It is now just past 8 pm. Polling for Punggol East By-Election has closed. I wish Li Lian well.
While this by-election is relatively mild in terms of the hustling, it has nevertheless generated some negative incidents.
Former NMP Calvin Cheng FB messaged me in the afternoon today to let me know that he had just made a police report. Someone had threatened to kill him and burn him over his article published in Yahoo criticising the performance of WP in parliament. Earlier, Reform Party’s candidate Kenneth Jeyaretnam had filed a police report over online threats to his family in London. An arrest had since been made. Reporter Kor Kian Beng had written about the Boo boys of the opposition, referring to the booing that took place during nomination day, mainly by supporters of WP.
I was not spared either. Last Saturday, I was campaigning in the flats next to Rivervale Mall for Li Lian. My car was vandalised. I had just gotten out of my car in the HDB multistory carpark and was walking towards the block where a group of WP volunteers were waiting for me. I received a call from a WP party member. A Zaobao reporter friend of his was in the carpark, his car parked right next to mine. The reporter had seen someone come towards my car shortly after I had left and looked at my parking coupons. The person then walked to the side of the car away from the reporter and took out his phone, seemingly to call HDB to come and summon my car. Out of concern, the reporter who had recognised me, called the WP member to inform me to check if my coupons were valid.
I was sure they were but I went back to my car anyway. No one was around my car when I reached. There were sufficient time left on my parking coupons, so I went back to join my group to canvass for votes. It was only when I drove home that I realised the back left door of my car was rather badly scratched. Apparently, the person had taken a sharp object and while pretending to call on one hand, he made a number of scratch marks on my door with the other hand. He would have known I was a WP member. I was in my WP uniform and my car had Li Lian’s calling cards exposed in the back seat.
I called the reporter. Unfortunately, he did not take any photograph of the vandal and the vandal was not dressed in any obvious party colours. The candidates of two other political parties, with their entourage of volunteers were campaigning in the same cluster of flats as I was that afternoon. I could not be certain who would have done that to me. I deliberated for a while and decided not to make a police report.
Emotions run high during elections. Politics get people high. PAP MP Seng Han Thong was once even set on fire by someone in a community centre. That action simply cannot be tolerated.
I do not like to see such behaviours. During nomination, I was in the midst of the crowd. We had made announcements to the crowd not to jeer the other candidates. That was to no avail. Perhaps it did get them to be milder than they would otherwise have been. The jeering came anyway. A few of us tried to “Shhh” the crowd when the booing got too loud. It got quieter for a while but it came back again shortly afterwards.
I can understand why they are angry. Many Singaporeans had spoken to me about politics in the 2 years that I had stepped onto this arena. Many felt helpless at their situation. They were angry at the ruling party but could do little to bring the PAP down, or get them to change tracks. Elections offer them the chance to vent their frustrations.
The PAP is not helping in the situation. Some of their practices simply turn people off. Long before I harboured any interest to participate in politics, I was already turned off by the way the PAP used upgrading to buy votes. I was turned off by what I considered as overly harsh tactics on people who disagreed with them. I wrote in to the Straits Times forum during GE2006 to criticise the use of upgrading carrots. To me, linking votes to public funds was simply incorrect. Whatever respect I had for their earlier economic achievements was negated by these practices. Now that I have formally entered this arena, finding out that there are contracts such as the software arrangement with AIM strengthened my conviction that such practices are wrong.
The Prime Minister had said in his party seminar in November last year that Singapore can’t have a blue constituency and a red constituency. His party has been trying to make sure Singapore’s constituencies are about the same colour, because all constituencies should share the same interest. He was referring to the Democrat versus Republican politics of the USA, where there are often policy gridlocks due to party politics.
Being the one party that had overwhelmingly dominated Singapore’s politics since independence, one could also interpret that to mean that the PAP hopes to see Singapore as all white. While we can criticise the Democrats and the Republicans for forcing policy gridlocks due to party’s interests, I also respect that way power is handed over smoothly whenever there’s change of power effected by the results of balloting. The losing party will simply hand over control of the office and come back to fight another day. The president would even appoint members of the opposite camp to become his office bearers. This is a level of maturity which Singapore politics has yet to reach. And I believe the days of a monotone colour for our constituencies map is gone. For the sake of Singaporeans, we need to get to the stage to have a smooth handover of control when constituencies change hand. And that should includes grassroots organisations funded by public monies.
Perhaps it is because people are turned off by Singapore’s brand of politics that they vent out their frustrations at election time. However, this is no excuse for some of the behaviours we had seen. All parties should work together to educate people to eradicate such actions. But understanding what lies beneath their frustrations will be useful towards stemming the behaviours.
Now, back to my car. My wife told me to leave the ugly scratches alone. Now that I had chosen to walk the path of politics, she said the marks on the car will serve as a reminder to me of what politics can be like. It is the ugly side of politics that we should be reminded of, an ugly side that everyone should work together to eradicate. So if you see a Honda Odyssey on the road with ugly scratches on its left side, you may also wish to ask yourself what you want Singapore’s politics to be like.