That Feeling Is Called Hope

And then it all came tumbling back: the euphoria, the momentary disbelief, the gratitude and relief that has since mellowed into cautious optimism.
Make no mistake: last night was historic. The Workers’ Party-against all odds (*cough* gerrymandering, the edge of incumbency, gutter politics, POFMA)-managed to wrestle yet another GRC in Sengkang. He Ting Ru, Jamus Lim, Louis Chua, and Raeesah Khan join the Aljunied team and Hougang’s Dennis Tan as part of ten elected opposition MPs, the highest ever since independence. Raeesah Khan will be the youngest MP ever to be elected into parliament. What a queen.
I celebrated with those who had similarly leapt for joy when sample counts were announced, documenting their euphoria on social media. I celebrated with the uncles and aunties gathered in coffee shops, many of whom were waving flags and blowing horns, swaying the hammer to the beat of festive chants of “Wor-kers’ Party”.

I celebrate, not just because of my political leanings, but also because it felt like a rejection of gutter politics. As a young, first-time voter, I am hopeful that this election could mark a turning point in Singapore’s political culture. Our voters have signalled that they do not take kindly to cheap shots and dirty tricks.

After being told that we’re part of the “vocal minority” for so long, have our views dismissed as youthful naiveté, or lectured for being “ungrateful”, it feels almost vindicatory to see our voices translated into an overall decline in vote share for the ruling party and a growing share of opposition seats.

We may be an echo chamber, but we are-or at least, will be-a powerful force to reckon with.
I hope the PAP does some serious soul-searching, and asks itself why it did not earn the “strong mandate” it so desired. Perhaps in its use of dirty tactics, and liberal revisions to our Constitution, they have lost the moral authority they once claimed as the party that will do the right, but unpopular thing. (Now they just seem to do wrong and unpopular things).

The Workers’ Party, and to lesser extents, the Progress Singapore Party and Singapore Democratic Party, have won us over with their brand of inclusivity, humility, and empathy. I hope that all parties remember that sincerity and competency are not mutually exclusive. Gone are the days of elite mandarin worship-give me compassionate servant leadership!
History is made in micro moments, and this election surely constitutes a landmark: a generational moment of political awakening. The last time I dared to hold such hope was in 2011, when the Workers’ Party won Aljunied by a bare margin.

This election also suggests a growing political consciousness that contradicts the supposed apathy that Singaporeans have towards politics. Youth voters have been politically active through memes, Instagram stories, and dedicated political literacy collectives like CAPE.

Whichever side of the political spectrum you lie on, greater political literacy and participation can surely only be a good thing, as long as it does not descend into ideological polarization or vitriolic and divisive language. I think such fears are unwarranted, however. The Workers’ Party has proved itself to be a constructive and sensible opposition that is not interested in the sake of opposing for the sake of opposing.

Still, our optimism has to be tempered.

The “opposition” scene is still fragmented, and could be easily divided in the coming years. The curious absence of ideological politics in Singapore means that voters fragment along anti/pro-establishment lines more so than ideological ones.
This means that two WP voters could hold opposing, and even mutually contradictory views: the young, progressive, anti-xenophobia voter and the stereotypical angry uncle, #SingaporeanFirst voter could both be WP supporters. What this means for party loyalty and campaign messaging in future remains to be seen. Can the Workers’ Party avoid some perhaps inevitable political inconsistencies as it attempts to court both groups of voters in coming years? (Thankfully, the Workers’ Party has toned down a lot on nativist tendencies in this electi…