It is the morning after.
The Government has been formed, and with 61.24% of the vote, the PAP has its mandate. With ten seats won by the WP, the opposition has spoken too. Old strongholds have held and new ones created. Old faces like Lam Pin Min and Ng Chee Meng have left the building. Enter stage left, Jamus Lim and co.
Some of us are rubbing our eyes after the long night of ups and downs. Others are rubbing our hands in glee after the party that we voted for won. Some still are rubbing their faces in disbelief over outcomes expected that turned out different.
But there is one thing that we definitely should not do, that is to rub the noses in it of those who have lost. Cheers have been made, tears have been shed, but there is no room for jeers.
There’s more that unites us than divides us.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve heard Singaporeans praise and protect the party they support and vilify and insult the other. Tempers have frayed and opinions have been unleashed, I’ve read well-reasoned arguments and barely coherent diatribes. I’ve heard tirades over kopi at the coffeeshop table and anecdotes over Zoom online.
But despite the differences of opinion, I put to you that we all come from the same place. We all want to have a better Singapore. Where we differ is on how to get there.
Wide-eyed and full of questions
Yesterday, I took my daughter to the polls. She is a precocious 10-year-old who is full of questions.
Five years ago, I carried her in my arms as we voted in Sengkang SMC. It was all a game to her then. A happy holiday where mama and papa queued up with a bunch of other strangers and drew Xs on pieces of paper. Five years hence, she is a little too big to be carried, but she patiently held my hand as we stood in the long snaking line to vote. She still stared wide eyed from the side as I shuffled into the void deck and inked an X on a single slip of paper.
Things may have changed: Sengkang SMC has become a GRC. A PAP ward is now a WP seat.
Her questions are different now. But still innocent. “Why is there such a long queue at the polling booth? (Social distancing, dear, but look, the queue is moving fast isn’t it?); “Why can’t I come in with you? (You’ll get your chance next time, now you sit over there and wait for me and try not to annoy anyone k?) and “Can you tell me who you voted for? (I whisper in her ear and she giggles, not so much that she recognises the name, but that she got to share a secret with her daddy).
In five years’ time, she will be 15. I wonder what her questions would be then.
She won’t get to vote in the next two elections. But despite whatever name I told her, I know who I’m really voting for. For whom I’ve always voted for. Not for the ruling party nor the opposition. Yes, of course I made a choice on who to represent me in Parliament. But I’m not voting for them, if you know what I mean.
I’m voting for her.
Our children are the future. It sounds twee and clichéd but that doesn’t make it any less true.
Sometimes, our younger generation gets unfairly accused of being blasé towards anything that isn’t selfies or bubble tea. But as with all generalisations, it’s seldom so clear cut. We may not understand their love for TikTok videos or their need to overshare everything on social media, but different doesn’t mean indifferent.
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I had a friend tell me how she challenged her son, a teenager not yet old enough to vote, to help her decide who to vote for. She had been talking to him about the elections and was pleasantly surprised that he had strong opinions of his own. So two days before the polls, she told him, “tell me who you’d vote for and I’ll cast my vote for that person”.
She recounted to me later that her son immediately became thoughtful and gave her a well-reasoned argument on who he would vote for if he could.
Does that sound like an apathetic strawberry to you?
And that’s the beauty of her choice. It didn’t matter who she voted for in the end, because she cast her vote for him.
Don’t lose your fervour
Over the past two weeks, I’ve heard more opinions than I’d have liked. I’ve laughed at memes as innocent as revived viral videos on pineapples and plans, I’ve frowned at ad hominem attacks, both on the podium and in the online sphere. I’ve talked a little, and I’ve listened a lot more.
I had a colleague ask me, “why are we trying to put out stories on kindness when the only thing people are talking about is the elections?”
No doubt, chances are this week, people would probably be more interested in politics instead of reading about how a father of a baby born blind got help online or how widows supported each other during the circuit breaker or even how a mum came up with an idea to save millions of disposable gloves each year.
But I feel that there is always room to talk about issues close to our hearts.
To those who have spoken up about such issues. Issues on homelessness, on social injustice, on the needs of the vulnerable, on the challenges of foreign workers, on the needs of Singaporean employees, my challenge to you is this: Don’t fixate on whether or not the person you voted for got into Parliament.
It is the morning after, the die has been cast and the vote has been made. People have spoken, and the chips fall where they may.
The candidate you supported may have won. Or the party you voted for may have lost. The polls have closed but it doesn’t mean your vote has ended.
Don’t stop talking about issues that you feel strongly about. Don’t wait for another five years before waving your fist in the air. Don’t wait at all. Keep talking. Keep acting. Believe in helping others? There are ground-up movements and volunteer organisations that you can help out at. Believe in speaking up for inequality in society? There are well-intentioned forums where people can discuss these issues.
Talk to your newly-elected MP. He represents you now. He works for you.
Singapore is not perfect. But it is our Singapore. It doesn’t matter if we’re old or young; single or married; we are all neighbours crammed together on a tiny red dot. Our community keeps us strong. Our beliefs keep us grounded. Our aspirations keep us moving.
Yesterday, I taught my daughter about my duty to my country, a country that she will grow up in, with other children – sons and daughters of Singapore. She doesn’t truly understand it. Not yet. And I love that she doesn’t have to understand it fully. Not yet. For now, she has me to decide for her.
After we voted, she ran to a nearby playground and twirled around in that wild abandon that only carefree children have. I watched her as she clambered on a rope and I pushed her (higher, Daddy! Higher!) as she sprawled on a swing.
As I watched her, a quote from the author Roald Dahl came to mind: “Somewhere inside of all of us is the power to change the world.”
Today, the morning after, the world has changed for some; for others, it is exactly the same. The birds still sing, the children still play and we have all played a part in taking the next step to keep it that way.
After the dust settles and the confetti clears, we should remember who we really voted for – our children.