By James Leong
As another by-election in Bukit Batok looms near, has the opposition learned anything about the electorate since the PAP’s shocking landslide victory six months ago? A Workers’ Party volunteer at GE2015 reflects and tells all.
Shortly after 70 per cent of voters gave a resounding nod to the PAP, sending the opposition and its supporters into a tailspin and even surprising the men in white, I ran into a crestfallen ex-colleague who best summed up his disappointment when he said, “Singapore should just do away with elections altogether and assign a fix number of seats to the opposition. No votes, no expectations.”
His suggestion was absurd but that was his way of coping and this is mine.
It was a night I will never forget. I had just finished my 10-hour shift as a polling agent for the Workers’ Party (WP). At the stroke of 8.30 pm, everyone in the polling centre heaved a sigh of relief and clapped their hands, as if to usher in a new Singapore. Weeks of campaigning coupled with the growing role of social media and resentment on the ground gave many like me a brave new hope for change, and I was on the cusp of it all.
The ballot boxes were quickly sealed and so was Singapore’s future, so to speak.
I later joined many other supporters at the WP headquarters in Hougang Stadium and it was there that everything suddenly came crashing down. The best way to describe this is the sickening feeling of dying over and over again and I felt that way every time the poll numbers came in. I could take it no more and hailed the next cab home.
I could not reconcile the results with the ground sentiment and went into a state of shock. The next few days were a heady mix of scouring political websites, talking to like-minded individuals and attending post-GE 2015 discussions to make sense of it all.
“Just who is the Singapore voter and what does he truly want?” I repeatedly asked myself. I soon gave up and self-declared a media blackout on Singapore politics altogether.
Six months have passed. I’m done grieving and I must confess that I now feel like a fool.
The WP’s watershed victory in Aljunied at GE 2011 was still fresh on the minds of many in the weeks leading up to GE 2015. I answered their call to empower the future and joined the team in drench-filled blue tops united in spirit and purpose, knocking on door after door of residents’ homes. I attended their rallies and hung on to their every word like the Gospel, as if with every cheer to would nudge them closer to another win.
Then it suddenly occurred to me that in all my five years of living in the same home, the WP never once visited nor slipped a pamphlet under my door. Instead it was the men in white who showed up. I wonder what the residents were really thinking when we suddenly came a-knocking two weeks into the elections. I felt embarrassed.
I experienced another epiphany at the WP Appreciation Lunch. Across the room was a candidate who joined me at a house visit. Thinking he could make more sense of the results, I asked for his thoughts on the loss.
“The people have chosen” was his pursed-lip reply.
At my lunch table were two rather fanatic WP supporters sitting next to a man engrossed with feeding his daughter chips for lunch. He hardly said a word but I recognised him as a candidate who spoke loud and proud at the rallies but cut quite a different figure playing doting daddy. The silence was awkward so I stood up to introduce myself and shook his hand.
I also didn’t quite know what to make of the whole event, but the disconnect I felt was hard to ignore. Apart from Low Thia Khiang’s passing mention of a disappointing result, everyone seemed happy merry making, as if the trashing WP received at the ballot boxes never happened. I didn’t stay long.
Where was the WP I saw at Aljunied GE 2011? Where is the hope, passion and conviction you displayed at the rallies? Where were you when we were sitting right under you noses?
If there is something we have learned about the results of GE 2015, it is that the opposition has to work harder than ever before. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
After months of soul searching and talking to fellow Singaporeans, I’m inclined to believe Singaporeans are largely apolitical and an unquestioning lot. Yes, he will occasionally rant about train breakdowns and the influx of foreign workers. But if it doesn’t affect him, he doesn’t really care. What he cares about is the here and now; keeping his job so he can pay his mortgage and go on vacations at least once a year. And if he did care, he is probably too afraid to do anything about it.
Sadly I believe this is your Singapore voter and what he wants, but there are others and I’m guessing they make up a big part of the remaining 30 per cent. Let me tell you who they are.
Like me, they’ve attended almost every Hong Lim Park event from the Population White Paper, Return our CPF, the 50th Anniversary of Operation Cold Store commemoration events to the Solidarity with Occupy Central Hong Kong. Why? Because we’re just wired that way to do something we care enough about. We can’t sit still and visiting the ballot box once every five years is not sufficient.
Truth is I haven’t read every page in your manifesto or even completely understood some of the allegations thrown your way, but standing up against the powerful PAP machinery and be that other voice in parliament is more than what many of us could ever do. So we put our faith in you, do what we can and ultimately look to the opposition to make it all happen.
After the elections, a fellow WP polling agent and neighbour shared that he wasn’t surprised the WP lost because he admitted that the PAP wasn’t doing such a bad job. Your voters might stand on your side, but they are also watching and listening.
I wonder where the WP now stands on MP David Ong’s resignation? Surely you must have an opinion on MP Denise Phua, whom you contested against in Jalan Besar, when she called our South Asian workers walking bombs? Your silence is rather deafening.
Have I lost complete faith in the opposition? No, because it would mean I would have to stop caring and asking questions. But what’s more frightening is how many more people like my ex-colleague, who muted the idea of abolishing elections altogether, have grown to stop caring.
God forbids that this 30 per cent should shrink!
As we approach yet another by-election in Bukit Batok come May 7, and voters are given a chance to relook at their choices, the opposition and WP must step up its game.
Parliament 2007, non-constituency Member of Parliament (MP) and now the MP for Aljunied Sylvia Lim in her speech on ministerial salaries said, “Public service must remain a noble undertaking for which people are prepared to make sacrifices in exchange for the benevolent power to improve the lives of others. If we corrupt this by money, we can be efficient but never a country of high ideals.”
This speech, which was also made famous for the bowed-head response of some ministers in attendance, reminds me of the WP’s sense of compassion and fairness that resonated strongly in so many of us.
But talk is cheap and now more than ever before it’s time for WP to walk the talk so that same roaring victory heard in 2011 can be heard again when and where it matters most. You know who we are.
For the sake of our future we must all remain optimistic and keep the faith. Are you with us, WP?
James Leong is a media consultant, writer and a counsellor-in-training. He awoke to his own political consciousness after discovering the horrifying acts of injustice dealt by the Internal Security Act against the country’s political exiles and alleged communists. He also hopes to receive a knock on his door from the Worker’s Party in the very near future
The deafening silence of the Workers' Party and confessions at the ballot box
By James Leong