I awoke excited by the prospect of voting for the very first time! In previous years, my constituency had always been a walkover. I was travelling over GE 2011 and missed my opportunity to vote then. I had embarked on a last minute scramble to register as an overseas voter so as to vote in Australia, where I was at that time. But I was too late and had to console myself by watching Channel NewsAsia’s live coverage on the internet.
I cheered at the Workers’ Party victory, sighed over Chiam See Tong’s defeat, gripped the edge of my chair in anticipation at the Potong Pasir vote recounts and clapped for Yam Ah Mee as he announced each result with a poker face. I was part of that moment in solidarity with all other Singaporeans despite being a million miles away from home.
Now, I get to vote for the President at the Singapore Embassy in London. I learnt my lesson post GE 2011 and registered as an overseas voter way ahead of time. As I rushed to 9 Wilton Crescent, my heart thudded in excitement.
Somehow the sedate embassy with its organised and efficient staff did not match the state of my wildly agitated sense of anticipation. I did not know what to expect since I have hitherto not voted before. But everything was in line with what I had seenon TV previously.
However, there was a clear divide between my logical mind and my emotional self.
As I travelled to the embassy, I instinctively wanted to tell all the other passengers on the tube that I was on my way to vote for the very first time and that my country, Singapore, was moving towards being a real democracy at last!
Of course I resisted the urge. This was after all London where no one talked on the tube. Besides, they would think I was crazy! It was just an election – no big deal. In addition, it is not even a parliamentary election, just an election for the ceremonial office of the president.
But to me, it meant so much more than that. It was the first time I truly felt I had a stake in my country, however small that stake was. I had a vote and in that vote a voice. My single vote will not be election result changing. Indeed, it is but a pin in the ocean but within me, it brought about feelings of patriotism I had never thought I was capable of feeling!
I cannot speak for all Singaporeans of course but I think many will identify with me when I say that true democracy awakes genuine and heartfelt loyalty for Singapore.
More so than the ritual of singing the national anthem or reciting the pledge; more so than a national day parade that is a good show at best but reeks of propaganda; this vote (however small) gives me a say in the direction of my country. It gives a feeling that I am a part of Singapore – like nothing else can – for by casting that vote, I am asserting my right as a citizen thereby reiterating my status as a Singaporean.
This being the first time I voted, I put a lot of thought into who I should be voting for. I did endless research on the internet and watched interviews and rally speeches online. In so doing, I gained much insight into the role of the President.
To borrow a phrase from Tony Tan – we must vote for “an office that exists”.
Rightly or wrongly, the office of the President is largely an apolitical one. Although, he has some veto powers over issues such as national reserves and clemency, he does not have the far reaching abilities to initiate the changes that people hope he can.To vote for a candidate who promises to initiate changes that he legally would not be able to initiate, would be destabilising.
In reality, the President has to be able to work with the government for the betterment of Singapore. If we feel that the President should have additional powers, we should be relooking the Constitution. We should not be expecting the President (whoever he may be) to bring about changes that he realistically cannot bring. As it stands, he is just a little bit more than a ceremonial Head of State. And he can use his limited powers to represent the interests of all Singaporeans.
So who best fits that profile?
I will not reveal my vote but what I will say is this. In all honesty, I do not believe that any one of the candidates is perfect but I chose someone who I think will be the closest to what I think would befit what the office of the President should represent.
I voted for someone who I believe will be a dignified President. A President who will win the hearts and minds of the people and act as a unifying force between pro-PAP supporters and anti-PAP supporters. A President who has proven that he can challenge the establishment when needed but at the same time, an individual who is not needlessly confrontational.
A President who is above party politics and above all, a President with a heart to serve.