SG Elections: It All Begins With Political Apathy

A 20-year old Singaporean speaks up about frustrations with the system, the fear and apathy amongst Singaporeans, and why she is volunteering to help the Workers’ Party.

Source: flickr.com/t_a_x_i_

Source: flickr.com/t_a_x_i_

I am 20, and I cannot vote.

To be honest, I was never really bothered with politics. I had a father who was very political but that was as far as it went. He would always nag at me for being so apathetic. Like everyone my age, there are more fun things I could do with my life. I can watch Glee, spend hours painting my nails or queue for a cup of bubble tea from KOI. I lead a comfortable life, I have a spot in the university… what more could I ask for.

Why should I even care?

Worrying

At my age, few care about politics. Exams are stressful enough. But now I’m tweeting and sharing political news almost 24/7 like nobody’s business. Some of my friends think I am crazy.

What sparked off this interest in politics? Nothing much really. Perhaps it was boredom during lectures at University. I made a radical decision to “like” The Online Citizen on Facebook which has been updating me daily with alternative news. All this information merely compounded what I already knew from my father.

The more I read, the more concerned I became. I do not know where even to begin with what is wrong. So instead of making a list of reasons, I shall share my personal experiences instead.

Recently I saw an advertisement for a three-room flat near my place. It was going for over S$400,000. That scared me. The amount set off alarms in my head. I went to ask my father for more details. He told me he had bought our current five room flat in 1983 for S$123,000, but today’s market value for it is approximately S$650,000. That’s just insane. I know life is not meant to be a bed of roses, I know I would have to work hard, but these prices seem insurmountable. Moreover, I believe the prices will continue to climb if nothing effective is done to solve the rising costs of living. Does that mean that to have my own place, I have to live an eternity of debt? What about kids? Do I even dare consider raising any?

What about others who are less fortunate than I am? What are they going to do?

I have some friends who aren’t as lucky as me. They did fairly well for their A Levels or their GPAs but it was not enough to make the cut for our local universities. I understand that the system is based on merit and that is fair and justified. What I cannot stomach is the number of foreign students studying in our local universities, on our money. What gives our government the confidence that these people will stay and “integrate”?

While I was doing a stint as a relief teacher, an elderly cleaning lady came up to me and complained that students were pouring paint into the sinks and clogging up the plumbing. She implored me in Chinese, “Please tell your students not to do this anymore. We lead a very hard life you know. Each month I only earn $500, it is tough enough already.”

What? $500? She is so much older than me and my salary then was more than twice hers. Her work is so much more taxing and how is $500 enough to survive?

There is this old lady near my block. She is always hunched, pushing a trolley and picking up cardboard boxes. Once I saw her fighting viciously with another old man for a cardboard box. Is this our so-called modern and First World society? I am sure she’s not the only one in Singapore living like this.

Why are there people like her living on the streets, while our ministers earn so much? What justifies this gulf of disparity and why aren’t they doing anything? This makes me so angry. How can we just stand by and watch — and not do anything?

Being paid so much, there should be accountability. Is there?

Why are there people living like this, while our ministers earn so much?

Why are there people living like this, while our ministers earn so much?

I have become disillusioned with the ruling elite in the ways that they trample on our rights as citizens and cut our vocal cords on politics. There is something very morally wrong with the way we are governed.

Why this election

Whoever said, “do not underestimate the power of the social media” seriously was not joking. Ask any young person and he will tell you that Facebook is his death knell. We surf the internet for hours when we should be studying. Yet at the same time, social media has allowed me to hear the opposition’s voice where it has been hushed in the Straits Times.

I would probably still be living in ignorance if not for Facebook.

Things in Singapore already seem pretty bad but to make things worse, the new People’s Action Party (PAP) candidates take it on to a whole new level of scary. If candidates like Tin Pei Ling are going into parliament, we ought to be very worried. She has failed to show the critical depth that is needed to handle national issues. When I showed a friend Tin Pei Ling’s introductory video, he commented that she sounds like a brainwashed robot.

The recent reports circulating on the internet involving Lui Tuck Yew also raised some eyebrows. How can someone like him lead the people? Members of Parliament (MP) are here to serve the people, not the other way around. Also, PAP’s Desmond Choo mentioned on the news that “progress” to him was to make a resident in Hougang hesitate voting for the Workers’ Party. What is up with that? Is defeating the opposition his main goal? Can this be an indication of the type of mentality that runs within the ruling elite?

