To some voters, elections are a bother, to others, an opportunity

“Apathetic” is a word we use very often when we refer to the disconnect between citizens and politics in Singapore. It shouldn’t surprise because the fact is that most people get by very well without taking any interest in politics.  They may even feel more secure to subconsciously shun the subject, such is the climate of fear. By shunning the subject, they reduce the risk of being caught up with “dangerous” views or activities.

This election, for at least a brief period, even the most apathetic may find themselves having to decide how to vote since 82 out of 87 seats are being contested. Previously, many had an easy cop-out when their constituencies were not contested. So, just the other day, I was wondering: now that people have to pay attention, what issues are on their mind? How do they connect the issues with their vote choice?

Compulsory voting

First an aside: We often hear it said that voting is compulsory in Singapore. Actually, it isn’t. (We might want to tell our apathetic friends and family that they needn’t bother to go to the polling booth.)

Where did this myth come from? It comes from the subheader of Section 43 of the Parliamentary Elections Act. The subheader says “Compulsory voting”, but the details within Section 43 do not quite live up to that. There is actually no penalty if you do not vote. It is certainly NOT a crime.

What it does say is that if you fail to vote, your name will be deleted from the register of electors for the next election. If you want your name restored as a voter, you will have to provide a satisfactory reason to the Registration Officer, failing which you can still reinstate your name upon payment of S$50. So, if anyone is truly happy to be apathetic and don’t care to vote again in the foreseeable future, he should just stop voting and forget about it.

Politically apathetic voters

There aren’t any established ways of measuring political apathy in Singapore and I don’t know of any data in this regard. The above is my rough guide based on gutfeel.

In normal times, you’d only find about one in five of the population prepared to discuss politics, and at least half of them will take an obvious pro-opposition stance. Four in five would rather talk about something else.

But these are not normal times. Even if you prefer not to open the subject, the subject can still come to you, in the form of an election candidate approaching you while you’re having lunch or dinner in a food centre. How do people react?

Reactions to electioneering

I asked several opposition candidates this question. I  have also followed a few of them on their walkabouts, and will continue to do so over the next few days. From candidates’ answers and my own observations — note, there is no relationship between the photos on this page and the discussion in the text alongside — people in general can be split into three roughly equal groups:

1. Those who, by body language, indicate they do not want to be approached, or when approached do not want the flyer.

2. Those who smile, say something polite but clearly do not want a prolonged conversation. They accept the flyer or newsletter, and may even take the time to read it.

3. Those who stand up when the candidate approaches, welcome him/her heartily and make it very clear they’re happy to see an opposition presence. They then initiate a conversation touching on issues they want the candidate to know about.

The ratio varies quite a bit depending on which candidate is approaching. Well-known, well-liked personalities like Chiam See Tong or Low Thia Khiang get a very high percentage of Type 3. Those who have done door-to-door visits for years, e.g. from the Workers’ Party, seem to get roughly equal shares of  Types 1, 2 and 3. Relative unknowns parachuted into a constituency just prior to an election naturally “suffer” more Types 1 and 2.

It is however very hard to gauge voting intentions just by watching behaviour. People have all sorts of reasons not to want to be disturbed, or not want to be seen being chummy with opposition candidates. Even rejecting a newsletter does not necessarily mean what we think it means. If you do not overhear what they say, you might miss the occasional bit that goes: “I’ve got one already. Don’t waste it by giving me another one.”

Then the other night, something happened within one second that I was fortunate to overhear because I was only about one metre away. I was following a candidate and his volunteers and we were crossing a small road. The volunteer closest to me was cradling a stack of newsletters in her arms.

Halfway across the road, we passed two young men crossing in the opposite direction. The volunteer held out one copy, saying “Workers’ Party newsletter”. One the guys took it without missing a step like you might take a handout from the hundreds of flyer distributors who crowd walkways near metro stations. But in that brief second, with barely a whisper, and without even making eye contact with the volunteer, let alone the candidate, the guy said, “All the way”.

Issues that people raise

“If members of the public do engage you in conversation, what are they most likely to talk about?” — that’s a question I put to many candidates I have spoken to. And several volunteers too.

Without exception, every one of them, from three different parties, tell me it’s the cost of living. Regardless of age, social strata and ethnicity, they all talk about how prices keep going up.

“Big ticket items like flats, cars, motorbikes, or small items like food and utility bills?” I ask.

Small items, they all tell me. Inflation is obviously  a very widely-held concern. I guess even the PAP knows it; that’s why Finance minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had to promise that there will be no increase in the Goods and Services Tax from the present 7 percent for the next five years. Whether people believe it or not, it’s hard to say.

Four other issues are mentioned by some members of the public the candidates meet, but none of them figure as strongly as cost of living.

Transport — people do mention congestion. Those living in the West complain about this more than others. I believe Jurong East interchange station is a particularly bad bottleneck.

Healthcare costs — older folks tend to mention this quite readily. It seldom comes up among younger voters, for obvious reasons.

Housing costs — younger voters mention this more. They are the group just about to buy their first flat and the recent escalation in prices affects them badly. One thing worth noting is that the issue is not just about the prices of new flats. Many young couples want to live near their parents, so they find themselves in the market for resale flats. Hence, when the PAP talks about how new flats are affordable — an argument that the National Solidarity Party is strongly contesting — it may miss the point as far as these voters are concerned.

