One of the things that has disturbed me in the post-election discussions is the lack of acknowledgement of the role that fear still plays in Singaporean politics. Many, even opposition supporters, have come out and attacked those who say that fear was an issue in the 2015 election.
My feeling is that fear is something that permeates the entire political system in Singapore, both at a conscious and subconscious level.
At the most extreme there is the fear that one’s ballot is not secret. Anyone who is educated and knows people who scrutineer elections or who reads reliable independent sources, knows that despite many fears, one’s individual ballot is anonymous. It seems unlikely in the extreme, and completely technically unfeasible for the government to track down how even just one citizen voted. For evidence and arguments that your vote is secret see, for example:
While one’s ballot may be secret, unfortunately the fear that is not is a pervasive amongst the population of Singapore. My personal experience of this came the day before the election, when in my local Cheers I asked the attendant who I know very well, how she was planning to vote in the election. This woman was, to me, the epitome of the difficulties faced by the Singaporean working class: she worked two minimum wage jobs (an office assistant daytime weekdays, and Cheers in the evenings) yet she clearly could not afford basic dental treatment as many, possibly most, of her teeth seemed to be missing. When I asked her how she would vote, she said “Well my ballot isn’t secret, so I guess I will vote for the PAP.” We discussed it, and I ended up showing her Maruah’s video about ballot secrecy ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=2&v=S9SfvJn2uGM ) . She was impressed with the celebrities on the video reassuring her, and she said “OK. My ballot is secret. I will vote for who I want.”
While this story has a happy ending, the message of the story for me was that fear of being ‘fixed’ for how one votes is still a pervasive part of the consciousness of Singaporeans.
I am also a JC teacher, and in class during the week of the elections we had a discussion about the elections. An international student raised the issue of gerrymandering, and asked why Singaporeans – meaning the other students in class – don’t challenge the government’s gerrymandering and campaign for an independent electoral authority. The locals in the class – the vast majority – fell silent, and then slowly fumbled together an answer: we focus on other issues because if you challenge the government you risk getting ‘fixed’. That was the local student’s consensus. The international student’s response was “Well that is a practical reason, but it isn’t an ethical reason. You should do what is right.” The class fell silent.
The last story I want to share is of actual candidates in the Singaporean elections. I know people involved with several opposition parties, and the stories I hear from them is that in the hours and days just before nominations close one of their biggest problems is candidates pulling out at the last minute. The reason given is almost always the same: it is not just a personal fear of being fixed, but a pressure from family members and close friends who fear that the candidate will compromise the future of themselves or their extended family. This was express eloquently in the maiden speech of He Ting Ru, Workers Party candidate in the 2015 election. She said that one of the biggest challenges she faced in her decision to run was the fact that her friends and family had worried about her getting ‘fixed’ – again her words:
“When I decided to run for Member of Parliament, many of my friends and family were extremely worried. They asked me about the impact it will have on my family, my career, whether I will get ‘fixed’.” http://www.wp.sg/he-ting-rus-rally-speech-jalan-besar-rally-3-sep/
For me, these three stories – of voters, of students, of candidates – and their fear of being fixed, tells you a lot about the deeply constrained choice that Singaporean’s made in 2015. Fear shaped who they voted for, fear shaped the fact that they did not speak up against many of the systematic injustices of the system, and fear has meant that many good people are too scared to run as candidates, constraining the choices that people have at the ballot box. The fear of being fixed is a very real part of Singaporean political life.
About the writer: None. The guest writer would like to remain anonymous due to the climate of fear (seriously!).
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