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A Singaporean Teen’s Rite of Passage: GE2020

A Singaporean Teen’s Rite of Passage: GE2020

  • Current Affairs
  • Rice x Dialogic
This is a Shortlisted entry in the Rice Media x DLS Op-Ed competition. This article represents the views of neither Rice Media nor Dialogic Learning Services, and is solely the opinion of the author. Authors’ names and schools have been hidden from readers and Rice Media’s judges so as to prevent bias during voting & judging. 

Vote for the Readers’ Choice Award here; see all Shortlisted Op-Eds here.

Additionally, do note that the authors of these articles are minors who have bravely shared their writing with us; we entreat readers to treat their opinions with the appropriate sensitivity and care.

All through last week, I felt like Ares himself was trying every way to conscript me for the war against the people’s enemy: The People’s Action Party (PAP). 

There was no escaping the General Election campaign week. The moment I clicked on the little purple-yellow icon, my Instagram feed would instantly be flooded with every new development (and the new meme to complement it) in the campaigns. Social media started looking more like a deadly face-off between Zeus, God of Lighting and Thor, God of Hammers (Thor: Ragnarok, anybody?). 

Anyone with at least 10 followers was weighing in on the elections, preaching for all those eligible to ‘Make Their Vote Count’. Climate activists, independent local news and media sites, self-proclaimed influencers, actual influential figures and my schoolmates were voicing their thoughts on Singapore politics. Usually, I would not really flinch at the prospect of someone being overzealous about their opinions, even if they differed from my own. Yet I felt so taken aback by the sheer animosity netizens held for the PAP. Singapore’s Instagram scene was filled with posts denouncing the Poxy Abhorrent Politicians. An uncountable number of such posts painted the party members as some kind of tyrannical villains that I would expect from a movie. Opposition parties were hailed as fearless warriors charging into battle to overthrow the evil PAP from their stranglehold of the parliament. Although I have only recently begun to grow aware of politics, I could not help but feel highly disturbed by how a seemingly regular general election to reshuffle parliament members became a fight to destroy the PAP and their supermajority. Post after post and story after story was the same offensive. Overthrow Zeus, assemble the Avengers and bring Thor to victory. 

You see, I am not an Avenger. 

However, it seemed like everyone else around me was. 

“What is your political alignment?” In school, my History lecturer asked us. I felt my stomach sink at the question. We were seventeen, fresh out of secondary school. Did our lecturer really expect my classmates and me to be self-educated political scientists? Then hands shot up. Their answers were enthusiastic: “Moderate Right!”, “Centre Left,”, “Moderate socialist!”. My lecturer was even incessantly prying into the Chinese scholar’s political views and he, very rationally in my opinion, continuously declined to comment while worriedly glancing at the in-built camera of his laptop. Finally succumbing to the pressure of apparently needing to have a political alignment before we even enter the workforce, the scholar smiled and said, It’s nice to have options.”  Of course, the final question our lecturer posed was a show of hands on who truthfully supported the PAP. Roars of laughter erupted throughout the room. I awkwardly combed my fingers through my hair. A quick save. 

The conversation did not stop even after the recess bell rang. Lecturer now long gone, several of us remained in the room to self-study. Well, only I seemed to be seriously studying. About six of my classmates were huddling around another boy, X, all of them rumbustious as they barked out in laughter. One of them looks at me and beckons me over. “Come look! He’s sending Tan Cheng Bock a DM!” Cautiously making my way to the group (maintaining a respectable level of social distancing), I observed as X drafted an admiration filled private message to Dr Tan on Instagram, hoping that the politician would repost a screenshot of X’s message onto his Instagram story. A few of my classmates had their phones out, recording the affair to upload X’s antics onto their own social media platforms. His message read:

Hi Dr Tan, you are my favourite Hypebeast Ah Gong and I want to be just as hypebeast as you when I am older and when I enter politics myself. PSP must also deny PAP a blank cheque. GO PSP!!!

