouraged” to think about what we want to do when we grow up! I chose I.T because I did not want to miss the “education train”!

Correction, my parents chose I.T. Sounds familiar?

I was a brow-beaten, immature and very naive human being until the 2nd year of my studies (even after 2.5 years of National Service, perhaps I was a late bloomer) in Australia (when I decided the best way to learn about a new culture and environment is to accept it, instead of comparing it). I was a product of my environment to the latter.

I only knew what I read from local news, watched crappy Hollywood movies, listened to poppy music, read very little stuff that mattered, knew very little of what was happening around me and most of all asked very little questions. I was an obedient Singaporean and as educated as I was, I knew nothing about the world around me.

I wasn’t a risk-taker, was very compliant, knew where my “out of bound markers” were and engaged very little in the mechanics of the countries. I spent all my monies shopping for things I do not need, trying to impress people I do not like and living a life I do not know why?

Singaporeans are brought up so highly educated yet do not know much, the environment created by the ruling party resulted in what Mr. Sim Wong Hoo rightly observed as NUTSNo U-Turn Syndrome.

Creative Technology CEO Mr. Sim Wong Hoo observed the NUTS mindset in Singaporeans

We are a generation born and bred into a system that is so efficient in creating a large colony of “worker ants” for the greater good of the country that we find it hard to tear ourselves out from the fabric of society, we live to work!

We pride ourselves in our shopping malls, our contrived societal rules (a confusion of East-West mentality) and our absolute faith in higher authority. In working too hard, not asking any questions, believing that we have no choice and thinking we are 2nd best to expats and foreigners; that we whinge too much and that we have to suck it all up!

We’ve become materialistic, are suckered in by this never-ending consumer culture and are obsessed with how we project and differentiate ourselves in this homogenous society through visible wealth (handbag, mobile phones, cars, TVs etc…).

Cash, credit card, car, condo and career! The perennial 5Cs.

We believe that we have to work for the greater good and if you swim against the tide, you MUST be wrong and that we should not question the status quo and finally that if we rest on our laurels, we DIE!

Singapore has given me a leg up in the world (I am not an ingrate, I am grateful for the opportunities that I was given), however, I have said to my Australian girlfriend that I will not want to bring up my children in Singapore because I believe you need to be extraordinary to break free from the brow-beating and brain-washing the country exerts on the individual.

People that I have spoken to have said that there is nothing they would fault the government to cause them to vote the other way, my response if not for anything else is that I believe there is a better way for us all to live in Singapore – I want a sustainable society that we can all be happy to live in, a government that cares about her people as much as the country.

We have become a nation so obsessed with everything else that we have forgotten to once in a while stop and smell the roses, go for a picnic, walks in the park and appreciate the little things in life.

I often ask myself: What does being a Singaporean mean? What is our Singapore identity? What are we doing to foster that? And for the most parts it is a struggle, because many qualities are not unique to being a Singaporean and so does not apply as something that is “Uniquely Singapore”.

So then…..

This coming election for me amongst many things is about our society, how we want our home to look like – if the well-being of the people is taken care of, everything else will fall into place.

It’s like what every big corporation is striving for; define your culture, look after your employees, manage change well and the company will perform.

The general election is looming and here is our best chance to do something; exercising the undeniable right that all Singapore citizens have.  What can we do?

Casting a blank vote achieves the point of saying (1) we do not think the opposition is worth voting for (2) we do not think the incumbent are doing well enough to deserve my vote of confidence

The impact to any party analysing post-election results is profound; the knowledge that there are now more fence-sitting voters for the election after and that the electorate are watching what the ruling party is doing, it also means that they have less of an outright “mandate” from the people (if they are returned to power).

PAP’s primary vote* fell 8.69% (partly due to a larger electorate base) to 66.6% in the 2006 general election down from 75.3% in the 2001 general election.

*source Elections Dept Singapore and further reference by Wikipedia entry.

This should be and will be a strong cause for concern; therefore while we are still returning the People’s Action Party back into power, we are sending them a strong signal that we are far from happy! Not happy Lee!

Voting for the opposition send an outright message that says (1) we do not think that the incumbent is competent (2) we are unhappy with the way things have gone (3) we do not agree with the decisions you have made (4) we want change/differing opinion and true debate on policies

I acknowledge that the opposition is still not competent to govern the country outright, but you have got to let them start somewhere! Start small, test, learn and evolve is how they will get better.

Remember when you started your first job, you were on probation, this is the best opportunity for them to be given the chance to sharpen their political skills as well as be a voice for us in Parliament! We might not trust the opposition entirely, but we can surely help them out by giving them the chance to excel?

If the ruling party’s mantra is to demolish them, then surely the least we, the people can do is to help the opposition level the playing field by granting them a chance. No?

Having an alternate voice also provides the critical checks and balances, to challenge decisions as well as to ensure that group-think does not influence the way the government operates.

Just like when an organisation brings in new faces to freshen the mindset of the company, we need to do this for civil governance, without which we will be stuck in a rort with an outdated mindset, lacking in ideas from the outside in.

Voting for the incumbent says (1) we are happy with status quo (2) you are doing a good job (3) I do not think there is a credible opposition worth my vote (4) I believe the current system is working and I am benefitting from it

There is nothing wrong returning the ruling party; if you are truly happy with the current status quo then you will have no impetus to vote them out. They still have your vote of confidence.

So where does all this leave us?

This coming general election, I urge you to sit down for 30 minutes and ask yourself:

  • What kind of Singapore do I want to live in
  • What kind of Singapore do I want my children, my grandchildren to live in
  • What can be done better but yet have not been?

Stop, think, listen to yourself and then decide.

You have a choice.


Kevin Wong

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