The Singaporean Youth and Singapore Politics: The Past, Future and Present.

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*Disclaimer: This is merely a thought piece. I do not have any political relations nor agenda in writing this article. All information and data shared and used are owned by their respective authors, researchers and institutions. *

The narrative

With the upcoming Presidential Election 2017 (PE 2017) for Singapore, the controversy and political landscape pits both the Singaporean government and its populous aspirations, ideology and unity. This upcoming President election is interesting, as it is a reserved election for the ethnic Malays in Singapore. The controversy on the eligibility and “Malayness” of the candidates seems to be the highlight this time, mirroring Trump and Obama’s birth certificate fiasco. Additionally, this is the first time I am able to make a vote and have a say in what I want for my country. However, this is not an article about the potential candidates and my reserved judgement on the matter. I am writing about youth participation on politics.

Through my own fireside chats with friends and family, it is surprising how apathetic how some of them and many young Singaporeans are on the presidential candidates and politics in general. Commonly asked questions and responses included “Why is this Presidential Election important?” or “why should I bother at all with politics?” come up often whenever I strike a conversation with a few of my peers. This stirred my thoughts on why is that so. Having done some research and looking through the data sets from recent surveys conducted about the youth and political participation in Singapore, I discovered the youth were surveyed to be more empathetic towards politics, unlike the rest of the population.

Then again, why is there such a disparity between my personal interactions (though skewed and biased) and surveys conducted? Even if these data sets are merely observations and shouldn’t be taken as factual correlations or indications, why are they significantly different from what I perceived them to be like? Should I just take most of my peers as anomalies to the data? This is a question that I would like to investigate sometime in the future, if there is data is available.

The Past

Some observations that I made while doing research. A survey conducted in 2011 married the narrative with the data. Based on the survey done by Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in Singapore on the Presidential Election 2011 (PE 2011) conducted in 2011, the data sets showed that a high proportion of respondents aged 21–29 indicating they disagreed or were neutral to the following statement;

“I am interested in matters related to Singapore’s governing system.”

Note that the figure is not disclosed in the presentation, but available upon request from IPS. While this is relatively old data, with the most recent data sets on politics surveyed in 2015, I felt it is still relevant as Singaporean perceptions has not made a huge shift, even after the death of Lee Kwan Yew.

Moving on, I think the younger generation often feel politically alienated. That’s a bold statement, to say that the youth are apathetic towards politics. It might be useful to note that many in that age group then were likely to be first time voters, hence the ‘overwhelming’ political information and pressure might be too much to internalize. A survey done post-election in 2015 on why there is a huge population of individuals making last minute decisions during elections told a similar story. Like I said, this is what I think and are not facts but observations. Being thrown into this political battlefield is scary, and having to decide on something that could matter make it petrifying.

These are all purely observations and opinions that I made. Also, I digressed about the point I wanted to make.

We as individuals, not just youths, should exercise our civil rights to vote on any political agenda when available to us. Not because it is our duty as citizens, but because it matters to you. Even if it’s not required by law for us to do so, we must have our voice heard. The outcome of any national decision affects not just a selected few, but all its citizens which includes both me and you.

We are given this luxury, to decide for the future of our country; Our Home. We should not take it for granted. Though we are individuals, we can be a collective thunderstorm and send a message to the ruling government. We should let our voices be heard like thunder, and not faded whispers and disgruntlements.

The Future

We’ve read countless news articles on Britain’s Brexit, on how the young voters were simply disappointed by the outcome. But the statistics showed it was ultimately due to youth being uninterested to cast their vote, with only 64% of eligible voters aged 18–24 casting their votes and 65% of eligible voters aged 25–39. The whole blame on the older population is effectively muted, and can be disregarded as about 90% of over 65s voted. Then we have America and Trump’s presidential victory. The misinformation given to the public on the potential and the idealized future told by Trump was widespread. Fact-checking by Americans could have helped made a more informed decision. Take a read on his inauguration speech and you’d be able to see what I mean. Whether or not both of these countries would suffer or benefit from the elections is unknown. Only time will tell. At the end, our country’s future is at our mercy and not entirely by the government.

I am lucky to be a Singaporean, to have the opportunity and wealth of information to make an informed decision. Having a democratic society and having built on those foundations is a luxury some people don’t afford. A simple google search can show you just how unfortunate some country’s citizens are, and the state of their government. The lack of free will and speech is appalling, like the brazen corruption seen in Malaysia, the chaos in Somalia and fragmented Venezuela.

The Present

This brings me to my final point. With this election, we as first time voters are able to have our say. We do not need to be dictated by our seniors, on what we need and want. If you want more pluralism within the political community, let it be heard. If you want a particular person to be president, make a vote. This is merely a stepping stone for us to have the best Singapore, the best home.

With what past history has showed us, we can be easily pushed aside if we do not act. The regret of not doing something outweighs the disappointment of never trying. The future is wildly unpredictable, and we can never be too sure of what’s going to happen. But one thing is for certain, we would never get what we want by staying silent.

We must act now.

Clarence Tan is an intern at Kapital Boost. He is also a student at the University of Edinburgh, majoring in Economics with Finance. Inquisitive in nature, there’s always a constant desire in him to learn about tech and finance. Although strong-headed in Politics, he is like a child when it comes to Lego.