Why Nicole Seah, Crystal Chow and students matter

Karen Tse

PAP’s strategic move to engage youths – the induction of Miss Tin Pei Ling into its fold – proved to be not so strategic after all. In fact, it has certainly backfired to a large extent.

Say hi to Tin Pei Ling’s antithesis, Nicole Seah of the NSP, who has been very well-received since her “burst” onto the political scene. To call it a “burst” is not an understatement. What do we know of Nicole apart from the snippets of videos of her responses to interviews, which started making the rounds on social media in a short few days? She seems to be genuine, thoughtful and composed in dealing with questions from the press, but are the 15,000+ likes on her Facebook page indicative of the strength of her political will, or the constructiveness of her general political agenda? Probably not. But evidently, the support for Nicole reflects the awareness and disdain for the existing exclusionary model of policy-making.

Being a keen observer of Hong Kong politics, Nicole Seah’s unassuming confidence reminds me of Hong Kong’s Crystal Chow (周澄). Crystal [picture below] ran for the 2010 Hong Kong by-elections with the student coalition “Tertiary 2012” when she was 23. Despite being fielded in a competitive constituency, against the fiercely popular “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Crystal pulled a respectable number of votes. Nicole’s youth and eloquence, and allegiance to a party that is unsheltered remind me of Crystal.

However, there are also some stark differences pertinent to their experience. The list of Crystal’s advocacy work, the pro-democracy protests she spearheaded, as well as her involvement with civic organizations and campus-based activities runs thicker than a phonebook. On the other hand, while Nicole has explained her history and contributions, one has to acknowledge that she has principally won the public over with her conviction. Her experiences are limited, but as I pondered deeper, I realised that this is through no fault of her own.

The student community – from Egypt to South Korea, from France to Iran – is typically the most articulate, passionate and dynamic segment of a country’s population. Students have more time, and like-minded students generally have more avenues to convene. However in Singapore, politics and a student’s life is divorced and estranged. Our student unions and other campus associations are unable to express any political inclinations, or exercise any authority autonomous of the school’s administrative body. As a student, I dare say that campuses here lack the important agents of political expression. I have witnessed schoolmates’ submission to the national papers being censored, and student-organised campus events being cancelled for mysterious reasons, to not be sceptical of the “freedom” that we possess. Hence, I understand that it is futile for many interested and passionate individuals to be as politically involved, as they would likely face many closing doors if they are.

The formative years of one’s life should be utilised for an all-encompassing and well-rounded development of one’s intellect and other tendencies. Political expression will undoubtedly contribute to a crucial and essential part of one’s growth. Inhibiting political expression will restrain personal development in leadership and communication among other important career skills. And most importantly, it produces a myopic individual with a blasé attitude. What is economic progress if the people are not progressive?

Regardless of your party allegiance (or lack thereof), it is very obvious that the political environment in Singapore is stifling enough to make youths apathetic. And when youths can wear this “I am apathetic” badge on their sleeve as if it were something to be proud of, it is just embarrassing. Nicole’s popularity is nothing short of a shout of the people: you can mute us, but when the political clout is this great, you will not be able to do so forever.

The prime minister and his party seem to have a knack for distilling any opposition into a uni-dimensional caricature: all opposition members are dissidents who want to create chaos. This pre-emptive stance is such that there is no need to determine whether the opposition is viable, because any constructive contribution is perceived as destructive to party politics and hence destructive to Singapore.

However any discerning observer will tell you that this is a gross generalisation, and there is an urgent need to dismantle this belief. From all parties contesting, we see credible, assertive and confident candidates willing to work hard, capable of making a change.

Asians have a tendency to classify “obedience” as a child’s strength. However, I hope my future children will not be submissive and subservient kids; I want them to be reasonable, and to fight for what they believe in. An obedient child might be blindly adhering; they might not necessarily understand the truth. A reasonable child will be obedient if you were reasonable, and not so out of fear.

I do not care for Nicole’s academic achievements and rhetoric more than her contributions to the Campus Observer and the reasons she cited for drawing her into politics. She dared to stand for something in a society that calls for blind obedience and passivity. Although I am not eligible to vote, I give her three thumbs up. Yes, I am borrowing your thumb.

Charles Bukowski once wrote, “The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting.”

I do not want to spell the answers out, but Singaporeans, here is your shot at progress. You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy the ticket.


The writer is a sociology undergraduate. Her area of interest is ironically, the lack of interest in civil and political discourse in Singapore.

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