Question Time, but with no answers

Howard Lee /

After a round of drinks, a friend commented that this coming general election would be decisively different.

I began to nod my head in agreement, but caught myself deciding that maybe a pint each was a little too much, whereupon I posed her the question with no end – why? “Because the quality of opposition candidates has improved,” came the swift reply.

Her rationale was not unlike the rhetoric that we have been reading in the media, and perhaps hearing at coffee shops and bars, too. It is one of many arguments as to why we will have a watershed general election this time.

Some others, for good measure: The “liberalisation” of new media as a campaigning channel; the renewal of leadership, bundled with the enigma of the next prime minister; the introduction of candidates belonging to the post-independence generation; the reduction in the size of some Group Representative Constituencies and the increase in the number of Single Member Constituencies; bread-and-butter vs ideological issues…

While I wholeheartedly agree that this coming general election will be different, I actually have issues with the reasons thrown up to justify this line of argument. They range from the speculative (new media) to the celebrity-centric (quality of candidates, or the lack of it for some), but none, I contend, have taken a good hard look at it from the perspective of the voting population.

Channel NewsAsia’s “Question Time with the Prime Minister” provided some insights on how voters are affected by the election rhetoric. For all it intends to be, the programme was pretty much its title – question time, not answer time. It closed with a lot of the fundamental questions unanswered, since the PM effectively side-stepped the majority of the issues raised.

For instance, business professional Kurt Wee and social worker Joachim Lee between them raised many times the issue of under-representation of opposing positions in Parliament, to which the PM used the same rebuttal line persistently – the NCMP scheme. One either worries for the mental capacity of the PM to understand, or get irritated that he purposefully chose to redirect the question to his preferred solution.

Or the points brought up by students Matthew Zachary Liu and Edmund Koh and grassroots leader Khartini Khalid, who took issue with the biasness in the way constituencies are selected for upgrading despite these being national programmes, to which the PM staunchly reverted to the over-used position of the final carrot, the tipping point of which way the votes are cast. Been there, heard that, and seriously, it did not address the issue of the politicisation of public money.

Perhaps the most telling case was Victor Chia, a small business owner who was trying to voice the difficulties of hiring people due to foreign worker policies that he believes favoured larger companies and even SME’s, but marginalise mom-and-pop establishments like his. It was apparent that he had difficulties expressing himself, as it was apparent that CNA had included him in the debate to project the illusion of representation from all walks of life. Vincent’s attempts really showed up the under-representation of those among us who cannot express ourselves properly, whose concerns are valid, yet lack the necessary voice on national television or in Parliament.

And it was really the PM who summed up the authoritative position quite accurately, that the “PAP was not seeking to represent all the views. We are seeking to represent a broad range.”

What he failed to add was that this broad range of views, cloaked in the safety of make-belief consultation and televised show-and-tells, will always be framed by the political powers and the power-playing traditional media. The opposition parties need not be consulted, and much less the interests of those who eventually bear the consequences of the policies rolled out, after this “broad range of views” have been properly dealt with.

As such, you might have finished watching Question Time with the same raw taste I had in my mouth – that we have given the easy end of the deal to the authorities we appointed to represent us, to couch the issues that matter to us in terms that do not matter to us.

So, going back to my original question to my friend – why would this general election be a watershed?

1) Because we are tired of all the showmanship and bravado posturing, done for the benefit of either maintaining political power or viewership numbers.

2) Because we find no sense in constantly being told the same spiel that fails to answer our questions, but which only exacerbates our resentment.

3) Because we cannot trust traditional media institutions to speak up for us, relying instead on the limited communities we seek to keep company with, online or elsewhere.

It is in this very real atmosphere that the electorate will weigh our future, or fear for our future, or even find the lack of a future. Or perhaps we will have seen a future that is not really ours to own.

Our response? We vote.

For among the many sidesteps that the PM made at Question Time, this one point was a gross error: Politics is not about the tussle for power where the opposition tries relentlessly to trip up the incumbent and win votes as a consequence. That view, again, represents the interests of the authoritative voice.

Politics is about the delegation of power, in terms of a vote of confidence from the people to their elected representatives. And they have every right to delegate this power to those they believe will represent their interests best.

This will be an election where the electorate says enough is enough. Instead of simply letting history repeat itself, this election will be one where the electorate feels a need to be the key difference, driver and determinant of our own future. Whatever our choice, it will finally be a choice made personally, as every vote should be, and our choice to be logical or emotional about it.

While the political parties can throw the bells, whistles and kitchen sink at us, we will go to the polls based on one fundamental rule: My vote is my voice.


The writer has had misgivings about the reliability of traditional media for a while already, but only recently felt tired with being fed the same BS rhetoric disguised as political discourse

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