Steffen Toh /
I cringed when I read Minister George Yeo’s words describing how the Workers’ Party is forcing the voters in Aljunied to shoulder the heavy ‘emotional burden’ of ensuring the opposition gets a substantial voice in the Parliament. Residents there feel ‘uncomfortable’, he says, that they have to choose between ‘enlightened self-interest’ and the ‘opposition’s interests’. His words make me, a Singaporean citizen, uncomfortable on many levels.
It was all so different just days before, when on Nomination Day, Minister Yeo declared the WP team that his PAP team would be coming up against as ‘worthy opponents’. Yes, I thought: finally, here was a member of the ruling party who is able to transcend party rhetoric and see the quantum leap forward of the quality and quantity of opposition candidates for what it is – a maturing of the Singaporean people and a positive development for our nation. I mistakenly believed that he was acknowledging that Singaporeans are finally stirring from a self-imposed and apathetic lethargy. He sees, I thought, that we are no longer content to just sit back and allow the government to take us where they think we should go; that we have ideas concerning what our destination should be and how to get there; that we are ready to step forward to actively help craft the future of our nation together.
Unfortunately, this admiration was short-lived, and quickly turned into disappointment with Minister Yeo’s latest words. It’s not just that the phrase ‘enlightened self-interest’ contains an apparent contradiction – if the voters of Aljunied are ‘enlightened’, their concerns would go beyond an immediate and selfish consideration of their own needs, to include a consideration of the needs of the wider community, and indeed, the nation. It is almost like Minister Yeo is trying to justify what is essentially a selfish act, to think about one’s self-interest in casting a vote, by portraying it as something noble.
Secondly, it’s also the fact that the residents are falsely presented with the picture that if they vote for the opposition, they would be damaging their own interests. Who says that the two must be mutually exclusive? In fact, the WP’s message emphasizes the opposite consistently. Vote with us, so that we can enter Parliament and protect your interests.
Finally, what really saddens me is the ‘emotional burden’ argument, because it makes me question the extent to which we have departed from the visions that originally emboldened our founding fathers to take the building of Singapore’s future into their own hands. The bottom-line is this: In a truly democratic society, every single vote that is cast MUST carry with it an ‘emotional burden’. That is the essence of a society in which its people are active players in their collective future. Each vote carries an emotional burden, each vote should make the person casting it ‘uncomfortable’, because each vote is supposed to count towards something, and not to be taken lightly.
And the truth is, for far too long, Singaporeans have had this ‘emotional burden’ removed from them, because of one, the presence of an admittedly outstanding government that takes care of all of our needs, and two, the lack of a viable alternative. For far too long, when it comes to elections and voting, Singaporeans have proceeded on auto-pilot, and have not had to grapple with the significance that each vote carries. For too long, we have abdicated from our duty to consider the importance of every vote before casting it.
And for the first time, there is the presence of a viable alternative to the ruling party. For the first time, there are able Singaporeans who care enough to leave their well-paying jobs or step out of their comfort zones to go up against the PAP juggernaut. For the first time, we have opposition candidates, spread out across different parties, that impress us with their passion, sincerity, and credentials, but none more so then at ‘hotspots’ like Aljunied GRC. That is why the Aljunied residents feel uncomfortable, because they can no longer dismiss the opposition as riff-raff. This is a positive change, a change that has finally put the burden back on Singaporeans as they consider who to vote for. And every Singaporean, whether you are in Aljunied or indeed, Tanjong Pagar, should rejoice at this.
Picture from msn news.