My second political awakening

By Jonathan Tay

4 years ago while I was still a NUS sociology student, my lecturers taught me how to study, critique and de-construct society, and in particular Singapore society. I was fed readings and told how elitist our government was, how the poor gets left behind, and how many times, there were both discrimination and stratification. Typical narratives went something like 'healthcare costs are exorbitant; we lack human rights; PAP people are elitist; education system favours the rich'. So came the 2011 election, filled with hot blooded and passion, and thinking that I possess the critical thinking that others don't, I voted for SPP as I stayed in Bishan-Toa Payoh. It didn't help that a week after buying 6 lots of SMRT stocks, the first major train down happened. I remembered waving WP flags at Serangoon stadium, rushing to buy SPP badges at Potong Pasir, and get genuinely touched, when Mr Chiam See Tong shook my hand that time with all his might while trembling. His sincerity moved me greatly, that I remembered telling the RC chairman who visited my house what CST did and me not seeing my MP ever. I was such an ardent supporter at that time, I even berated my friend for voting for PAP in Potong Pasir SMC. This is a phase I will term as my first political awakening.

A year later, like many Sociology honours' students who criticised the government in class, I joined the bureaucracy. Initially I felt like a hypocrite, after criticising the government so much in class, now I am working for the civil service?! Have I conformed? Have I joined the system? While battling such thoughts, my stint in MSF opened my eyes to a whole new world. I personally witness a case where a homeless guy went for a heart bypass surgery at zero cost.

No one, regardless of background, as long as you are a Singaporean/PR is refused treatment. I saw how heaps of deliberately unemployed Singaporeans(I use the words deliberate because they are highly fit and work capable but refused to work in any jobs), ex convicts looking for a new start in life were given financial assistance, even though some may be obstinate in not seeking employment, or in some cases lying blatantly. This made me realised the compassionate side of the government, a side of the government I had never read about in my 4 years in NUS. The challenge was not whether our government is compassionate, but how in the long term, help our citizens who need an extra push, to be self reliant, or those who really need help know that government help exists?

Post 2011, Away from online/others/lecturers narratives which shaped my opinion, I'm starting to form one based on what I experienced. I saw how PAP MPs repeatedly write letters appealing for citizens in tricky situations to advocate for them, with some of not most succeeding in appealing for civil servants to be more flexible. I saw how Min Chan is so approachable, and worked harder than any staff I know of in MSF. He worked tirelessly, and probably advanced our social services landscape faster than any of his predecessors. He not only 'Kee Chiu', he also 'dong Chiu'.

I personally witnessed Ms Tin Pei Ling responded swiftly within 24 hours when my family wrote in to her, seeking help for my single and elderly grant aunt, who has severe hoarding behaviour and none of her nieces and nephews can take care of her in the day time. Help was swiftly dispensed and agencies brought in with no fanfare.

I saw at a SG conversation session on the lease buyback scheme which Min Tan Chuan Jin hosted. Naysayers criticised it for being 'staged'. Instead, in the session I was in, I saw him being criticised, how some citizens made ridiculous requests for 100% returns for his money in CPF, how insurance agents request that they become HDB 'financial advisors' for those who just sold their properties, all driven by self interest, yet blaming their inability to get rich opportunities on the government. He still had to respond with a smile, engage them civilly while bringing about his points. Being the incumbent is really a tough job I concluded. Never once did he showed any disdain that betrays elitism(I rolled my eyes a few times, thinking that these people are such opportunists), but he was patient and relaxed.

After close to 2 years, I reluctantly left my civil service job which I truly enjoyed and joined a VWO, to serve youths who are underprivileged. That's when I saw Ms Denise Phua working up close. In the tuition programme I oversee for low income kids, i will see her and her husband at random times carrying apples, or cupcakes for the kids and volunteers. There was no entourage, no media coverage, but acts that are purely from love and compassion. I saw at MPS how she makes it a point to make sure all her residents who came have a chance to see her so she can personally hear their problems. Many times, when our plans to set up a Youth Centre hit a snitch, she often takes a hands on approach to help us overcome hurdles and obstacles, no taiji, no wayang.

All these I consider to be my second political awakening.

In this second election, I will be voting for men and women of character, compassion and integrity. True, many areas need fine tuning, in fact gaps still exists. But I'm glad beyond rallies and emotions stirring speeches, I have the chance to take my vote seriously and factually, not let my opinions be shaped by others or social media. And importantly, only with politicians who have their heart in the right places, and not make empty and grand promises with tangible act of helping others, will be well equipped to make changes for the good of the people.

This first appeared as a post on the Facebook wall of Mr Jonathan Tay on 9 September 2015. Do join in the discussion over there if you have thoughts to share.


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