Foreigners — this topic seems to come up disproportionately with Malay voters, though others mention it too. It was explained to me that the Malay community relies more on lower-skill jobs and therefore have found their job security or wages impacted by foreign-sourced workers.

Closing the loop

“So people have grouses,” goes another question I ask all candidates I meet.  “Do they connect that to voting for an opposition party? How do they reason out that voting for an opposition party is a way to solving those problems?”

Here, I get diverse answers. A few candidates were very candid in their answers, generally saying that this is a problem and can be a big unknown.  One spoke about how people seem to want immediate relief, but the simple fact is that no opposition party can promise that. If a voter goes away unconvinced that next week, after voting day, things will get better quickly, he may not vote for an opposition party at all.

“In other words, they can’t close the loop in their own minds between their grouses and the act of voting?” I asked.

No, some voters don’t seem able to, one candidate said, a little ruefully. A few others didn’t want to sound so defeated, but from their equivocal answers I think they had the same concern.

Other candidates thought I was too pessimistic. “People do understand what ‘check and balance’ can achieve.” Their view was that the average voter is not as unsophisticated as that; he does see that having a stronger opposition voice in parliament is the first step to dealing with issues that trouble him.

Who is right? We’ll soon know. Polling Day is just a few days away.

58 Responses to “To some voters, elections are a bother, to others, an opportunity”

  1. 1 peiying 3 May 2011 at 02:47

    I find myself swinging between optimism and pessimism all the time.

    I cannot imagine an 87-0 or an 85-2. It disappoints me and it breaks my heart.

    If only a pre-polling day survey can be conducted to give an indication of how Singaporeans will be voting.

  2. 2 Erebus 3 May 2011 at 03:32

    this reminds me of that quote some time ago, from an apathetic taxi driver, “whoever wins, i’ll still be a taxi driver.”

    i wish there was a way to convince uncle that voting opposition means more MPs in parliament if they win, so that checks and balances can make him a happier taxi driver. new policies might even come into place to provide him with a safety net in between unemployment while he looks for a job that makes him happier…

    • 3 Anonymous 3 May 2011 at 13:00

      People who think that “nothing will change for them, no matter which party is in-charge” are misguided. There is no guarantee things will not get 5 to 10 times worse under the PAP. Imagine if say, an MP promises to make the prices of many things much lower and forces the taxi drivers or hawkers to charge a rate that is way below cost.

      Or how about if the HDB and PUB increase the charges for utilities and amenities by double or even triple?

      Think that’s impossible? Think again. As long as the PAP has monopoly on power and commands most of the seats in parliaments, they can do and say what they want.

      If the PAP continues with its current policies, soon much of the middle class will be eroded and we will be left with mainly 2 classes: the rich and the poor.

    • 4 tk 3 May 2011 at 16:06

      so far the most vocal people i’ve come across about this election are the taxi uncles! they chew my ear off and i can’t even vote 😉

      happy to hear their views though.

    • 5 Stephan Xue 4 May 2011 at 17:44

      Reply is simple……if you vote PAP you still taxi driver and maybe son also become taxi driver. If you vote Opposition you maybe taxi driver but son will get better education and get better job.

  3. 6 Daisy 3 May 2011 at 04:35

    Dear Mr. Writer:
    I think you missed the point when you write about this “climate of fear” in your opening paragraph. The electorate in Singapore no longer fears the PAP. If so, you will not witness the rousing opposition rallies and the visceral cyber comments by Singaporeans. Any Government who use fear as the tactic to win whether verbally or by military action, in and of itself is in admission of failure to their ability to win the hearts of their electorate. The Singaporean electorate is savvy enough to understand that the more fear the ruling party dishes out, the more they are pushing their electorate into the arms of the opposition. We see this in the latest developments of the Arab countries, that when the people have had enough of their government, even the ultimate fear of losing their lives; the highest sacrifice, does not prevent them from going out to force an issue.

    Your final paragraph is right. On May 7th, the truth will be out, for the Singaporeans, for the opposition, for the PAP and finally for the civil service. They are synonymous with the ruling party. This is the real fear. Should PAP lose the majority of Parliamentary seats, the real fear is that the civil service will be faced with a different template of governing policies from those of over 40 years that they have been complying. THus, how will they function?

    Thank you.

    • 7 yawningbread 3 May 2011 at 11:10

      You wrote: “The electorate in Singapore no longer fears the PAP.”
      Wishful thinking, I would say.

      “If so, you will not witness the rousing opposition rallies and the visceral cyber comments by Singaporeans.”
      Hardly representative. We’ve seen it all before.

    • 8 Gard 3 May 2011 at 12:27

      The ‘climate of fear’ does not automatically refer to ISD officers knocking on your doors. The manifestation is the form of “the world is a dangerous place out there”; to imply, the monarchy has been keeping you safe and warm. And throw in unspoken questions at the end: “Do you want to lose royal favour? Your family, are they with you on this?”

      Words can have points as sharp as daggers.

      At the same time, a review on the ‘climate of fear’ is timely:

      “Political filmmaker Martyn See reviews that historical 2006 televised debate between MM Lee Kuan Yew and the post 65′ers.”

      On a side note, I make no apologies to perceive that the incumbent is a monarchy, a political form that does not necessitate winning the hearts. There are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ monarchs but monarchy all the same.

