“Your name is in the current registers of electors, and you can vote in the next election in Singapore.”
Before the General Election in 2011, friends in the army mused that even though we were old enough to wield rifles as national servicemen, we were not old enough to vote as citizens of Singapore. Just two or three years shy of 21, we lamented our ineligibility, since only one group representation constituency (GRC) – Tanjong Pagar, helmed by the late Lee Kuan Yew – went uncontested, and looked forward eagerly to the next edition.
Yet after checking the registers of electors this year, with the knowledge that my electoral division is Ang Mo Kio, the initial excitement gave way to confusion. Who to vote for ah?
And amidst speculations of when the General Election would be held – after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong informed Parliament in July this year that the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee had been formed two months ago – there has been a chorus of familiar refrains about the significance of the vote. Vote wisely, they say. Be a responsible citizen, because how the vote is cast at the ballot box will affect the future of the country.
Never mind the fact that I am one of 2,460,977 Singaporeans registered to vote. Or one of about 170,000 voters in Ang Mo Kio GRC (based on the numbers from the previous election), to be precise. And never mind the fact that few can articulate what it means to be “wise” or “responsible”.
It would appear that a three-way contest between the incumbent People’s Action Party (PAP), the Reform Party (RP), and the Singaporeans First (SingFirst) party is on in my electoral division*. Blogger Roy Ngerng’s application to the RP has generated interest, pitting him against PM Lee, who is also the Secretary-General of the PAP. The PAP won the GRC in 2011 with 69.33 per cent of the vote, 9.23 per cent higher than its national average.
So how does one decide from these three potential parties? Alignment to political ideology, through manifestoes and rally speeches? Presence on the ground, especially the door-to-door visits? Or perhaps even reports from the mainstream media or commentaries from the Internet? During the General Election in 2011 I tried a little bit of everything: I attended rallies to hear pledges or promises made by candidates, I evaluated the nine-day campaign period and thought about debates, and even analysed the performance of the hopefuls. Information was abundant, yet making sense of the many signals was even more challenging.
Many offer reductive solutions – “actually, it boils down to …”, “the only thing you need to consider is what happened …”, or “it depends on where you stand on this issue” – but I reckon it is a little more complex than that. And personal. With our own prejudices and inclinations, explaining the decision and how it was ascertained are tough.
The vote is important to me. While it might be insignificant to the cynics, I believe the vote – even when electoral districts are gerrymandered, most unfortunately – is integral to the democratic process, since it is ultimately the most impactful feedback citizens can offer the government and their parliamentarians. Securing a mandate is critical for governance too.
But at the same time, our socio-political participation should go beyond the vote. While polarised, discourse – fuelled by the media spectacle and the further digitisation of news or commentaries – is often rich in the lead-up to an election, though the engagement loses steam in the months which follow. As an electorate, our challenge is to sustain these conversations, persist with different endeavours, and to stay informed about policies and their implications.
One may not necessarily be a wiser, more responsible voter thereafter. After all, the process matters, and at the end it would be a bonus, if a truly informed decision – whatever that entails – is made.
* Update: On August 10, Secretary-General of SingFirst, Tan Jee Say, announced in a press statement that “[t]o avoid a [three]-corner fight, [the party] will hereby withdraw its interest to contest Ang Mo Kio GRC and focus its resources on Tanjong Pagar and Jurong GRCs”.