You must be overwhelmed by the many posts about the general elections in Singapore, with opinions on who you should vote for, or – even worse – how you should 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,” I wrote four week ago, after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong informed Parliament about the formation of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC). “[Never] mind the fact that few can articulate what it means to be ‘wise’ or ‘responsible’,” or that this chorus of familiar refrains about the significance of the vote seems hardly useful.
Familiar, because similar perspectives were raised in the “social media elections” of 2011, and back then I contributed to the noise too:
– Summarising what was said at different election rallies, with hideous infographics;
– Asking whether a campaign period of ten days – including one for the Cooling-Off Day – was too short;
– Proposing for election debates, whether they are televised live or not;
– Calling for greater transparency of the EBRC, with accusations of gerrymandering;
– Making a case for Opposition unity (and how the Singapore’s People Party had to loan candidates);
– Criticising the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) Tin Pei Ling as inexperienced (on the bandwagon, no less); and
– Suggesting how the PAP may be out of touch.
Last week, with the rallies in full swing, a friend described the elections as “burlesque”, as “carnival”, as “festival”.
And it is hard to disagree with the scepticism, when one considers the confusing back-and-forth between the PAP and the Workers’ Party (WP) on the town council issue, or the unconstructive exchanges peppered with cheap potshots. This year, I tried reporting – at the NUSS dialogue featuring the 10 political parties and as a first-time voter at the rallies – for The Middle Ground, read up on the candidates (including the WP’s), and interviewed SDA chairman Desmond Lim. But whenever I put a piece (and to a lesser extent, a tweet) out, there are reservations about the usefulness of these little activities.
If I could take time to follow these developments, I used to think, then the people around me – with obligations to be active, informed citizens – should do so too. Yet amassing more information, which has become more ubiquitous as media outlets chase the sensational and present the minutiae, does not necessarily enlighten. More importantly, the ability to pay attention to what happens on these campaign trails is a luxury. Last Tuesday I could join the team for Nomination Day because I had a day off from school. On Wednesday and Friday when I went returned home at 11 from the WP and Reform Party rallies in Hougang and Yio Chu Kang respectively, my Dad who had to work overtime to get a few lifts serviced, did not get back until an hour later.
After an exhausting day at work, how does one make sense of everything amidst the clutter? Or of competing narratives? When individuals do pay attention, they are bombarded with soundbites which may even confuse. The political parties and their candidates do no favours when they utter platitudes which hardly resonate beyond their echo chambers.
The same friend reckons that a longer campaigning period may allow the politicians to frame their policies more coherently, and at the same time give voters the space to think. Perhaps so, though lethargy – besides apathy – is a bigger challenge. In the meantime, as the political machine continues to churn, most Singaporeans still have little idea how the country will shape up in an ambiguous future.