The Dangers of Political Apathy in Singapore

Two in five Singaporeans aged between 21 and 35 would not bother to vote if voting was not compulsory (TNP Survey 2011). In Singapore, things have been improving greatly since the General Elections in 2011 but I believe we have still a lot more to go in terms of getting rid of political and civic indifference.

Vikram Nair, a lawyer and MP once said that political apathy in Singapore wasn’t something he was too concerned about. “Political apathy is a luxury you can have when things are going okay,” 

While I do agree that people become politically apathetic when they are happy with the way things are, I would not consider it a luxury. Instead, I think it is a cause for concern and dangerous. In any situation, too much power always corrupts.

To be civic-ally or politically active would be to engage in activities to attempt to make a change in public policy. This includes a wide range of activities – voting, staying informed by local affairs, watching the government’s performance, signing a petition, organizing a campaign and many more.

Why are the reasons for political apathy? Here are my views as a young Singaporean.

1.       The feeling of powerlessness

The TNP survey also found that one in four young voters felt politically alienated – they want to, but have little say in government policies and decision-making.

Many of my peers wonder why I write so much and as though it would change anything directly. What they fail to realize is that democracy is a group effort and every individual vote and effort counts.

I do not blame them for this opinion. We have had a traditional authoritarian style for quite a long time where people were given little power. However, this is changing. Writing this post itself has a subtle effect of influencing others or at least, getting them to think about these issues which is a good start.

“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.”  ― Noam Chomsky

2. Fear of Authority

A survey by NUS in 2001 showed that 88% of the undergraduates had felt there were barriers that prevented them from entering politics, including the fear of authorities. One had remarked that ‘Politics in Singapore is a taboo topic’.

True enough, we have a long history where people who spoke out against the government were dealt with harshly. I also felt that the local newspapers portrayed these people very negatively. Before GE2011, many were afraid to speak out. It would take some time for this culture to change gradually.

Do not fear authority young people, as Leonardo Da Vinci said “Nothing strengthens authority as much as silence”

3. Unaware of civil rights

Before I lived in a proper democratic country, I was highly unaware of what were my civil rights – rights that ensure one’s ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression. They include: rights to assembly, rights to association and concepts like freedom of speech.

The concepts of civic activism and rights were entirely foreign to me. They were not mentioned in media or taught to me in school. All I learnt in school was the success of Singapore. There was little mention about other parties. If so, it was brief like David Marshall (workers party) and Barisan Sosialis (who were supposedly communist).

It is my firm belief that such material should be imparted to students in school. This will prevent a lot of confusion about double standards.

4. Lack of information

Articles about socio-political issues have a tendency to come across as ‘elite’. This is because of the way information is being presented. It is hard to find a writer that is extremely rational but at the same time puts things across in a way that is very simple to understand.

Politics and social issues can be a very heavy topic. To educate more people, I would urge all civic activists and socio-political watchers and bloggers to put information in the simplest way possible. This will save time, allow easy understanding and create greater access to your works.

“A vote is like a rifle; its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.” – Theodore Roosevelt

 5. No favourite Party

Many of us do not have a favourite party. For instance, I am non-partisan. I believe in finding out as much information as I can before voting instead of deciding first and only selecting information that would favour my biasness.

To be non-partisan at the moment is a good thing. According to British social psychologist Henri Tajfel’s Minimum Group paradigm, thinking of ourselves in terms of groups leads to a kind of irrational group favoritism.

Group thinking causes us to act irrationally and become uncooperative, because we are more concerned about conforming with our group instead of thinking for ourselves, or recognizing other people’s interests and values outside of our own social circle.

However, if one is non partisan, it does not mean they have to be apathetic. They can still be involved in keeping watch which will help them make a good decision when the time comes.

 

Taken from  Jeraldine Phneah article on http://www.theonlinecitizen.com

 

Mohammed Hashem — Politic November 8th, 2013

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