I arrived at Block 322, Hougang Avenue 5 just after the result of the by-election was announced. Although I had missed Yam Ah Mee’s announcement which I was looking forward to watching, I was not disappointed. The atmosphere in the air was overwhelmingly joyous. Without hearing the announcement, I knew instantly that the Workers’ Party’s candidate Png Eng Huat had won the by-election.
Jubilance was in the air as the large crowd comprising of both the young and old waved flags bearing the logo of the Workers’ Party, shouting “Huat ah!”, chanting the name of the party and vehicles passing by sounded their horns in solidarity. People were everywhere – at the coffeeshop under the block, in front of the Chinese medical hall next to the coffeeshop, at the field in front of the coffeeshop, lined along both sides of the road, at the field in front of the blocks of flat across the coffeeshop, and along the corridors of the blocks of flats in the area. It was a huge party which occurred randomly without a sole organiser, without an entertainment license and without any restrain of emotions. In short and viewing it in a socio-political context, this was the biggest and most successful ‘illegal’ gathering I have seen in Singapore.
The police arrived in numbers to maintain order, which was in fact unnecessary but the blinking LED lights they were wearing on their uniforms helped to add on to the already carnival like atmosphere. I also recognised some officers in plainclothes among the crowd, standing out like sore thumbs with their sullen expressions, body language and the not so subtle exchange of glances whenever something exciting was happening. Nevertheless, their presence did not dampen the mood. In fact to many people, they did not really exist at all.
What was really powerful about this was the way random people came together to celebrate and express their support as one, regardless of age, gender, race, language, religion or whether they were residents of Hougang or other parts of Singapore. Children refused to leave, saying “WP hasn’t come yet!” or “Huat ah hasn’t arrived yet!”. People were chanting the name of the party and random cries of “Huat ah!” filled the air. Among the random crowd, neighbours, friends and strangers stood together, chitchatting and talking about the good work of the Workers’ Party, sharing their views on why they did not vote for Desmond Choo. Placards made by supporters were displayed for all to read. Commuters travelling in the buses passing by waved to the crowd and took pictures or videos using their phones. To add to the party, music filled the air thanks to this middle age man, a regular at the rallies with his drum and trumpet. Drivers driving past also rolled down their windows, shouting “Huat ah!”, waving the party flag and horning to the rhythm of “Workers’ Party! Workers’ Party!”. It was a lively crowd, a lively celebration. Interestingly, it also signified people’s power.
It was an honour to have witnessed the night first hand. It was touching to note that despite the PAP’s attempts to sanitise the Singaporean society in their favour by preaching self-censorship (someone was heard shouting “PAP kayu!”), discouraging political expression (the messages written on the placards for example), frowning on people gathering for a discourse or politically motivated event (it was for WP and opposition solidarity that sparked the gathering), nobody really cared about that last night. I saw the Hougang spirit live in action and, stripped of all the fireworks and military display or performers in glittery costumes one can see in our National Day Parade every year, it was a real celebration of citizenry.
Yes it was overwhelming, and I went home with memories I can truly smile about.
The ‘Hougang spirit’ lives on, and may the flame spread to other parts of Singapore too.
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