The battle lines have been drawn. Candidates from all parties have been walking the grounds, smiling, shaking hands, listening to residents’ concerns. For the past week, shouts and cheers from rallies have filled the air. Now polling day looms large, and many students in the college will be casting their votes for the very first time. But taking a step back from all the fuss and furore, what does it really mean to vote, particularly for the first time?
It is almost unfortunate that the myriad of considerations that a voter may have are all reduced to a single cross on a slip of paper. Regardless of which issues (if any) are at the forefront of voters’ minds, there is no way of expressing this from the confines of the voting booth. Unlike in survey forms, there is no space allotted for free response, no leeway for any opinion more nuanced than the binary. One could scribble a few lines of heartfelt feedback in the margins of a voting slip, but this would be disregarded, or worse, render one’s vote completely invalid.
If anything, the limits of formal participation should encourage a wider and deeper level of informal debate amongst the electorate as to how a state should be run. The rapid proliferation of online media, both mainstream and alternative, means that as voters we have no excuse for not keeping abreast of the latest national issues, and fine-tuning our opinions as more information becomes available. In the age of social media, the opportunities for civil discourse are endless (though not always embraced, as a cursory scroll through most online platforms will prove). Although Singapore’s political scene has diversified greatly, it has come at the cost of increasing polarisation. When reading up on local events, readers can choose to patronise any of the numerous webpages that have sprung up of late; Mothership.sg, TR Emeritus, and The Online Citizen, to name a few. Each site occupies its own niche within the political spectrum, and thus attracts congregations of zealous supporters from corresponding political parties, all stewing in contempt for their adversaries. Constructive, civilised conversations between opposing sides are few and far between.
As such, those who are new to politics and eager to choose sides should bear in mind that expressing allegiance should never be mistaken for an end in itself. Diehard fans of a football club or rock band can be counted for their continued support through their idols’ ups and downs, but the same approach would be foolhardy in politics, because the successes and failures of elected representatives and their parties have very real consequences for all voters. In declaring our support one way or another, we should never get so carried away that we lose sight of the ultimate point of politics; to create a better country for all to live in.
Therefore, we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by character assassinations and name calling, nor petty squabbles over audit sheets and sinking funds. We should focus on the issues that really matter; issues such as infrastructure, education, national identity, and so on, as it is these issues that truly affect each and every Singaporean. The carnivalesque atmosphere of the campaign period may have been a heady mix, but after the dust has settled, cool heads must prevail. The satirist Juvenal once bemoaned the shallow nature of the ancient Romans, claiming that the people wished only for bread and circuses; if Singaporeans follow suit, our days may be as numbered as those of Rome itself.
As first time voters, we have so much of our lives ahead of us, from joining the workforce, to starting families, to planning and (hopefully) enjoying our retirement years. It may thus be hoped that new voters like us are more likely to vote in a manner that is socially responsible, and support policies that are sustainable and forward-looking. In accepting responsibility as members of society, we should recognise that, now more than ever, we are part of a greater collective. Although we are young and privileged in many ways, there are many others from different backgrounds and/or at different stages of their lives who are not so fortunate. Thus we should consider using our votes to speak not only for ourselves, but also for those who may have been overlooked or forgotten in the relentless pursuit of progress. In addition, we should also bear future generations in mind, always asking ourselves what sort of nation we wish to bequeath to them.
Singapore turns 50 this year, and the next half century of its existence will most certainly be laden with fresh challenges. There is little doubt that our political landscape is going to undergo dramatic changes, and until a new normal is reached, every election will be a landmark one. All parties will be forced to up their game, improving both the candidates and their policies, and offering better options to the electorate. As decisions become harder, it is worth remembering that it is not so much who one votes for, but how the final decision is arrived at. There is no right or wrong answer, so long as the conclusion is well-considered. Above all, we should bear in mind that our social obligations will not end after the votes have been tallied up. As a generation that will be around for at least 50 more years, we owe it to ourselves and our country to stay informed, and be willing to engage in constructive dialogue with our peers. In that sense, going to the polls only represents the start of something much bigger, and much more important.
Images from Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
Wei Xiang’s two favourite things are books and music. His idea of a good night is one spent reading a thought-provoking novel, with an album playing softly in the background. Of course he has many other interests as well, but those tend to involve, you know, going outside.