      “I make no apologies that the PAP is the Government and the Government is the PAP.”
      – Lee Kuan Yew, Petir, 1982

      • 9 Stephan Xue 4 May 2011 at 17:49

        The non-distinction between the party and the state can only lead to self preservation of the party by manipulating state policies. This conflict of interest will never be resolved and will lead to corruption of our country’s ideals. In my view this was the beginning of the end. The present situation looks like we are seeing signs of “the end” and sustaining the present PAP party by manipulating government policies will become progressively more difficult.

    • 10 3 May 2011 at 13:34

      @ Daisy

      I respectfully disagree. There are those in the electorate that clearly “fear” PAP reprisals. My parents specifically tell me not to talk to opposition members in case I get “black-listed”. I have friends who will not vote opposition because it may affect their “queue” in purchasing a HDB flat. It may be an irrational fear, but it is there. And who can blame them? I open up the papers and I am confronted by MM Lee’s threats. If I was a Hougang resident, I would certainly feel some degree of intimidation.

      Thanks Yawning Bread. Insightful read.

      • 11 dZus 3 May 2011 at 18:41

        Thanks for the concern. But Hougang residents are not easily faze by the ruling party’s shenanigans. Why? ‘Cause the only way they could prevent Hougang from turing to the blue of Worker’s party was to slice it up and pass the “problem” wards to other GRCs.

        Which is why I believe, even though Hougang is a big town comprising of 10 avenues, its not a GRC on its own

    • 12 haha 3 May 2011 at 22:27

      “The electorate in Singapore no longer fears the PAP.”

      Hah. I strongly disagree. What’s happening right now happened in 2006.

    • 13 Seb 3 May 2011 at 22:38

      Hi Daisy, the “climate of fear” is still very much existent in the Singapore electorate. Those aged 40s and above perhaps more so than the younger ones. Just this morning, I met a taxi driver in his early 40s speaking about being afraid to vote against the PAP. This fear was perhaps due to the way opponents against the PAP were handled previously…detention without trails, warnings, law suits etc.

    • 14 didikitty 5 May 2011 at 10:22

      I agree totally with Mr Au – the climate of fear is very real. Just talk to some “PAP supporters” and you’ll see.

  4. 15 yuenchungkwong 3 May 2011 at 05:34

    while not voting is not a crime and the $50 to restore one to the voter register is merely an admin fee not a fine, one does have to face inconveniences

    1. you will be called up to provide a valid reason

    2. failing this, your name will be gazetted

    in a social setting where many people found mere criticism of the government frightening, how many would want to face the electoral office in this way?

    further, the section includes

    “it shall be lawful for the Returning Officer to break the seals of packets containing the marked copies of the registers of electors and to inspect and retain those copies for the purpose of preparing the list”

    enough said…

    • 16 yawningbread 3 May 2011 at 11:08

      This is an assertion of fact which you have provided no evidence for:
      “1. you will be called up to provide a valid reason”

      I have several friends who didn’t vote the last time and they were never called up. And who the hell reads gazettes? Some of my friends had flimsy reasons for not voting but they were reinstated (when they decided to ask for reinstatement after being pissed off by the govt, so they became political) without being asked for $50,

      • 17 yuenchungkwong 3 May 2011 at 11:17

        you are missing the point; however, have it your way; it is your website

      • 18 peiying 3 May 2011 at 23:31

        Hi Mr. Yuen,

        Alex has already provided evidence that voting is NOT compulsory and neither is it a crime. He is saying that people who do not want to vote can just not bother to and they will not face any consequences.

        People who did not vote (and was cancelled out subsequently after) has not faced any of that inconvenience that you speak of.

        Your point of people voting out of fear may be true – but your point on how the electoral office actively enforce ‘inconveniences’ on people who have failed to vote is without concrete evidence.

    • 19 stngiam 3 May 2011 at 20:31

      @yuenchungkwong. Bullshit. 1 & 2 are false. The quote you extracted refers to the record of electors who voted at a particular polling station. How else do you expect the Registration Officer to prepare the list of people who failed to vote and would therefore be dropped from the electoral rolls (unless they fork out $50).

      Considering the number of people who can’t be bothered to pay parking fines or road tax on time, I hardly think getting a letter from ELD would be frightening. If you can’t be bothered to vote, you can just throw the letter away.

    • 20 drmchsr0 4 May 2011 at 09:53

      If voting is meant to be compulsory, then it’s the most pitiful form of enforcement of the law ever.

      Now, if jailtime were included, then it’d probably a socially daunting prospect. However, Whether you vote or not is a secret you can take to the grave, and unless Singapore practices public shaming (via the mainstream media) for not voting, it’s hardly inconvenient.

      Just to put it in perspective, littering burns a much bigger hole in your pocket ($1000, IIRC) and jaywalking has the mild prospect of death, in addition to fines. Not voting, in light of how much more costly littering and jaywalking is, is a minor inconvenience. (Unless you plan to be politically active, and even then, $50 isn’t that big a cost to pay.)

      To further add on…

      “it shall be lawful for the Returning Officer to break the seals of packets containing the marked copies of the registers of electors and to inspect and retain those copies for the purpose of preparing the list”

      All that says that the Electoral officers have the right to check the list of registered voters. Aka he’s just doing his or her job. Hardly fear-inspiring.

