By Benjamin Cheah

Two years ago, I stood in line at North Spring Primary School and cast my virgin vote for the General Elections. Back then I didn’t think I’d be back anytime soon. But life has a funny way of breaking assumptions.

Everybody has different reasons for voting. Working with other TOC volunteers, I have spoken to people who felt that the by-election was a hassle or that it was a necessary inconvenience. I’ve always held the position that the by-election was necessary, to ensure representation of the people’s interests. I approached it like a second shot, for the people to either reaffirm their faith in the ruling party or to give a chance to an increasingly diverse opposition.

My parents and I arrived at North Spring at about 11.30 am. There was a steady stream of voters entering and leaving the school, but the queue moved swiftly and there was no waiting time. The entrance was manned by a plethora of election officials. I showed my identification card and my poll card to an election official, and was directed to the polling station.

Signs were pasted on walls and pillars, guiding voters to the polling station. There was also an enquiry desk for other matters. Election officials and police officers stood guard at strategic locations.

Like in 2011, the school canteen was converted into a polling station. There were actually several of them, but when we arrived they were all empty. An official guided us to a particular station, where we queued in single file and waited for our turn to vote.

It didn’t take long. There was just the three of us. The voters who came before us had already cast their vote, and were on their way out.

Voting took place in three stages. I showed my IC and my poll card to an official, who checked them against a nominal roll of voters and crossed my name. Then the official next to her again examined my IC and poll card, and called my name. It was for the woman sitting at a table opposite her, checking off my name against her records. I was granted my ballot paper, and from there it was just a few steps to the polling booth.

The booth was just a table with two metal walls shielding my vote from public view. My back was to the election officials, and they were busy processing the next batch of voters. I picked up the pen in the booth and examined the ballot paper.

Four names. Four symbols. Four boxes. One choice.

I crossed a box. Folded the paper, dropped it into the ballot box.

And that was that. The drama of the past nine days, nine days of debate and analysis; of rushed deadlines and strange sleep cycles; of running around and taking a closer look at residents, candidates, parties and policies; nine days compressed, distilled and expressed in two black lines in a tiny box on a small piece of paper.

Democracy in action.

At all times, the vote was secret. Nobody pried into my voting preferences, nobody looked over my shoulder at my paper, and I did not—and will not—tell the public how I voted.

I followed my parents out, walking in straight lines and ninety-degree turns, following the exit route. Outside, it was an otherwise unremarkable January day. The world didn’t change in the ten minutes I’d spent inside.

But that was expected. This election is not about me. It’s not about the individual. It’s about everybody living in Punggol East—rich and poor, young and old, parents and children, the one time when the voices of every single person carries the same weight as everybody else. It might not mean much to society’s elite, to the ones with their hands on the levers of the state, but the elections are not about just them either. It’s for everybody else. The ordinary people, the regular citizens, people without special influence or privileges trying to live their lives the best they can. For them, in this by-election, they have a second chance to express what they want for their future.

By nightfall, we would see which representative they believe will deliver their vision of tomorrow.

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