I had an interesting conversation at a business gathering today. I was at the opening of a new facility downtown. As I went about chatting and networking with the people, one gentleman told me that he met me recently. He reminded me that he and his boys were coming out of the Marine Parade Library and going towards the car park when a group of us from the Workers’ Party were moving to a new block to commence our house visits there.
Yes, I remembered that conversation quite well as we had a good exchange about the work that WP was doing and our team’s contest in Marine Parade GRC in GE2015 and my contest in Joo Chiat SMC in GE2011. It was about a month ago.
He told me today that one of his sons, still in primary school, asked him after we had left who we were. When the boy heard that we were from The Workers’ Party, an opposition political party, he asked, “Why are you talking to them? They are against the government and they are bad, right?” The gentleman added that he corrected his son and said that Singapore is a democracy and parties contest one another in elections. The winning team will get to form the government. There is nothing bad about that. I thanked him for setting the perspective correct.
It is quite a scary thought though. So to the young boy, I was evil because I chose to be in the alternative camp. My fellow party members and all who chose to participate in the democratic process according to our constitution are deemed bad.
Another story. Some years ago, shortly after GE2011, a friend and regular volunteer during my GE2011 Joo Chiat SMC campaign told me that her son, then in the gifted programme in a top primary school was asked to write an essay about a politician. Of all people, he wrote about me. The teacher returned his essay and asked him to write about someone else, saying that I was a failed politician. I lost in the elections and he cannot write about me.
The boy had followed his mother along and attended some of our rallies. He had the chance to speak with me first hand during the campaign and probably the mother had told him stories about stuff that we were doing. To the boy’s great credit, he told his teacher that he was not going to rewrite the essay because he considered me to be a legitimate politician. Today, the boy is in a top secondary school and he will do well for having the guts to reject the teacher’s suggestion, young as he was then.
I am not blaming teachers. I recently met a retired teacher and her retired civil servant husband who are staunch opposition supporters. They have not voted for PAP for decades but of course they would not talk about politics at their work place when they were still working. Some retired educators and civil servants have openly helped us with their time and donations as well.
We are no longer a young democracy at 54 years of independence. We have grown so accustomed to only having one party running Singapore, and at times so dominant that it was 100% of all contested seats. Even today, there are only 6 elected opposition members out of 89 elected seats. The ruling party has so successfully, through the mass media and education, created the impression that they are the only ones who can make it. Singapore only has enough for one A team (which of course needed to be remunerated well to attract the best). We are so used to people excelling in their studies and careers being red carpeted into politics on the ruling party’s side, guided in through the GRC system. They are not expected to fail at elections, so much so that some people see only those who have won in elections as legitimate politicians, nevermind that some of these ‘winners’ hardly have to break any sweat contesting by coasting in through sure-win GRCs and having things nicely organised for them including by the ‘non-political’ PA.
Any dirt or suspected dirt by any one in the alternative camp, whether politicians or just critics are magnified. Even segments of a poem that one wrote years ago as a 21-year old can be dug up and interpreted as unpatriotic, disruptive, or whatever they want to make it to be.
Some paint those in the alternative camp as disruptive, unpatriotic, harbouring evil intentions for Singapore and more. Some look at chaos in the region and quickly point out that this is what will happen if we are to elect the alternative. We will have violence and street demonstrations.
It is because I do not wish to see chaos and riots that I chose to stand in the alternative camp. Prior to 2011, I was concerned that we were betting everything on one party assuming that the PAP will forever be competent and honest. Then, our founding PM, the late Mr LKY was visibly physically weak. I was concerned over the way policies were made. Obvious missteps have been made and the ruling party had refused to admit their mistakes. There were significant anger on the ground over various policies.
I had wondered what Singapore’s options would be as we only had two elected opposition members then; and Mr Chiam’s own health was failing. We should not take to the streets to force change as we have a democratic process to vote for change. Yet as a voter myself, I knew it would be impossible to have more of the alternative elected unless they are deemed sufficiently competent by the electorate. This process takes time and it is best to build a respectable, rational and responsible alternative whilst we have the calmness in society to do so. The barriers have been set real high for the alternative because of constant tinkering of our constitution to entrench the ruling party and an iron grip control over the media, all apparatus of government, the economy through state-owned enterprises, the PA, trade unions and more, plus a great fear factor for capable people to come forward. All the more, the alternative has to be build up till there is one that is ready to take over if the people so chooses. I think this is a better way to ensure Singapore’s resilience.