SDP pre-election rally: What am I voting for?

Updated: Feb 10

By Lauren Ong

Party supporters resting at the Singapore Democratic Party's pre-election rally on 19 Oct 2019. PHOTO: DARYL CHOO

The Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) held a pre-election rally on Oct 19 which tells us to “Shake it up!’’ and to say no to 9 per cent GST, no to 10 million population, no to CPF minimum sum scheme. Sure. I’ve never been to an election rally before, let alone a pre-election rally, but I left the SDP one as ambivalent as I was before, feeling nothing about my vote. That’s not what election rallies are for, right?

The upcoming general elections would be my first time going to the polls. Honestly, I haven’t followed the previous elections although I remember seeing banners of smiling middle-aged men plastered around my neighbourhood. More recently, I had to clarify if I was living in the Choa Chu Kang Group Representation Constituency (GRC). Since when was it the Marsling-Yew Tee GRC? Turns out, I have been since 2015 and it's the handiwork of the Electoral Boundaries Review Unit (EBRC), where electoral maps and constituencies change every election.

The general elections have always seemed like something that just happened on TV screens and newspapers. When it was last held in 2015, I was just an 18-year-old taking ‘A’ levels, worrying about pulling up my grades so that I could get into University. And in 2011, I was an angsty pre-teen spending hours and hours on MSN. But since the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee was set up in August, the election buzz seeped into daily discourse and I was curious as to exactly voting in my constituency would mean.

While on my exchange programme, my foreign friends often talked about how important it was for young people to vote in their upcoming elections, even though most of them are quite passive in doing so because they needed to go through the trouble of registering to vote - we don’t.

Be that as it may, it seems like that passivity is also infectious in Singapore. Compared to them, I feel like a political novice. I am still uncertain as to what a Member of Parliament actually does or how voting for a specific party would affect my life. My friends have no clue either. So perhaps I have not been doing my due diligence, keeping up with current affairs and political back and forth.

But standing in the midst of red and gold paraphernalia and serial cries of Nos, I felt myself drifting off as the nine speakers spoke at the SDP rally. Yes, the increase in GST sounds like a bad thing, but for as long as I can remember, I have been paying a 7 per cent in GST and while that 2 per cent increase does sound less than ideal, I was rather taken aback at how the point resonated much more with the crowd than it did with me. A Google search showed the GST had increased from 3 per cent in 1994 to 7 per cent in 2007.

A quick look around Hong Lim Park on Saturday (Oct 19) and you would notice how most of the attendees are middle-aged or older. Was this rally catered to an older crowd? I felt like I was an underaged kid at a nightclub that I was not supposed to be in, because somehow, the bouncer did not do his job. Perhaps the pre-election invites missed out one tiny detail - the minimum age.

“I’m just here to confirm my inklings that the majority of supporters of SDP are middle-aged. And looking around, I guess my suspicions were right,” said Mr Kwok Zi Yong, 26, a fresh graduate from the Singapore Management University.

I wondered if the issues raised by the speakers were music to the small clusters of young people as much as it seemed like it was to the crowd. Were the cries against a hike in GST as much as a hit to them?

Mr Kwok added that he does not believe in the SDP’s 3 Nos. While the CPF is a concern to him, he’s not at the age where he has to worry about it. Asked about the 10 million population, he said that he understands the pushback against immigration and the worry of a more competitive job market, but added that “by the time it comes to (10 million), I’m afraid (the SDP supporters) won’t be here anymore”.

I’m a little sympathetic that Singapore needs to counter a falling birth rate amid an ageing population. Even though starting a family is still an abstract concept to me, I have cousins and friends of the same age who have children and parents to take care of. If the population increase can help alleviate the burden of a sandwich generation, I would say it’s a quid pro quo.

Nonetheless, if retiring and CPF, a 10 million population and the hike in GST are not at the top of young people’s minds, what is?

Mr Goh Kai Ren, 27, admin executive who will be is a second-time voter was at the rally because of his “frustration with unfair policies” like the amendments to the elected presidency.

When asked about what other policies specifically, he said that it was the “general feeling that the government is operating in excess of funds. It’s time to alleviate the middle and lower class.”

Yes, the amendments to the elected presidency did not seem like fair play, but I’m not too bothered by it because I don’t see how it affects my daily life. From my experience volunteering at my community centre, I do see how government efforts and subsidies help alleviate the middle and lower class, but maybe the problem lies in identifying those in need to help them get the best out of the system.

A 26-year-old who only wishes to be addressed as Ms Ong and works in healthcare said she does not support the 3 Nos as they are not issues that spoke to her. Instead, for the coming elections, she wants to see more support for the elderly and the country to do more to give them financial security.

Asked if these were issues similar to what the SDP were campaigning about that day, she said that she does not believe that removing the CPF minimum sum scheme would work.

I don’t have a CPF yet, and I still don’t know how it works so I can’t judge. But if not the CPF, then what can give the elderly more financial security?

“They need more social security and systematic institutional safeguards,” she said.

A 22-year-old first-time voter and marketing student at the Singapore Institute of Management, who did not wish to be named, said that he visited the rally because he was “studying nearby” and saw that there was a rally.

When asked about how what he thought about what the speakers proposed, he said: “I haven’t thought much about it yet, because this is my first time voting.”

Perhaps then, our generation needs to figure out exactly what issues matter to us as we start flirting with politics, before the parties will think it’s worthwhile to cater to our needs and wants. According to a survey by the Institute of Policy Studies, voters aged 21 to 29 made up 16 per cent of the votes and accounted for the national swing vote in the 2015 elections.

Is social mobility a hot button topic? After all, we are the ones who went through the very education system that the Government packages as meritocratic. Are we worried about unemployment or the affordability of housing and starting a family or are we not so anxious about the near future because we are being cocooned by our family. Or perhaps we worry less about bread and butter issues and are more concerned with environmental and inclusivity matters. And should my vote be about me? Or about my family and the people living in my community?

If young people don’t know what we want or what Singapore should have, then the ageing population with its more vocal demands will have a bigger voice. There’s still some time to figure out before we are needed at the polls. If not, the upcoming general elections will be reminiscent of the times where it plays out in the background on our TV screens. Then, Singapore would indeed be for an ageing population.

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