It’s dangerous if we live with a narrow perspective of the reality – so this General Elections I made up my mind to visit as many rallies of as many parties as I can. Hougang was my first stop as it’s the well-known landmark of the Workers’ Party.
I first visited a rally last GE but I was not eligible to vote then. My first impression of the Workers’ Party rally was the rah-rah, with brave middle-aged people who were honest about their concerns. But there was a lot more wayang than I’d like – people holding banners saying that “Hougang residents have got guts” and some that seemed more anger-driven than improvements-driven.
When I arrived at the location last night, I did a walk across the crowd before squeezing to the front. Those wayang banners and extremists were nowhere in sight and that felt like the first sign of political maturity in Singapore.
Of the speakers I heard at the rally, I was surprised and impressed with the charisma of Png Eng Huat, Lee Li Lian, Pritam Singh and Gerald Giam. Each of them has a distinct style – Ah Huat had an approachable demeanour with his almost-casual dialect speech, Lee Lilian was steady and concise surpassing what I expected of her age, Pritam Singh had a strong presence speaking with gusto, and Gerald Giam presented numbers in a powerful, digestable and objective manner.
The other side of the surprise was those who underwhelmed the crowd – Muhammed Faisal and Chen Show Mao. Mr Faisal spoke in a more intellectual way, using words that seem more appropriate for essays, aka cheem. You lose the crowd’s attention when they do not understand your choices of vocabulary.
Mr Chen Show Mao was another example of intellectual speaker but who took too long to articulate, and his historical reference to the “Classic of Mountains and Seas” did not appeal to the local crowd.
But the speakers made me notice another key turning point of the party – The focus of their rally is slowly shifting and diverting to other members beyond Mr Low Thia Khiang and Sylvia Lim. And I hope that it’s a sign I’d see in other parties – beyond Mr Chee Soon Juan, Mr Chiam See Tong, Mr Tan Jee Say and of course, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and PM Lee – signifying party and leadership renewal.
Another question I had was the effectiveness of rallies, with people having to stand in the humid grass fields, when social media is more accessible now.
So as I stood in the crowd for about two hours, I found myself surrounded by people that seem to be of different demographics although I seem to be the youngest of them in general. As the speakers spoke, they didn’t just cheer or jeer. Instead, it sparked conversations and comments among themselves, or even with strangers around them.
At the end of the day, what I took away wasn’t just the facts, figures and analogies. I didn’t leave feeling angry with the ruling party or hopeless with the country. The speeches made me reflect on the vast and varying needs of the people, and more importantly, pondered what I can do for my own country.
As I look forward to the other rallies, I hope that the other quarter-million first-time voters would also consider doing the following:
- Don’t support a party/person/belief just because your favourite singer/idol/family/friends/spouse do
- Be really open-minded. Don’t just read the traditional media, but also don’t believe only and all of what you read/find online. Cross reference just as you would in your O-Level’s essays.
- Discuss and reflect on issues, not debate for victory or conversion
- Play an active role in the election by listening to what all parties and members have to offer
- Think about how the country should progress from here, and how YOU can play a part
- Emotions and petty incidents aside, take the time to understand what the parties and candidates stand for. Is it development-centric, people-centric, CPF-centric or family-centric?
At the end of the day, we don’t live in a social-sphere of two corners. The answer is at neither end, but rather, somewhere in-between.