Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Turning Point?

I have cast a vote at the General Election only once in my life. That was in 1997, when I was 21.

It is indeed sad that, in a First World country like Singapore, the majority of citizens isn't given the opportunity to exercise a basic right by participating in a democratic process at regular intervals.

There was a period when the younger generation was criticized for being politically apathetic. Now, as Generation Y comes of age and harnesses the power of the Internet, the tide has turned, and it is nothing short of a tsunami.

I remember how, back in 1997, I attended a Workers' Party rally at Yio Chu Kang Stadium, and heard Tang Liang Hong stir the tens of thousands who attended, with an impassioned speech in multiple languages and dialects. It was an unforgettable experience, and I felt very sorry for him when Cheng San went to the PAP, and he was forced to flee the country.

This year, I see a worthy TLH successor in the form of the National Solidarity Party's Nicole Seah. I have been viewing YouTube clips of her rally speeches, and she is a remarkable speaker, especially when you consider her tender age.

Hot issues being debated include the skyrocketing costs of living, subsidies for the poor and elderly, ministerial pay, etc. There is significant overlap with what was covered back in 1997, and I can't help wondering: is it because the ruling party isn't solving these chronic problems, or are they merely part and parcel of any country's general woes?

What the PAP needs to worry about now are the increasingly disgruntled 20- to 30-something-year-old voters, who are much more vocal and unafraid of telling you to go f*** yourself. They eagerly engage senior politicians and, as illustrated by a recent university student's witty quip to the Prime Minister, are more than capable of making you look stupid in front of the mass media.

In 1997, my mind was made up the minute the GE was announced.
This time, I remain undecided 5 days before Polling Day.

Being 14 years older is a factor. At 21, my comprehension of political issues was hazy, and my vote was significantly influenced by my parents' views.
One's temperament shifts over the course of a decade. So does one's ability to exercise moderation in the face of controversy and inflamed emotions.

While it is true that the PAP has messed up in certain areas, it has also succeeded on other fronts. However, the opposition will naturally gravitate towards the former in order to win votes. This can be a double-edged sword - a decision made in anger is rarely the right one. A cooling off period the day before polling will do nothing to extinguish that.

If the PAP is startled by the degree of hostility they're witnessing from many Singaporeans, it didn't develop overnight. Every General Election sees its fair share of political rallies, and the crowds at opposition party events easily outnumber those at the PAP's. The same issues are brought up, and every 5 years, the resentment builds further. Many have been waiting for the chance to cast their votes, and now... they have it.

It's practically confirmed that the ruling party will lose a few constituencies. The extent of that loss, however, is open to speculation. I moved to a new residence 5 years ago, and now stay in a neighbourhood which is considered a PAP stronghold. Imagine my surprise when this stronghold got contested by an opposition party, led by someone from another district. Apparently, he feels confident enough to run here, and the PAP's response can be described as 'panic mode'.

So that makes me a 'swing vote', correct? We're the ones the politicians will fight the hardest for, since we could go either way. Whichever party I end up voting for, I hope it will realize that times have changed, and certain issues that have been hanging over our heads for eons need to be addressed once and for all. As costs of living reach unbearable levels, even middle-income ( or upper middle-income ) groups will feel the pinch, and you can't just focus on the welfare of those with low salaries. Singles - especially those taking care of elderly parents - should not be ignored when dishing out financial goodies. Foreign talent has its advantages, but should not result in the marginalization of Singaporeans.

The biggest mistake the PAP may be making is the refusal to admit accountability for certain actions they have taken. I, for one, place more value in a person who is willing to accept criticism, re-evaluate his stand, and hopefully alter his decision when presented with hard facts and unpleasant truths, than somebody who refuses to listen and repeatedly defends himself in the face of indisputable evidence.

Trying to attend a few opposition party rallies this week. May post an entry if I succeed.

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