  5. 21 ahmad 3 May 2011 at 07:21

    “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” – Plato

  6. 22 PK 3 May 2011 at 07:52


    Thank you for a very well thought through article.

  7. 23 Idealist 3 May 2011 at 08:08

    Many of the speakers from the alternative rallies are now speaking to the fence sitters. They are trying to get them to overcome their fears and to see the advantages of having a constructive opposition in parliament which will not undo the progress from the past.

  8. 24 Change Is Coming 3 May 2011 at 09:25

    Alex, you don’t seem to bat an eyelid at the $50 one has to pay to get reinstated in the electoral register. Is there any other system that charges citizens to be reinstated and such a big sum?

    It is frustrating that S’poreans wilfully choose to avoid discussing politics because it is still taboo under PAP rule. Let’s not forget we live in a tiny and wired island and these things catch on very quickly. Look at AWARE saga or NKF for a gauge of S’porean behaviour and you get the picture. When we’re outraged at such flagrant abuses, we act.

    People have to start asking why the Election Commission is under PM’s office and where new citizens are clustered. In hot wards, these things are important and we need to have better answers from the government.

    Change Is Coming

  9. 25 Francis 3 May 2011 at 09:36

    I believe it is $5 to get your name back on the register; not $50

  10. 26 Francis 3 May 2011 at 09:39

    Scrub the last post. It is $50 now. Use to be $5

  11. 27 Chanel 3 May 2011 at 11:40


    I agree with you that “rousing opposition rallies” don’t necessarily translate to more votes for opposition parties.

  12. 28 Rabbit 3 May 2011 at 12:48

    As the polling date is just couple days away. Opposition parties must start to adopt a more convincing words, a tint of fear (not freaky ones) to swing vote. I suggest they tell the voters, who are still sitting on the fence or those undecided ones the following choice:-

    (A) After 7th May the voters should not complaint anymore. There is no room like now and complaints will not be heard like those they experienced in the last 5 years. They have voted to live with whatever unpopular policies PAP roll out to them. Good luck to this voters.

    (B) opposition parties, if being voted, will be there to hear their complaint and speak for them regularly in parliament. Elected Opposition is like Singaporeans being put into parliament to scrutinise and keep an eye on the PAP policies (or rather put a spur on their hides). The people complaint lives after 7th May and not ignored by the ruling party.

    Voters will than be asked if they prefer option (A) or (B).

    When the result is out, Singaporeans will have a better guage of what kind of voters (across the board) live in Singapore. Have PAP infected the people so deep to keep them in power or are we immuned by our sense of justice to keep PAP away?

    I am sure many analyst wanted to know since this is a watershed election never happened since Singapore independence. I am counting down to saturday.

  13. 29 georgia tong 3 May 2011 at 13:25

    To Daisy

    I think you got it wrong. You cannot just base on the oppostion rally turn out. Even those who attend the rally may still be fearful on polling day if they believe that their vote can be track.

    I just receive an email from a friend saying so, and that is why those in govt service dare not vote opposition. To us it may be nonsense. But to those who are fearful – the fear is real.

    I did my part to convince this friend it is a myth. But if there are folks out there believing this stuff, it could hurt the oppositions.

  14. 30 agneschia 3 May 2011 at 16:22

    I have been following elections since 1981, each time very closely. Each time, there were enromous crowds at rallies. Emotions were highly charged, everyone shouted for change. At the end of the day, the polls showed for itself. I was disappointed time after time and now felt like perhaps change will only come the fastest in ten years time. Some of my friends and relatives do not like the PAP but they attended rallies all the same. They were happy to vent their frustrations at the rallies and agreed to almost everything the speakers said. However, they told me they will still vote for the PAP. They will give various reasons. For example, one would say that the opposition candidates’ work experiences and credentials still do not match up to the PAP candidates (one passer by whom I spoke to earlier told me this same reason that the WP team at Moulmein Kallang is weak, though he does not like to support the PAP he also think he would not want to support a weak WP team at M-K GRC). My second cousin just told me few days ago that she is a clerk working in civil service and she is disgruntled but will still vote for the PAP eventually because she is concern that she will be tracked down.

    The crowd does not translate into polls and psychologically, for a certain group of apathetic voters who have just crossed on the PAP box a few times before (assume they get a 2 to 3 chances to vote before), there could pose some psychological barrier to cross out another box due to conditioning. Anyway, the point I want to make its, things are not that linear and not even curvilinear. There are many complexities determining factors. If the opposition parties can win one GRC that would be a miracle for all us already! and I told my frens I will throw a feast….haha! because I have waited for this for three decades! 🙂 I keep my fingers very cross as I think the winning margin between the two teams could be 2-3%.

    • 31 agneschia 3 May 2011 at 16:35

      I am refering to the winning margin between the two teams at the Aljunied GRC, should be 2-3%, similar that of Eunos and Chengsan last time. Of course i really hope that history will not repeat itself and that wining margin is for the WP so they get elected.

      • 32 chua 3 May 2011 at 22:07

        I am also calling Bishan-Toa Payoh, Whampoa, Hougang, Potong Pasir to be lost by the PAP.

    • 33 chua 3 May 2011 at 21:54

      60-40 to WP in Aljunied. You heard it here first. The rallies have been different from previous elections. It’s not just that the crowds are bigger, but there have been a lot more local residents turning out to hear for themselves, which is on top of the ones who were reached via digital media outreach by their friends (Ipad etc). Even in Whampoa SMC, as my friend who was a local resident predicted, folks drifter in after 7.30 as they finished their dinner and the 4 to 6K strong crowd had a predominance of locals living there.

