The Singapore state is perhaps not so different from parents who are strict and unaffectionate, but deeply concerned with their children’s wellbeing. Just as parents do, the state seeks to do what it deems best for its people. The “we know what is best for the country” paradigm resonates with the same sense of dominance and superiority of a dictatorial parent who nevertheless has the child’s best interests at heart.
It may be no mere coincidence that Singapore, synonymous with the state, is known as one of the Four Asian Tigers and strict Asian parents are often branded Tiger Mothers. The Tiger is a symbol of strength, aggression and physical vitality. Her power must not be mistaken for infallibility. It would be ideal to have a perfect state that panders to our every need and desire but we gain nothing by persecuting the failure of the state to meet all our demands. As Polling Day draws closer, perhaps we could find a capacity within ourselves to forgive a state that will never be perfect, no matter who is in power.
It is no wonder that the state, like parents, struggle with recognising the maturity of a cynical and rebellious albeit well-educated population. Privileges and luxuries in other parts of our world may mostly be considered rights and entitlements in Singapore. In this aspect, we are still very much pampered by the paternalistic state and this is unsustainable. We have been protected from much adversity that comes from being a small state because of governmental efforts but this becomes a problem when we fail to recognise their existence. If we do not perceive geopolitcal threats and merely focus on our domestic issues, we have no knowledge and understanding of them when they show up.
We must begin to show ourselves capable of recognising the preciousness of a shared future, one that is strewn with challenges from cultural erosion to urban poverty to a rapidly aging population. If we desire progress, civilised means such as cooperation and negotiation, rather than confrontation, with the state should be employed.
The question is as much who deserves to govern as it is who is willing to put himself or herself through a lifetime of public scrutiny and criticism, to spend copious amount of time and energy for a vision of a better future. All visions come with a degree of uncertainty. With multiple complex elements, often beyond our control, and black swan threats determining the future, it is easy to concede that holding these visions and working tirelessly towards them might very well be a fool’s errand. Despite this, we could take heart because, for all the conflicts and ugliness, there are indeed people who care deeply for Singapore; They are essentially professing to take on the problems of others, to confront the challenges of the next few years with courage and maybe even foolish rashness. The anger, frustration and determination that we see across different forms of media are all emotions indicative of a population fiercely determined to defend what they love and value in Singapore.
There is a part of us that yearns to belong to a world we love and truly believe in. On the surface, the General Election is a struggle for power. It is difficult to talk about the General Elections because it is not possible to be neutral about it and every opinion is tied to interests that inevitably conflict. If everyone cares deeply about different aspects of society, who is one to say that what the other loves is less worthy than what one values?
We must recognise that the state and the people will never be fully aligned. The state cannot fulfill the expectations of each and every individual at any point in time. Interests and values will not be aligned because the state plans for the future and we live for the present. The state caters to the masses and we advocate rights for the communities we love belong to.
The election is, thus, one connection that articulates the interests of the people to the state. Yet, when it comes to policy matters that affect the nation at large, it is indisputable that imperfect information exists, particularly among the people. While advocating for our interests to be recognised by the state, it would certainly be useful to also consider the larger, long-term significance of state policies and understand our priorities and circumstances beyond our borders.
For non-voters in particular, it is difficult to delineate their exact role in this election, but certainly, they are far from insignificant. Considering that there are multiple other avenues where we can negotiate our interests and identities, non-voters too play a critical role in shaping our future. This election is a crucial crossroad with heavy implications for not only the near future but also for aspects of our society that may be altered or lost permanently. Hence, it is only with a conscious trajectory of awareness and understanding of all that affects us that we are capable of making a truly informed vote in the future.
At the heart of it, voters and non-voters alike, we care because we can recognise that surest way forward we have lies in the hearts of Singaporeans who love and are willing to see a future of opportunities and possibilities amidst circumstances and inevitability. Parent-child conflict has never been solved through avoidance and estrangement. In the same way, it will take us incredible love and courage to venture beyond everything that is natural and familiar to us and face our challenges within and beyond the country in tandem with the state.
All images by Isaac Neo.
About the Author
Charis is political science and literature major. She likes horror movies, aristotle and history.