After almost a year living in Singapore, I probably went on one of the longest bus ride I’ve ever been in here, from Bukit Timah to Hougang, just to see an opposition party rally for the upcoming Singapore Elections on the 7th of May. Why do I even bother to come, since I don’t vote anyway? Well, I went to the rally in order to fulfil my curiosity, to see what Singapore ‘democracy’ is really like. The reason why I put the quotation mark on the word democracy, is because some Indonesians might be cynical that Singapore is not even a democracy, everything is controlled by the government, and how the people’s voice through media and freedom of expression is very limited. However, after seeing with my own eyes on how an estimated 15,000 people turned up for the rally, on the contrary, I think Indonesia could learn a thing or two from Singapore on democracy.
Upon arrival at the rally venue at about 8 PM, I could hear groups of people cheering from afar, and almost everyone on the bus got out just to come to the rally. It was an open field next to an HDB complex – Singapore’s solution to public housing – and to my amazement it was filled with a lot of people, several hundreds, if not thousands. Aunties and uncles, blue collar and white collar workers with their crisp shirt and fitted pants, the young and the old, they were all there.
There were no dangdut singers, no one giving out free t-shirts or rice boxes (you even have to pay for the party’s newsletter and flags). They simply came to listen to the speakers who spoke in English, Mandarin, Tamil, Malay – showcasing Singapore’s multiculturalism – with their rhetorics and manifestos, trying to persuade their votes.
Me and a couple of friends went up to one of the HDB flats to see the overview of the scenery, and more or less it looked like this:
The rally that I attended was of the Workers’ Party, one of the seven political parties contesting in the 2011 Singapore Parliamentary Elections. Singapore’s single house parliament has always been dominated by the ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), since 1959. In the last 2006 election, they won 82 of the 84 seats, leaving only 2 for the opposition.
This year, many are eager to see whether the opposition can gain more seats, although analysts say the chances are very slim. Opposition parties make a good case on why opposition, or “co-drivers” are needed, because a good political system is sustainable when a checks and balance system is in place. However, opposition parties must also make a case why voters should vote for them, coming up with programs and policies, rather than just saying that the current ruling party is not doing their job.
Singaporeans vote for individual MPs through the Single Member Constituencies (SMC), or vote for parties in Group Representation Constituencies (GRC), which consists of 4-6 MP candidates. When I asked a Singaporean on whom they are voting, a very candid response was that they would like to see more opposition, but at the same time they would also like a credible candidate representing them in the parliament – and this is usually from the ruling party. From what I know, the PAP has been able to get good candidates for their party, they attract the best talents and often groom them since they were young.
I’ve heard of Singaporeans who relies on their MPs to get their voices heard, because it is their duty to represent and listen to the constituency where they came from. The reluctance of Singaporeans voting for the opposition, is that some of them don’t want to lose their current MPs who belongs to the PAP. Of course, MPs who don’t care for their constituency, will not get voted again and that’s where the opposition stands a chance.
It’s common sense, but it’s often overlooked at in an indirect-democracy system. The people select the best candidates to represent our voices in the parliament, or in the case of Indonesia, we’re supposed to select the best candidates to be in DPR and DPRD. We’ve been bickering so much on how the DPR and DPRD in Indonesia is filled with nut-jobs, but who voted them in the first place? We did.
We’re partly responsible for putting those people in parliament, and that’s why voting matters.
Next Indonesian elections, we better make sure that we know whom to vote, rather than simply voting for the political party. Last elections we voted a wild card and as a result, the whole DPR ended up nothing more than a circus. We don’t even know who’s in the coalition or who’s in the opposition or whose interests do they represent, but I’m betting it’s not of the people of Indonesia.
As I was enjoying my ice potong sandwich that was sold in the opposition party rally, I looked around at the animosity and the eagerness of the people there, and concluded that, well, Singapore is indeed a democracy and the people are not apathetic at all. No matter how imperfect the democracy might be like some Indonesians see it, it has an efficient government and working policies. In my view that is much better than a system who focuses too much on the procedurals of democracy and resulted less in the end.
*Photo courtesy of Yahoo! Photo
Correction: previously it was written that GRCs consists of 3-6 MP candidates. Huiwen have corrected me that this year the smallest GRC have a number of 4.