      In previous elections, we had a lot of the same people going for different rallies on multiple nights. Now the alternative parties are better funded, have been able to ‘show face’ everywhere around the island every night. It truly is different.

      • 34 chua 3 May 2011 at 21:56

        Don’t forget that the Malay vote could be the game changer this time round. They have been hurt the most by the foreign influx. So if that bloc is no longer effectively bought off by the PAP, we may finally get wholesale changes.

      • 35 twasher 5 May 2011 at 13:39

        60-40 would be a 16% swing to the WP. Way too optimistic IMO.

  15. 36 patriot 3 May 2011 at 16:34


    I would like to highlight one of the biggest mind traps, for the lack of a better phrase, the PAP has laid on us over the years of prolonged exposure to the system, media, education and by people resonating similar views around us.

    This mind trap is that, logical and objective thinking coupled with its complementary brother pragmatism, is the one and only approach to good governance, amongst other things.

    Issues such as the rising costs of living, stagnant wages, overpopulation, aging population have been around since the last GE. Presumably, the PAP understands these to be complex issues but by casting these issues as “solvable” problems which by definition can be overcome by mere brainpower and by claiming monopoly over the supply of technocrats (and dressing up those incompetent yes men as people of the highest calibre and of outstanding track record), it is easy to see why whenever we compare the PAP candidates and its incumbents to the Opposition candidates, the latter is always unfavourable (with a few exceptions). It is also easy to see why whenever an Opposition candidate talks about bettering the lives of Singaporeans, the typical voter’s reaction is, “How are you going to do that, given your limited resources and power? Better to stick to the ruling power and not be affected by any undesirable effects of voting against the PAP”. It is also easy to see why whenever voters compare and analyse the manifestos of the different parties, they think they are being objective and rational in voting.

    This rational and pragmatic approach to voting is short-sighted, easily exploited by the PAP with its promises of material benefits, and misses the most important point of voting – an opportunity to identify the person or party who can represent your values, concerns and interests.

    A manifesto written by an Opposition party or the promises by PAP to change and re-look into their current policies are just that – papers and promises. The real deal lies in the party and its candidates – the real persons like you and me who have ideals, values and morals.

    Which country and its people do not face inflation and escalating costs, volatility brought on by the inter-connectedness of our economies? Which country is not exposed to a globalised labour market which companies seek to exploit at the expense of displaced, more expensive workers? What matters most is whether the party and these persons have the people’s interests at heart when they survey and debate the issues and develop the policies.

    The so-called rational approach to governance and voting is a rhetoric and mind trap – it fools us into thinking we are being rational. If you are truly objective and rational, you would understand administrative and economic policies are secondary to the morals and values of a government. If we look at how the current government treats our old and the other economically disabled people such as the physically handicapped, the terminally sick, children with special needs, the underprivileged, it is clear to any rational person the sort of government we have now and its underlying morals and values.


    • 37 chua 3 May 2011 at 22:01

      Well put. I have reprinted your reply elsewhere.. hope you don’t mind…

    • 38 MS 4 May 2011 at 13:45

      Hi Patriot,
      I applaud you for your insights. But Singaporeans are so conditioned that even an assistant professor from the School of Computing, who was a former Administative Officer, with a PhD from MIT has argued that what is important is governance, not politics.

      I quote what he said:
      I don’t believe in democracy. Sorry. I have no confidence that a beauty pageant/popularity contest will necessary throw up leaders that are any good at all. PAP tries to fix this problem with their tea parties. Not a bad system, except that tea parties don’t necessarily throw up candidates who can win votes (which explains the GRCs…) But then, I also dun have a better idea for a political system that can replace democracy, so I guess I can live with it.

      He is of course entitled to his views. But to me it is a sign of how complete the indoctrination of our citizens have been over the last 20, 30 years.

  16. 39 syafiq06 3 May 2011 at 18:26

    There are 4 scenarios that Singaporeans must understand in this GE2011:

    1. No voices and no change – GE2011 outcome can be a 87:0 clean sweep by PAP. There will not be any alternative voices in parliament except the “wayang” noises by PAP MPs. PAP may totally ignore Singaporean interests. Oppositions will be suppressed by more constitutional amendments. It will be very very hard to get to a similar stage like this GE2011 in future elections. Total dead of democracy in Singapore is the extreme consequence.

    2. More voices but no change – To have less than 1/3 opposition seats in parliament will not change anything already done, e.g. cost of living, FTs, property prices, etc except that opposition MPs can make more noises and suggestions that PAP in majority may not listen. There is also a risk that PAP back in power will find ways to suppress all oppositions so that there will not be any chance of voting like in this GE2011.

    3. Partial change – To have more than 1/3 and less than 2/3 opposition seats will be likely to change some already done as above but will not change the Constitution that allows GRC, NMP, NCMP, and election boundary redrawing. PAP will still be in power or sharing power with oppositions. This may be harder for PAP in power to diminish the oppositions.

    4. Complete change – To have more than 2/3 opposition seats means the alternative party will be the government and PAP the opposition. This can change everything including the Constitution. However, Singaporeans must make sure the elected government rewrites the Constitution to abolish those ill clauses and introduce check and balance clause. Also, to ensure Constitution is not allowed to change without referendum. Otherwise, the next non-PAP government may have the chance to abuse the Constitution as well.

