By Bruno Poh
I was recently approached to pen my thoughts on the ongoing General Elections. This would be my first time at the polls, having turned 25 this year. I agreed to write a short opinion piece that is representative of my perspective thus far. I am neither a seasoned politician nor a political analyst. I am simply writing from the perspective of a young, (relatively) open-minded, and concerned citizen.
Who is before us, and what do they bring?
I reference three collective nouns that I think nicely sum up my thoughts: the Myopic, the Disgruntled, and the Learned. All three labels apply equally to all parties, to all supporters, to all detractors, and to all keyboard warriors (myself included) alike. Most importantly, they apply to the manifestos and ideals, of the contesting parties as well.
The three groups of people, policies, and problems
The Myopic group is made up of people whose perspectives are completely concentrated on a particular agenda or purpose. By allowing oneself to be obscured, they miss greener pastures. What’s more, these people put voters off. The Myopic manifesto is one that appears to be overly generous yet is inevitably shortsighted.
The Disgruntled group is made up of people who are unhappy with the current state of affairs, or are unhappy with the possible future state of affairs. They are firm believers in their own position and tend to like to heckle. The Disgruntled manifesto screams welfarism and protectionism. It is equally shortsighted.
The Learned group remains an ideal and does not exist. It is the political destination that all Singaporeans should strive towards. To be a truly informed voter who is capable of making life-changing decisions at the right time, one has to be aware of all sides of the argument (there may be more than two), and all alternatives that are available to them. The manifesto of this group has to be fully balanced, sound on all fronts, and forward thinking. Again, it does not exist. It is an unachievable goal.
Example 1: Flogging a dead horse – transportation in Singapore
An example of the Myopic category is the lightning rod of varied public opinion – the transport issues that have plagued Singapore.
Regarding the transport issue, many opposition candidates have made reference to the overwhelmed public transport system as a reason for change. The reasons provided range from a general lack of responsibility to specific incompetence. Indeed, all these accusations may have some legitimate grounding, but the fundamental truth is that these problems will not disappear organically in good time, and Singaporeans know that. It is a point to be made, which has been made, and will continue to function at the back of our minds each time we take some form of public transport. Other pressing issues exist.
Example 2: AHPETC saga – no more, please!
Regarding AHPETC, I feel that it is worth considering the gripes of both sides carefully. Both the Myopic and the Disgruntled shine bright here. Mr Khaw Boon Wan and Mr K Shanmugam have both pointedly taken issue with Ms Sylvia Lim’s attempt at debunking the myths surrounding AHPETC. That is not unexpected. The AHPETC matter has become a politicised issue that most people either accept at face value, or believe to be a sham.
The most disturbing part to me is the repeated stabs by the PAP on the matter. The persistent spotlight on the same issues draws neither answers nor clarity from either side of the fence. That, coupled with popular commentary perpetuating the belief that some form of illegality exists, or existed, in the management of the funds, only leads to greater narrow-mindedness on both sides. The involvement of MND further perpetuates the problem.
I think it is time to call a spade a spade. This is the nature of politics, and until there is a truly neutral third party (probably also an ideal) setting the record straight, this issue is going to cloud the judgment of many voters. Harping on the issue is clearly political strategy.
Former NMP Calvin Cheng posted a Facebook post on 3 September 2015, proposing to “clear up two myths the internet cynics have been spreading about Dr Vivian Balakrishnan”. I refer to the benevolent Mr Cheng’s plea to “remember that the YOG was the inaugural one. That means it was the first. Ever. In history.” This was good enough reason to look past the overspending. Why is the same benevolence not accorded to the AHPETC issue? Is it not the WP’s “first. Ever. In history.” Perhaps the difference is in intention. Was there malice? No one knows at this juncture. The fact of the matter is: It was the first time the party had to manage a town council, it was the first time that they had to do it on their own, and it was the first time that someone else other than the PAP ran a town council jointly. If the incredibly large sums overran by Dr Balakrishnan was forgivable, and even understandable, then, maybe one should take note of the AHPETC issue as an exceptional one, and then, move on. The whole nation knows that there is a potential glitch in the AHPETC wheel. Until malice, or something along similar lines has been proven, the point has been made. Move on. Again, more important issues exist that are worth discussing.
Example 3: The numbers game – rally turnouts
A very short and simple point to be made here – the crowd size of rallies do not necessarily translate to votes (at least not in GE2011), but it is indicative of the parties’ levels of attraction and connection with the ground. It is here that the Disgruntled are most powerful. They appear, cheer, make their peace, and leave. They may not vote for who they cheer on.
The numbers game, for both the PAP and any opposition party, strongly correlates to the future of that party, and not so much whether that party will actually win that GRC/SMC.
The turnouts of rallies the past few days have therefore been illuminating. While the PAP can afford to be less concerned with their own turnouts (since they have a long-established, and more-than-decent track record), it would be wise to understand why people are flocking to certain rallies, and what is it that they are drawn to.
Example 4: Becoming the Learned – flawed comparisons, mud-slinging, and a lack of appreciation
It is important to have an ideal to strive towards. For the electorate, it is important to bear in mind the inherent human qualities that we are all predisposed to. Populist measures will always feel more palatable, herd instincts may easily kick in, and armchair criticism is always an easy way to get a message out. By being aware of our own shortcomings, we can then be truly more informed as a voter, and more capable in making the right decision.
First, many people have applied what I think to be flawed comparisons this election. Comparing Singapore’s state of affairs to that of other countries is a false dichotomy. Each country is different, and each country has its own set of problems. Each country’s laws, cultures, and ideals will affect their policies, problems, and solutions. Just because a policy works well for one country does not necessarily mean that it will work for Singapore, and vice versa. There is just no way of making such comparisons in a foolproof manner. These contrasts should not be offered as an argument at all.
Secondly, mud-slinging tactics are unappreciated. Without outright reference to any one person, I believe it is clear that at least one PAP candidate has found it in him to attempt to throw an opposition member under the bus on national television. This behaviour may come around to bite him in the future. The backlash he received is clearly a sign that at least a good portion of the electorate is aware that dirty politics should be called out and dealt with.
Thirdly, what I feel is missing is appreciation. Simple, genuine appreciation. Supporters aside, neutral voters and detractors have resorted to jeering and heckling to discourage candidates. While it may be understandable to get caught up in the heat of the moment, it reflects badly on the person(s) who is unable to show that level of appreciation for that individual or individuals who have stepped up as a candidate. It may or may not matter whether this person(s) has an agenda. The fact is, this individual(s) has allowed himself or herself to be put up to public scrutiny for the public. At least this individual(s) is doing something about what he or she feels need to be done. Such individual(s) have already done a lot more than many of us would. A certain level of respect and appreciation should therefore be shown.
Conclusion: A work in progress
A lot more remains to be seen, and heard. GE2015 is an interesting time to start voting, and being more involved in the shaping of Singapore’s future. Whether you find yourself to be a member of the Myopic, the Disgruntled, or maybe you fancy yourself as part of the Learned category, or maybe even a little mix of each, it is heartening to me if you have read this far. It is important to be as aware as possible of every potential, and every problem, that your vote represents. It is a learning journey that I myself am embarking on. It is a humbling and heartening experience to vote for what I believe in. I hope I do. In the spirit of all things SG50, I would say that I am half of Singapore’s age – what practical purpose this serves totally eludes me, though. Perhaps it is my youth that makes it difficult to be completely non-partisan, but I hope that I have been as non-partisan as possible, and have maintained that aspiration in this brief reflection.