“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see….”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”
-Douglas Adams, in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish (1984) Ch. 36.
The golden topic of the hour in Singapore is the 2015 General Elections (GE). It is in every manner a watershed one. It proceeds after the remarkable Jubilee festivities, capping off 50 years of prosperity for this defiant, Lilliputian country. For the first time, the looming presence (or prescience if you will) of our founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, is by and large inconsequential, though his recent death may colour it. The mere contestation of every single constituency by two or more parties has seen no precedent here. And of greater significance, to me at least, is the sheer fact that it will reflect the political attitudes of an important demographic cohort: the children of the 1900s, the ‘Strawberry Generation’.
A conversation that arose in my workplace a week ago served to illumine this very aspect. As the day drew to a close and colleagues began congregating for social small talk, the inevitable air of the GE was hard to ignore. So ignited a chain of casual prodding:
“Eh, so who will you vote for ah?”
What followed was a round of lighthearted socio-economic profiling, where each member of the circle teasingly surmised the political loyalties of everyone else. Arriving at the mid-sixties bus captain (who ferries mobility-impaired patients to the outpatient centre), one coworker jested that the former was irrevocably partisan to the local labour party. The latter postulated that the outspokenness of these blue-collared citizens could see the Worker’s Party snag a large proportion of the vote.
Once the chuckles had abated, our jovial bus captain said something in Mandarin that made me rethink this remark.
“To be honest, the vote of my generation won’t count for much. It’s how Generation Y votes that’s really the thing to watch. They will be the game changers.”
It is a frightening notion. I venture many would not associate Millennials with political consciousness. Au contraire, it’s safe to assume that we’re more concerned about the order of iPhone editing applications needed to achieve a consummately effortless image for our Instagram. Or what to order at Starbucks that sounds neither painfully amateurish nor pretentious. Deride us as effete poseurs, its our calling card.
Beyond the filtered facades of new-age coffee joints or constructed social bearings however, lies a barbed edge in our namesake. According to Wikipedia, we ‘Strawberries’ are cultivated in sheltered greenhouses (read: protective parents) and enjoy a higher selling price (high-maintenance and self-entitled due to being reared in economic opulence). As a result, we have a poor threshold for hard work and social pressure, or like our eponymous fruit, “bruise easily”.
Westerners may be more familiar with the nomenclature, ‘Millennials’ or ‘Generation Y’, but those are merely a rose of another name, thorns included. Jean M. Twenge, co-author of the paper “Generational Differences in Young Adults’ Life Goals, Concern for Others, and Civic Orientation (1966–2009)” and author of “Generation Me”, rubbished the notion that our generation is civic-minded, citing trends towards “narcissistic personality traits”. A separate article also quotes her on the fall in prejudice based on race and sexual orientation from Millennials, which may or may not be a good thing depending on your beliefs. Terms such as “self-absorbed”, “materialistic”, and “politically disengaged” are tossed out, along with a reference to a national study with worrying results. According to the surveys:
“…the proportion of students who said being wealthy was very important to them increased from 45% for Baby Boomers (surveyed between 1966 and 1978) to 70% for Gen X and 75% for Millennials. The percentage who said it was important to keep up to date with political affairs fell, from 50% for Boomers to 39% for Gen X and 35% for Millennials.”
In essence, we are a money-minded and politically incognisant bunch.
While it’s easy to be indignant at the findings, for the most part, they’re true. And it’s as easy to see how such attitudes could transfer to the political sphere. Leaders could exploit our tendency towards individualistic behaviour or affluent lifestyles by swaying us with constant flattery and unstoppered welfare policies. We may choose to support whichever party that promises to liberalise the constitution with regards to racial or sexual laws. To cap it off, we may not even know whether the choice we make is right, wrong, or remotely suitable for our country because of our detachment to affairs of state. We may vote the same simply because we see, or make no effort to seek, a better alternative.
This is why the voting pattern of my generation matters so much. When push comes to shove, where will the decision lie? When many of the Millennials head to the polls to elect those whom we believe will usher the next era of Singapore, who will prevail? It’s a dizzying array of candidates from the People’s Action Party (PAP), the Workers’ Party (WP), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), the National Solidarity Party (NSP), so on and so forth. One can vote discerningly, or be content with taking the un-troublesome route of keeping things as they are. Will we be governed by the PAP? The WP? The SDP? Or by the gripping anxiety that the wrong lizard might get in?
And in a nation where non-compliance to the mandatory voting act could see one’s right to polls waived forever more, the choice is even more urgent. We either stand, or we don’t stand at all. For though the decision may lie somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea, one has to cast their lot nonetheless.
It is not enough to say that we are young and can afford to make mistakes. Fifty years for an island state such as ours is the cusp of infancy so to speak, yet there can be no excuse for even the slightest misstep. The price of which is one of such scale that many youths want of comprehension, given that we are unapologetically accustomed to trying everything, and moving on when things fail to work out. Many are fortunate to have parents willing to bankroll our whims, so much so that the costliness of each detour is deregistered from our experience. We are used to pilots and not reality, that the expectation of our voting mentality isn’t too far removed. Everyone wants the trial, but not the error.
All I hope for is that my fellows will anchor themselves on rationale. For in an election there is no place for sentimentality. And the need for Singaporeans to separate gratitude from nostalgia is increasingly dire. When we come to the threshing floor of the polling booths, will it be with our eyes glazed with the Singapore Miracle that encompassed our past 50 years? Or will it be with steely clear-sightedness as we mark our cross upon the people who will lead us into the next half century?
At twenty, I have narrowly missed the cut-off for legal voting this year. But for many of my friends, friends I grew up with or went to school with, the time has come now to make an important choice. There will be no walkovers. Each battle will be contested fiercely, and at stake is a margin of victory by merely a few percent. True, null votes are a valid form of escapism, but an outcome by action rather than omission is an important reminder that the future of the Little Red Dot is our burden and privilege. Our Strawberry Generation will have no way to hedge their bets. We must decide which side of the fence to fall.
I have been somewhat encouraged by the length and breadth of discourse some of my companions have participated in. I am thoroughly astounded by some who have taken the effort to attend various rallies. Some of these individuals I never particularly deemed astute in matters of governance and civics. To see them take their responsibility with such gravity makes me feel more at ease, even if it’s because I am relieved I don’t live alongside idiots.
But one day soon I will lose that sense of comfort, for it will be my turn to vote. It will be my turn to prove that I am not an ignorant fool. To reassure the subsequent generation that we are trying our best to leave them a sturdy legacy. As of now, I feel inadequate to the task, even as I YouTube a host of canvassing speeches, and flip through manifestoes. But one day I’ll be ready. One day we all will. I believe it. As I prepare to leave this diminutive island state I call home, I can only pray that I keep abreast of all that transpires. And when Saturday comes, after I disembark and check all my social media feeds, I hope Singaporeans, especially our ‘Strawberries’, will have made the right choice.
Long live the PAP
May the Workers’ Party triumph
Chee Soon Juan for the win