    Basically, this GE2011 is not about local town upgrading, FTs, or cost of living, etc. It is about whether Singaporeans would like to take back the political power and have a say on the future of Singapore. Once the people take back the power, they can then have a say on how to run this country and all those policies and problems will be resolved to their preference.

    Singaporeans must vote wisely on 7 May to decide what they want in the future, i.e. which scenario they want for GE2011.

  17. 40 Aurvandil 3 May 2011 at 19:02

    Heard that the PAP is supremely confident of victory. With the exception of Aljunied, they have put down the deposits for the victory celebrations of yet another 5 good years !

    In the off chance than George and Co somehow survive, they have even made contingency plans for extra tables at the Marine Parade celebration.

  18. 41 Thor 3 May 2011 at 19:47

    I too am not hopeful. I comfort myself that people get what they deserve and that democracy is learning to live with a majority decision. But I have seen the candidates and I am impressed by Chen Show Mao, Vincent, Tan Jee Say, Nicole Seah amongst others. It’s such a travesty that Tin Pei Ling gets in but they don’t. Such is life.

    • 42 LTK's the Man 4 May 2011 at 02:00

      Singapore, my dear friend, is full of such travesties.

      • 43 yawningbread 4 May 2011 at 02:14

        But you and me. . . . we can do something about it, right?

      • 44 ThePasserby 4 May 2011 at 03:04

        I’m one of the losers who can’t do anything about it, being a Tanjong Pagah resident.

      • 45 drmchsr0 4 May 2011 at 17:58

        Yes you can.

        There’s a ton of things you can do after the elections are over. I daresay the other parties need a bit of help in stepping up their efforts for 2016.

    • 46 xinguozhi 5 May 2011 at 11:57

      Thor, yes, you can help change things. you can help the opposition actively by being a volunteer. or you can help them campaign online through emails, blogs, twitter etc, ie, spread the message. and you can also convince your family and friends.

  19. 47 KM 3 May 2011 at 21:57

    I’m not into long, philosophical writings, so I’ll just state my point simply:
    For the past 5 years, if any voter has been feeling frustrated and complaining about the government, here’s your chance to do something about it. If your choice at the ballot denies the opposition a chance to provide a check & balance, then you have to live with it for the next 5 years. AND IT MEANS THAT YOU SHOULDN’T F**KING COMPLAIN OVER ANYTHING BECAUSE YOU MADE YOUR CHOICE!

  20. 48 Magi 3 May 2011 at 22:46


    With all due respect, the two examples you raised are fallacies.

    1) People turned up and go wild at rallies, because of crowd safety. They feel safer in numbers. Not to mention, their identities remain mostly unknown, unless you accept an interview or got photographed.

    2) Same for cyber citizens. The supposedly cloak of anonymity creates a delusion of total safety. You would be surprised to know some don’t even know IP is traceable. (And even to trace an IP is a long, difficult process)

    So ask a Singaporean to put his name and face forward, to openly reject the ruling party, you’re going to get a different story.

  21. 49 Gazebo 4 May 2011 at 00:37

    as a budding sociologist, i find this really interesting — the government’s winning percentage and its popularity truly contradict each other. a contradiction achieved without threat of guns or tanks. a contradiction the prescient Dr. Catherine Lim so eloquently put forth in her “The Great Affective Divide” piece.

    singapore is truly a sociologist’s goldmine.

    • 50 Gard 4 May 2011 at 11:07

      You probably might like to take a look what Alex wrote back in 2008:

      The Mathematics of Elections

      Also, bear in mind the issue of missing data: walkovers.

      Voter turnout data for Singapore

    • 51 T 5 May 2011 at 00:44

      The affective divide is not just between the Government and the people, but amongst the people themselves. This has allowed waning popularity to still translate into votes for the government. The (stagnant) electoral reform that Alex has mentioned only exaggerates the extent of this paradox between stable winning percentages for and diminishing national popularity of the government. Electoral reform does not cause the affective divide. In fact, excessive coverage on electoral reform and its inequalities might obscure what we as individuals can more likely achieve: reaching out to and getting more individuals (and in particular, strangers) to be more politically aware and concerned over the natural course of time.

      When people lament that the “old kampung days” are gone, what do they mean? Guarding against a slip into a romanticism of the past, I believe they do not just refer to the government policies of prioritizing economic growth over social problems. Such economic policies have an intensifying effect on indviduals and families to spend time and effort to earn qualifications and money, so as to achieve the (material) aspirations that they have been taught to strive for under the government’s education, social engineering and economic system.

      The lack of a “kampung spirit” also refers to the diminishing amount of time and willingness for communal interests such as helping the poor and reaching out to the discriminated. Even “mundane” things like visiting relatives on festive occasions and maintaining daily conversations with neighbours are slowly losing prominence.

      How do these behaviours impact on voting? It leads to a “individualization” of voting action. Although there are emergent trends of groups that bind together based on shared political awareness/opinions (e.g. Facebook communities, political party gatherings, theonlinecitizen, etc.), these are exceptions rather than the general rule. The norm is that people vote according to what they themselves already believe individually, not so much based on what they share/discuss with others. (Although I do acknowledge a conversion of supporters from PAP to Opposition because of a maturing new-media scene) This is because there is a sense of communal apathy that is practised everyday on the MRT, buses, roads, in food courts, hawker centres and through distant (or non-existent) neighbour relations. Everyone largely minds his/her own business and it is this spirit that underpins the much-talked-about political apathy.