In contrast, the opposition holds so much more appeal for me. For one, they are not pretentious. Their sincerity is apparent in their videos. They know what it is like to be an average Singaporean, they have got credibility, and last but not the least, they are sacrificing so much for us. The Workers’ Party’s First World Parliament proposal and manifesto is very impressive. Also, Nicole Seah has really moved me and many youths with her ability to speak up for my generation. We are all fans, buzzing with admiration.

Building up to the election, the blunders made by the PAP are bigger and the challenges we face as a nation are larger. Sometimes it feels like there is no space to breath. This cannot keep up. It cannot go on.

Volunteering

I’m not here to represent all of the youth in Singapore, and I am not much different from them.

Being a History Major, I have learned that young people are a catalyst for change. Many of my friends are already frustrated with the system. We are saying, “Enough is enough”.

The opposition needs help. The odds are stacked heavily against them. The PAP always emphasize the need to vote wisely and to beware of a “freak result”. But as Mr. Brown sings, “bookies confirm don’t play because we already know who’s the winner.”

Some of my friends actually believe that I’m going to get called up by the ISD or have my face printed all over the papers. Such ridiculous thoughts really make me laugh, but at the same time, it gives me an inkling of the fear and apathy that exists.

As V from the movie V for Vendetta says, “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” The first step is to get alternative voices into parliament as checking mechanisms and to ensure accountability. There are good candidates in the opposition who can represent people like me and be this alternative voice. I want democracy but democracy is nothing without options.

So if I cannot vote, I will do the next best alternative. Volunteer.

Right before I submitted the volunteer form to the Workers’ Party, I was actually watching Martyn See’s compilation of the IMF incident with Chee Soon Juan and his sister, Chee Siok Chin. The police were trying so desperately to stop Chee Soon Juan and Chee Siok Chin from demonstrating. They surrounded the two and linked arms, entrapping them with human barricades so they could not walk. I cried a little because I was so embarrassed by the huge spectacle the government made.

But I also cried because I felt helpless.

I chose to help the Workers’ Party because I believe in their cause. Although I personally disapprove of their silence on the issue of gay rights, I think they are still our best bet.

When the Workers’ Party called for volunteers on Facebook, I hesitated. I opened and closed the link at least 5 to 6 times before actually filling it out for submission.  I was scared like everyone else my age, yet it is so silly because I know that there is nothing to be afraid of. I don’t want to live in fear anymore. This is my country and I’m merely exercising my rights as a citizen.

I love Singapore and I want to make it better.

A lot better.

Peiying is an average Singaporean who loves to bake and cook. She blogs about food at Too Much Hands. This article was previously published on Yawning Bread.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posts by Loh Peiying

Posted on 3 May 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

Read more articles posted by Loh Peiying.

Read this first: LB Terms of Use

10 Responses to SG Elections: It All Begins With Political Apathy

  1. Lynn

    Actually, Wee Wui Keat, the Spore opposition line campaigned very much on "Go back to China" xenophobic lines. eg Nicole Seah, poster girl of the NSP said "Now, every time I take the train, it feels like I'm in a different country. It is like taking a holiday, I don't even need to bring my passport."

    And it is similarly untrue that – "What I cannot stomach is the number of foreign students studying in our local universities, on our money". Foreign students are either on scholarship or on study loans. It is this meritocratic policy of the Singapore government that has contributed to the immense growth of Singapore.

    As a Malaysian working in Singapore- it has been more than a little disturbing listening to the thinly veiled xenophobic diatribes being bandied around during this election period. Being bandied around in front of me of course because I sound and look like a Singaporean and so no one knows any better.

  2. Eric

    You guys remember 'Operation Spectrum'.

    My room mates and I used to drop by after supper, at the Youth Workers Centre, I think it was part of Catholic Outreach … ended up playing carom.

    Met some lawyers etc. They pretty much listened to our issues at work place and accommodations. They gave us suggestions and ideas about how to cope or resolve matters. I just went there to meet girls, DUH !

    I remember  Kenneth Tsang, nice enough chap. Am guessing most of them came from humble backgrounds unlike the Tanglin / Orchard Rd elite.

