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Op-Ed: Reflections of a First Time Voter

The low hum of my alarm goes off—actually it’s more of a jarring scream, but okay. 10th July, 10.30 am. It’s my very first Polling Day and I feel myself swelling with ambivalence.

It’s a flurry of emotion as I get dressed and leave my house to vote. My allocated voting time slot is from 5 to 7pm, but it’s barely noon now and I’m on my way. I’m a rebel like that.

I live in East Coast GRC, and though I’m still patiently awaiting the infamous East Coast plan, voting for the first time is still exciting nonetheless. While the thrill of exercising my voice and right as a Singaporean citizen stirs within me, there’s a tinge of nervousness and uncertainty at the back of my skull.

I know many don’t make a big deal out of Polling Day, and perhaps it’s just me being dramatic. But the thought of finally being able to partake in a nation-wide event and finally being a part of the once-distant field of politics seems somewhat monumentous to me.

Four HDB blocks and five minutes under the sweltering sun later, I arrive at my designated polling station—heart racing but trying to play it cool.

Credit – Yahoo News Singapore

As a first time voter, the polling station is uncharted territory. Will I know where to queue? Can I take my phone out to text someone? Will I accidentally fumble at the polling booth, compromising the secrecy of my sacred vote?

Thankfully, the station is peppered with courteous and helpful volunteers, quite literally guiding my every step. There are about five others ahead of me—just as reflected when I’d checked the queue status earlier before leaving home.

The queue moves swiftly and efficiently, and before I realise, I’m standing before the presiding officer, who calls my name in full a little too loudly than I’d hoped for, but all’s good.

What awaits at the end of the queue is anticlimactic, of sorts. I pick up the self-inking pen and stamp it against the party of my choice—but not without first testing it out, of course. I fold my vote in half, and carefully slip it into the safety of the unassuming ballot box.

I’m in and out of the polling station in four minutes flat—record time, some might say. I know that many others have had a far-from-desirable queueing experience, so I guess the polling gods must’ve been beaming down on me from above.

The deed is done—but will it be enough to make a difference?

A hurried campaigning period

Credit – TODAYonline

Despite having taken a compulsory Political Science module back in University, to say that I’m “out of touch” with the political scene is an understatement. I spend my time dabbling in a myriad of things, but politics is definitely not one of them.

And so when PM Lee urged President Halimah Yacob to dissolve parliament, and made the decision to hold the General Elections some three weeks ago, citizens and candidates alike were taken by surprise. The 9-day campaigning period left many scrambling to play catch up as much as possible leading up to Polling Day.

While that meant cramming house visits and walkabouts for candidates, the rest of us lay people were also fighting to keep up to speed with each party’s manifestos, work, and candidates.

Voter’s Dilemma

As a voter, my only crinkle in Singapore’s political climate lies solely in the hands of my vote—which is why I treat it with utmost seriousness. There is a pressure to “vote wisely”, as everyone puts it, and I see it as my duty to make the “right” decision, whatever that may be.

As I try to come to a decision, I soon realise the dilemma that slowly unfolds. Do I vote from a solely microscopic, and somewhat selfish, perspective? Or should I consider the grander scheme of things?

Selfishly-speaking, the simplest way to vote would be to short-sightedly support the individual you’d want to have represent you. But that leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I realise that that cannot happen because I, too, have to consider what this means for the country at large, our parliament, and the opportunity costs involved.

Being an East Coast citizen, the surprise move by the PAP in moving DPM Heng to contest here certainly put most of us in a mind-rattling conundrum, if we weren’t already in one before. This was “a bit unfair,” as WP’s Nicole Seah puts it, especially considering the talks of Heng Swee Keat being the Prime Minister-in-waiting.

Voting for the opposition party might result in Singapore losing valuable and key individuals, yet voting for the incumbent would be discounting the potential and competence of an ultra-promising East Coast team from Workers’ Party.

Is 9 days really enough for us to make an informed choice?

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For those who are hardly aware of the political happenings in Singapore, nine days worth of campaigning and canvassing can be a lot to take in. Especially since political discourse can be jargon-laden, the barrier to entry for the less informed can be extremely high.

Gen Zs such as myself are more than adept in spreading information quickly and effectively through social media. There’s no shortage of resources, summaries, and infographics available as we swipe left and right, up and down, making the process of education much easier for us digital natives.

Not every generation or group is as fortunate, however, and I fear that many who lack access to these resources might end up making decisions out of fear, pathos, or even ignorance.

The trouble with identity politics

Due to the rushed nature of this particular General Elections, it felt like we were swept off our feet and had to make this weighty decision before even fully realising what was happening.

As such, this played to the advantage of identity politics, or, when candidates rely on other personal qualities to garner support outside of their objective, traditional party-related work. Within a short window, it is more convenient for one to make decisions based on sentiment, rather than objectivity—simply because there isn’t enough time to consider all the facts.

While some of the best candidates are those who also come from similar socio-economic backgrounds as the most of us, I can’t help but worry about identity politics clouding the soundness of our acumen.

Understanding that voting opposition does not mean hating the PAP

Credit – PR Week

Initially conflicted, it took me a while to come to terms with the fact that there is no “betrayal” nor “hatred” towards the incumbent when one decides to vote for opposition.

There isn’t a doubt in my mind that the PAP is currently the only party equipped to be our government tomorrow, for the next week, and even the next year to come. And so, voting opposition does not stem from a grudge, nor does it mean opposing for the sake of opposing.

I remember reading a post that said, “if you love the PAP, then you should vote for the opposition”. As counterintuitive as that sounds, there is immense danger in granting the incumbent a supermajority—which they have once again secured, but that’s besides the point now. Every party needs an alternative voice, and an entity to uphold the checks and balances.

More often than not, voting for the opposition means believing in the value of multiple perspectives, representation, and healthy discussion.

The change I want to see in parliament

A friend once asked, “what’s one change that, if promised, will definitely sway you to vote for a particular party?”

Immediately, the repeal of Section 377a of the penal code, as well as other LGBTQIA+ issues came to mind. Granted, other social problems relating to race, wage, and the environment are just as pressing, to name a few. However, we’ve yet to see an openly supportive ally to Singapore’s LGBTQIA+ group in parliament, though it is something that this country so desperately needs.

Lessons from GE 2020

Times are rapidly changing, and it shows. I’m not sure how long more the dated campaigning methods of the PAP will hold up, but I think that this year’s elections have shown more than ever that something needs to change.

The bridging factor that social media plays in connecting younger citizens to the political playing grounds should not be overlooked, nor underestimated.

Lastly, I’d like to end off with acknowledging the importance of involving younger voices in a nation’s decision-making, hence explaining the rationale behind lowering the voting age. However, even at 24, I found myself repeatedly second-guessing my decision—I’d probably be none the wiser at 18.

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