      As a result of such communal apathy, messages of fear and bogeymen from the government are able to successfully paralyze some citizens into voting for it. Such citizens feel that the power/importance of the state is immense to the point that it solely determines their life trajectories. Implicitly, it also alludes to a relative lack of real and perceived communal support that might have provided assurance and even power to mitigate (fear-mongering) state influence. Communal apathy is made even more critical, in light of the lack of independent trade unions and the presence of a (communal) culture that emphasizes (individual, not team) diligence, penalizes (individual, not team) failure heavily and engenders a herd mentality to comply with the local education and employment configurations for success.

      Adding on, I will elaborate on the communal culture that emphasizes herd mentality. For Singapore, it is a communal culture that actively and passively encourages communal apathy. It rewards one for complying with the education/employment paradigm, either through individual efforts or through one’s social networks/ sociability but not through interacting with the larger community in an outward manner. This significantly conditions our voting preferences and awareness of voting patterns across the island, with the latter heavily clustered around opinions of family members and friends whose own social networks would probably be similar to that of oneself. More importantly, communal apathy severely limits our perspectives in drawing from a larger pool of anecdotal information to propose better policy refinements and/or alternatives that resonate with more people on the ground.

      On a last note, there have been several national discourses over the decades on multiculturalism and an inclusive, gracious society. People do acknowledge the merit of such principles and emotionally translate this into the capability of the government to form/sustain a stable society. This has an effect of lessening frustration on economic policies and is also a coping mechanism, particularly for swing voters.

      Yet, many people also do not actively practice being inclusive and gracious to the wider community because of the above-mentioned communal apathy (hence, contributing to even more communal apathy). Such a perceived capability of the government, coupled with the recurring effects of communal apathy, leads to a core of PAP supporters and a substantial bulk of swing voters.

      In sum, communal apathy is what prevents (swing) voters from “closing the loop” and linking opposition parties to the first steps of genuine change in society. In contrast its antithesis, the “common touch”, is what may keep Hougang and Potong Pasir beyond the reach of the PAP.

  22. 52 ThePasserby 4 May 2011 at 02:28

    I was making my way to the WP rally at Seng Kang. I was confused by the LRT system as I tried to make sense of the signage at an LRT station. A man in his 60s approached another man in his 40s to ask for directions to the rally and it turned out that both were headed the same way and they struck up a conversation about their frustrations with PAP. At first, they spoke quietly, almost stealthily, the way the average Singaporean has been conditioned to talk when talking bad about the government.

    I walked over to them and said I’d be following them as I was hopelessly lost, and the man in his 60s couldn’t stop venting his frustrations. He yapped and yapped uninhibitedly throughout the journey. He didn’t care if anyone else in the crowded station and LRT bus heard him. He was really venting his spleen. He’s from Hougang and it’s clear he’s voting WP.

    At the rally site, the muddy field and the drizzle did not stop the audience and crowds just kept pouring in. I know 2006 might have seen the same crowds, but I have a feeling that WP’s message is really resonating with the man-in-the-street and they’ll retain Hougang and win Aljunied.

  23. 53 CK 4 May 2011 at 07:55

    “But you and me. . . . we can do something about it, right?”

    Yes we can.

    So much so that I am spending $2000 for my plane tickets and 20 hours of flight time to come back and vote.

    Because this is truly the last stand. 87-0 and our loved ones will be screwed so badly, they won’t have their anuses left in 5 years time.

  24. 54 Solecurious 4 May 2011 at 08:17

    Good job Yawningbread. I am impressed by the debate here…. Agneschia, gard, erebus. Even Daisy has a point – that Singaporeans are less afraid. I wouldn’t go as far to say Singaporeans are no longer afraid.
    The fear is real especially among the civil servants. Used to work in a quasi-government body and I saw careers stalled for supposedly saying the wrong thing or seen chummy with the “wrong” people – the more outspoken and those who don’t always tow the line. I can imagine it must be more contentious working in a ministry or stat board where you have ministers and perm secs everywhere.
    However if you go online, you can see people are matured and articulate. They spoke from their heart, to the point with good arguments. I wonder how large is this population? Someone likeSylvia Lim, Chen Show Mao and Tan Jee Say and even the young Nicole Seah would appeal to this demographics. This is the crowd that is not afraid. They took action by seeking the truth for themselves and not swayed by meaningless threats and rhetoric. Knowledge is power.
    PAP is still entertaining low-brow politics, getai is a good example… And making personal attack like GCT in his comments about Tan Jay See. The netizen is too sophisticated to be drawn into such cheap tactics. PAP is alienating the educated crowd.
    However the older generation, I guess those in the 60s and 70s, are still fearful. My mum remembered those who had been detained, Dr Lim Hock Siew is one. Francis Seow lives in exile so did our ex-President, Devan Nair. Both men had served this country well before they fell out of favor. Read up on DN one of the pioneers of the trade union movement. He could have breaches of misconduct but necessary to disgrace our ex-President so publicly and force him out of the country? Will we ever know the truth? This demographic still have fear. Real or imagined. They bear witness to that era.
    What is heartening is someone like Tan Jay See and ChenShow Mao. TJS was in the service. He was discerning enough to know the difference bet public service and self service. CSM still hold government-linked positions. I am sure it is not easy for him to make the decision to stand for the opposition over his successful career. I wonder how he is straddling his “conflicting” roles?
    In conclusion, netizens, TJS and CSM are signals that change is coming, if not already here. I am not overly concerned on the result itself. The bigger the opposition wins, the faster will be the changes. But the tide has changed and it CANNOT be turned back!
    Political parties who stand on the fear platform can win for so long… It’s not a sustainable strategy. So is the lack of transparency. We witnessed this in the Middle East. It cab happen here too!
    My only caveat is we are still in the process of shaping our political machinery. We never had any freedom since our independence. It might get messy before it gets better. Don’t be disheartened by initial setbacks. Stay the course. We will get there.