    LKY ambushed Archbishop Gregory Yong with a press conference and did a "Mahathir" version Ops Lalang, or "buggery on Anwar". Oh what a "tangled web his home ministry wove".

    You would think those guys on the list were Al Qaeda. I must have been a bad recruit, still don't know how to fire a gun or make incendiary devices. I remember our chee cheong fun outings but that does not count as sinister enough to bring down the state.

    http://theonlinecitizen.com/2009/05/operation-spe…

    http://theonlinecitizen.com/2009/05/may-1987-a-co…

    http://www.singapore-window.org/sw01/010521m3.htm

    http://thestar.com.my/lifestyle/story.asp?file=/2…

  3. Anak Singapura

    .. typical youngster who doesn't know where her priorities SHOULD LIE.

    Perhaps the voting age should be raised to 25, not 21. Gay *rights* seem to be of an uppermost concern to Generation Y-ers. The "Y" is very apt, as in Hokkien for otak tak centre = brain not straight.

  4. Anak Singapura

    "Although I personally disapprove of their silence on the issue of gay rights,"

    Gay *rights*, Gay *rights*, Gay *rights*. That's what you young people are only good at. Right?

    Can GAY RIGHTS put food on the table?? I am more concerned about where and how my next pay check going to support my family and I. And spiralling HEALTHCARE costs. NOT GAY *RIGHTS*.

    To me, these wotsits are nothing but troublemakers who are not right in the head.

  5. Wee Wui Kiat

    Understand your valid concerns, but am so refreshed reading your article where the political issues in a neighbouring country do not involve racist and extreme religious fundamentalism, gross corruption, insults of "go back to China", people falling to their deaths from government offices, policies of employment and university recruitment not based on merit but based on skin colour and religion etc.

  6. Rasydan

    well..of course the opposition are the best bet. wait until the gov become the opposition. probably you'll be voting for opposition again.

  7. freespirit

    Hi Peiying,
    It was very encouraging to read your article. I can completely relate to your feelings; I too felt relatively apathetic and uninterested in Singapore’s politics until GE’11. Social media has really turned this election into something else, and it is encouraging to see the wealth of diverse views put forward everywhere.

    Not only was I frustrated with our system, but in fact I had just commented to my mother yesterday that I felt that it was my generation who was to blame. Not those in their mid-twenties and onwards who are in the working world and pay tax and hence care a little bit more, but us students who have “better things to do” like exams and TV shows. Prompting discussions and stimulating debates with friends proved futile, and just annoyed me further.

    My only relief is that I recently turned 21 and can vote. I am glad you found your own outlet of expressing your discontent by volunteering, until the next election.

    P.s. given the fear we have lived in all our lives, this is the biggest step I have dared to take to express my opinions. As cowardly as it may be, let’s hope this is the beginning of some radical changes for the better. I look forward to a more transparent, accountable Singapore with a higher quality of life for everyone, not just the elite upper class.

  8. Very well written, it has given me a good perspective on the mindsets of the younger generation in Singapore. Keep it up. Great Article.

  9. I have been to a few rallies and IMHO the opposition parties should be pushing the concept of minimum wage harder and explain its benefits. As you say, it makes me angry that people who work hard get crap pay just because they’re in “low-skilled” jobs, and that many elderly people are forced into second or third careers because they simply do not have enough money to retire. People should get a decent wage for hard work even if they are uneducated. A minimum wage pegged to cost of living might also make it more palatable for Singaporeans to take jobs in construction and low-skilled service positions. Right now these are dominated by foreigners whose sheer presence many Singaporeans seem to be fed up with (as opposed to fed up with competition with educated foreigners for middle-income jobs).

    It is a vile red herring to equate minimum wage with communism.

  10. smileybi

    hey peiying,

    not sure if you’ll see this comment. i have never commented on any loyarburok article but your article has such so much sincerity it’s inspiring.

    i completely understand how you feel and what you’re going through. i’m 20 too and i can’t vote as well. when the sarawak elections came and pass, i too tweeted like crazy. my friends were saying they don’t have to read the newspaper anymore and they would know what was happening just by reading my tweets. when things certain things happen because of injustice and corruption, i was also there. my father is also involved politically, which is why i can relate so much to your article. it’s nice knowing there’s another 20 year old out there who is also more concerned about her country rather than worry about the next big sale in the mall or what’s happening on glee.

    thanks for writing this article. i am encouraged. :)