“Would you actually vote for the PSP if you were old enough to vote?” I asked X. He rolled his eyes and scoffed at my question. “Duh,” He says as though I had asked him if the sky was blue. “I’ll vote for anyone but the PAP. I’m not one of those lame idiots who will vote for the stupid Whites.” My classmates begun prattling among themselves about the latest jokes on the PAP and the newest memes on the Opposition while I stood awkwardly by the side, alone. They were mocking Mr Heng Swee Keat for having a East Coast, Singapore, we have a together and East Coat Plan. Shifting uncomfortably, I interjected into the conversation, “PAP is full of ignorant elitists, am I right?” 

Suddenly, I was no longer standing alone. 

Over the next few days, a constant migraine lingered. Instagram was a circus. Ex-classmates (who I could have sworn were the same people complaining about how difficult or useless Social Studies was just before ‘O’ Levels last year) were using their Instagram stories to go on a tangent of how the Opposition parties were social justice champions and that the PAP was your unfriendly neighbourhood menace. Some of them were absolutely love-struck by Opposition politicians like Ms Nicole Seah. One of my closest friends had ranted about the unfairness of the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) System and how the PAP was using it as a scam to secure votes and deny Opposition from entry into the parliament. She wanted Ms Seah in power. She was so utterly infatuated with the politician, that I could not bear to tell her that the GRC system made sure people of my skin colour were represented in parliament. “It’s okay, she’s too young to really understand or sympathise with the struggles of being a Malay and a minority in Singapore.” I argued this, justifying to myself that when the time comes, my friends would realise my challenges and would support me. Sometimes I wished I could be ‘too young’ to understand racism too. 

In my attempt to show that I too could have a strong opinion on politics, I reposted a screenshot of a particular post that I felt had falsely claimed that the Meet-The-People Session (where I had regularly volunteered at during the pre-COVID 19 days) was a place where residents had to appeal to the Member of Parliament’s sympathy in order to receive any kind of help. In hindsight, maybe I should have kept my virtual mouth shut when I posted my thoughts on my ‘Close Friends List’ and publicly exposed myself to political debate among the nine people who could see it. One of the nine people who I consider my most trusted circle of friends dropped me a private message that opened a can of worms I really wanted to re-seal.  She immediately refuted how the PAP pettily withheld funds from Opposition-run constituencies and intentionally avoided building train stations in areas that were not their responsibility. She spoke of how the Land Transport Authority obeyed the PAP’s whims and fancies and how that meant that not only the PAP, but all sub0governmental organisations were highly corrupted bodies. Excited for my first taste of intellectual political debate, I countered her arguments with my dearth knowledge and first-hand experiences on the impacts of policies and Meet-The-People Session. She was silent for a minute or two before she texted her response of, “My Mom gave me some solid case studies to prove you wrong. I just can’t remember it right now.” Caught off guard by the sudden change in tone, I questioned if she had any first-hand experience or thoughts of her own regarding our discussion. She sent a clown emoji and then ended the conversation with a, “Wow, I didn’t know you were a PAP suck up. You must be so naïve to put any sort of trust in the government.” We have not spoken since. She was still on my ‘Close Friends List’, though. (But I think she removed me from hers.) 

It saddens me how things like this threaten my relationships and ruin connections that I had thought were unbreakable. When did being alternative become the new IC of my generation? I find that I cannot bring myself to apply for this new card. Standing among the deafening voices dissent, I felt like a soldier sent in for reconnaissance. It felt intrusive mostly because I did not quite belong there.

To say or not to say? That ‘tis the question. 

Whether ‘tis nobler to speak myself or to join Ares’ war against everything I believe in. 

Finally, election week came to a close. Once again, the PAP remains the supermajority of the parliament. The status quo remains undisturbed. I swiped through Instagram stories wrapping up the elections mood (‘We have, together, A North-East Line Plan’) with several teenagers cursing at the PAP’s win. Sighing, I exited the application, held on the purple-yellow icon and clicked on the ‘delete’ button. 

My world was silent once more. 

Author

Op-ed Competition Participant The author is a participant in the RicexDialogic op-ed competition.