  25. 55 liberté 5 May 2011 at 09:53

    Alex, do you think that PM Lee’s apology as well as FM George Yeo’s reachout video to SG youths will have a big effect in winning swing votes to PAP’s side? (Not to mention PAP’s 8 rallies tonight)

    I may sound pessimistic here, but I don’t see anything more than an 86-1 for the opps. They may score some close results here and there (incl. Aljunied), but I doubt they can break the barrier.

  26. 56 Anonymous 5 May 2011 at 11:42

    Why do people keep assuming that everyone will not change their political views?

    I’ve seen people change from die-hard PAP supporters to people who can’t stand the PAP and their policies anymore.

  27. 57 True Blue Singaporean 5 May 2011 at 16:59

    This is the moment

    As we get ready to cast our votes on 7th May 2011, let us reflect on what we had read, heard and see (barring from SPH and MediaCorp) over the past week as well as remember what we had been through over the last five years. This elections is not about voting in a new government, yet. It is about putting our voices in the parliament through a group of brave Singaporeans who have sacrificed themselves out of their love for our country. Do we owe it to ourselves to vote to them if we want our voices to be heard? Or do we want to let them down time and again?

    The chips are high. Because our future and our children’s future is at stake. When was it last that we had so many credible candidates in the opposition parties? It is certainly not by coincidence that such good and qualified citizens have stepped forward to be in the opposition parties to serve us. It can only be divine intervention. Are they crazy to be doing this? What are they really after? Well, it surely cannot be the 15,000 monthly allowance.

    Is Low Thia Kiang aspiring to be the next Prime Minister> It may take another 3 to 4 elections before the opposition can form the government or coalition government. By then, Low Thia Kiang will deservedly be enjoying a well earned rest. So what is in it for him? Surely nothing more than the satisfaction of bringing democracy to Singapore. Can you bear to see his devoted efforts over the past 20 years for the sake of his countrymen go down the drain in this elections?

    Is Chen Shao Mao yearning to earn a million-dollar salary as a minister one day? The man probably earns more in a year than all the cabinet ministers combined. They are even envious of his credentials. Do we think that a successful gentleman like Chen Shao Mao has nothing else better to do than to be an opposition candidate in Singapore? It must truly be a love for Singapore or Singaporeans that propelled him to take up this calling. Do we want him back in Singapore?

    As our young lady Nicole Seah has given thought about what she is getting into? She is after all only 24 yeas old and has a lifetime ahead. One which can turn out to be a long difficult road. It can only be her compassion for people and conviction for their cause that had driven her to stand up. Who says that the youth of Singapore are politically apathetic? Do we want to give Nicole the opportunity to pursue her aspiration of serving our nation or rob her of it? Our future is in our youth,

    And not forgetting all the other opposition heroes. Do we think it is easy doing what they have chosen to do for all we Singaporeans? Do we want them to do it in vain? Do you want the end of the opposition in Singapore? Do you think the Prime Minister would be apologizing to us if not for them? And they are not even in the parliament, yet. If we let this opportunity to have our voices in parliament through pass us by, we will deserve whatever befalls us in the next 5 years.

    And Low Thia Kiang will still get the well earned rest he deserves. And Chen Shao Mao can continue his top corporate law career. And Chiam See Tong can start writing his memoirs. And Nicole Seah will be the next big celebrity. And Tan Jee Say and Ang Yong Guan can enjoy their retirement. And Tony Tan and Hazel Poa will own the biggest education centre chain in China. And Chee Soon Guan will be Francis Seow neighbor in the USA. And it was all good while it lasted.

    And you and me? We will be cursing and swearing at the increase GST, ERP, COE HDB, MRT, SBS, PUB etc. We will still be squeezed in the trains and on the buses. We will be working 2 jobs to feed our families. We will be praying that we do not fall sick or land in hospital. We will be wishing we will living in China or India instead. We will be thinking how stupid we had been on that fateful day on 7th May 2011. The day we marked an X in the wrong box. Again and again.

    This is the moment. Vote wisely. Vote for your future. Vote for the OPPOSITION.

    True Blue Singaporean.

  28. 58 TP 8 May 2011 at 23:24

    This election it seems PAP has managed to win support of a group of young ‘fluffy’ celebrity bloggers.

    Are they under some kind of delusion that by hanging out with PAP, they somehow consider themselves greater mortals over us lesser mortals?

    Is this some kind of new media tactics that PAP is employing to win over the more impressionable youths?

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