I haven’t been writing for a long time. For those who knows me, I was occupied with running my university’s club activities and organising a grassroots event. Recently, just last Saturday (03/09/16), I managed to pull off a youth dialogue at Group Representation Constituency (GRC) Grassroots level with the help of People’s Association.
[For my foreign friends, GRC system is similar to the Single-Member Plurality (SMP) system in the UK, except some constituencies in Singapore have more than one seat; usually 4-6 seats for GRCs. This means that contesting political parties will send a group of electoral candidates to contest in the elections and the party that has the most votes takes ALL the seats.]
I began to sense that some people think I aspire to be a Member of Parliament (MP). So I decided that I probably should address this before people start thinking I am going to run for President.
Honestly, it irritates me at many levels. I know most people meant it as a joke because we all know that PAP mostly recruits elites (including scholars) and I definitely stand no chance at all. However, it might give out the wrong impression that my motive for volunteering at a grassroots organisation (GRO) is for my selfish personal gains and to try to build up a political career. This is absolutely wrong. Very wrong. There are various reasons why I joined the community centre as a Youth Executive Committee (YEC) but becoming a politician in future is definitely not one of them. I will share with you one of the strongest reason that keeps me going.
(prepare for a long ass grandfather story)
I am a Singaporean and I love my country. It is a beautiful place with wonderful people. Each time I go overseas, I feel proud every time a foreign friend praises us for our development and multiracialism. If Singapore were to be attacked, I will not think twice about giving my life to defend this precious island of ours. My brothers who served alongside me during our Army days will know I serve with pride and dedication. I discharge my duties honourably. I was known to be “siao on” (very on the ball, gung-ho warrior). I feel a sense of duty to protect this country each time I don the green. We pride ourselves as Singaporeans whenever we go overseas, but how much do we really know about our own country?
I also feel that as a Singapore citizen, it also a duty to be aware of the developments in my country. It is my responsibility as a voter to stay abreast of current affairs and public policies. This is to respect and be fair to the democratic process of Singapore. I strongly think it is not fair for politically apathetic people to vote in elections. Why should unconcerned citizens decide who and how to run the country when they lack substantial information on hand to make such important decisions? But of course, universal suffrage in a polity like Singapore greatly benefits the ruling party.
There are many ways to get information. Since grassroots is part of the democratic system, I thought it is probably one of the best ways to get direct and accurate information.
Some Singaporeans might debate over the accuracy of the information I get, considering that the PAP has significant influence over how GROs are run. This is true, but it builds my critical thinking in the process.
I grew up being highly influenced by my parents of their political views and many of their views were rather biased. They were usually complaints about how things could be done better. Back then, being young, ignorant and politically unaware, I would just listen and accept their views as long as they make sense. When I was with my friends in school, each time I voiced my political views, people around me tend to roll their eyes. Of course, looking back now, I understood why. I needed to know both sides of the story.
Being critical of government policies since secondary school, I begin to realise how narrow-minded I have been. I realise I need to be part of the process to give a more balanced view.
Being involved in the grassroots organisation for about slightly more than two years, I now have a better idea of things work. I now know how some processes work. For example, I realised how community centres get funded and what kind of people the leaders are. It is also important to know the leaders because they are the one influencing the kind of community the constituency wants to build. If we have someone of a bad character, I will be deeply concerned with the systems that are in place.
Although that being said, because GROs are rather bureaucratic, there are still many things that I am still not aware of. I think mostly because I am near the bottom of the food chain. At least for now, being involved keeps me informed rather than zero participation.
In my first paragraph, I mentioned that I was heavily involved in the planning of a youth dialogue. It is the first time we are doing it in my community centre. The youth dialogue is a platform for youths to voice their opinions and concerns over policy directions. They also get to interact with MPs and have their concerns addressed. Personally, there are many reasons why I felt the need to kick start and make such dialogues frequent. I find youths are generally politically apathetic, resulting in weak political participation. Furthermore, about half of the participants will be eligible to vote in the next general election.
The quality of the dialogue is another issue altogether. My intention is to make youths start thinking for themselves now. Do not wait until elections period to start evaluating policies and reading manifestos.
This is how I feel I am contributing to the political system in Singapore. A healthy polity requires high political participation. We need to be less dependent on the government. There is a limit to what they can do. Civil society plays a much more significant role in building an inclusive society. It is also not simply achieved by changing the constitution.
I don’t see myself as somebody noble, trying to change the world or Singapore or anything. I don’t wish to give myself too much credit for the small things I have done. What was written in previous paragraphs merely reflects what I think. And seriously, something is better than nothing. I want to be someone useful and try to do something about a situation rather than sitting at home criticising how the political process can be better. As the saying goes, action speaks louder than words.
This is why I remain in grassroots and continue exploring volunteer opportunities. I want to see more and be engaged in the process. I want to see how else I can contribute in my small little ways. Because I am a true-blue Singaporean, I am a voter and a concerned citizen. I am a patriot.