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There is more at stake than we think

Callan Tham /

I haven't been able to spend as much time writing as I would like, but I have held off writing this for far too long. Thus far, it has been an electric elections season in Singapore. We are witnessing contests for 82 out of 87 parliamentary seats, the most since Singapore's independence.

As usual for Singaporeans, known to be a "pragmatic" lot, the keenly argued issues revolve around tangibles -- rising cost of living and inflation, stagnant real median wage growth, spiking prices of public housing, seemingly uncontrolled immigration, and that perennial PAP carrot: estate upgrading.

All of which are, I admit, issues that demand earnest discussion and analysis. All of them affect Singaporeans, some more so than others, but none of them are trivial. I have lots of ideas on how to tackle them, but that is not what this post is about, so indulge me while I recount an incident.

On April 19th, I was invited to a dinner with Jeremy Hillman, BBC News' Editor of Economics and Business Centre, who was here to launch the Asia Business Index. It was an enjoyable evening at One Fullerton, just catching up and exchanging views with folks like Jeremy and Francesca Unsworth, Head of BBC Newsgathering, and my fellow bloggers Kirsten HanDarryl Kang and Donaldson Tan. Hell, even Tan Kin Lian showed up.

As we sat down for dinner, Kirsten and I had plopped ourselves directly opposite Francesca at the table and when she asked us how we felt about Singapore, my response was "We don't have a soul."

I explained we have excellent infrastructure, a rather efficient tax code, and (at Fullerton anyway) clean streets. It all looks so clinical, so Eden-esque, that everything on the surface looks perfect. And we all know it isn't.

So what is at stake, when Singaporeans go to the polls this Saturday, is the soul of this country. Or at least, the direction that Singapore will move towards. On the one hand, we have the mighty PAP, who has achieved their political dominance through no lack of cunning or heavy-handed smack downs. On the other, the alternative parties, who have pledged to serve not only as the loyal opposition, but also as the voice of the Singaporean people, and have also fielded their strongest slate of candidates for the longest time.

There has never been a time where internationally, respected lawyers like WP's Chen Show Mao willingly joined the cause of an opposition party. Or former establishment men and civil servants like Dr Ang Yong Guan and Tan Jee Say campaigning as part of the SDP. And then there are names like Vincent Wijeysingha, whom I'm proud to call a friend, Gerald Giam, Michelle Lee, Nicole Seah, Tony Tan and Hazel Poa; bright and young capable minds that the PAP would've had no problems attracting to its ranks previously, are now proudly wearing the badges of alternative parties.

And more importantly, the proposals the alternative parties have come up with are not only cogent, coherent, and convincing to me, they also have one common thread running through all of them: that the Singapore they want to build is a country that prizes not only economic success, but also one that does not leave Singaporeans behind.

It is difficult for me not to think of my 8-month-old son as May 7th approaches, and I decide what kind of Singapore I want him to inherit. And my choice is clear as day. Because I don't want Ayrton to grow up in a society that defines success as a mad dash for cash, status and material satisfaction.

I don't want him to grow up in a country where you don't stand up to bullies and allow yourself to be browbeaten into submission.

Nor in a country where ideas cannot be robustly debated or deconstructed, or one where he cannot challenge or question presumptions.

Nor a country where accountability and responsibility is non-existent.

Nor one where you apologise not because you are sorry, but when you need to gain sympathy.

Nor one where character assassination is an acceptable part of progression.

Nor one where the price for looking the other way is a fresh coat of paint for your block of flats.

Nor one where his freedom to choose his path in life will be compromised in any shape, way or form.

Nor one where we chose to forget to care for our elderly, the weak, the helpless, the poor, the homeless, and leaving them be is far easier than doing the right thing.

Nor one where we mistake servitude as gratitude, and where integrity is only a buzzword and not a principle to live by.

Nor one that allows our humanity to be sucked out of us and replacing it with the Singapore dollar.

Nor one where fear shackles and restraints our every move and decision.

Nor one where arrogance is not only accepted, but richly rewarded financially.

If I allow that to happen, I would have failed in my duties as a father and a Singaporean.

Make no mistake, my friends. There is more at stake than we think. We are not only voting for political parties, we are voting for the direction and soul of Singapore. Your vote will decide if you want Singapore to be more humane instead of staying money-oriented; to reach out and help fellow Singaporeans who have been cruelly left behind or reach for more profits; and a future that we are proud to tell our children about, a principled, compassionate existence, or merely one where telling your neighbours about your promotion or showing off your new sports car is the order of the day.

It is for these reasons that I ask you, on May 7th, vote for change. We, the Singaporean people, need it.

Visit TOC's General Election website for more GE news.