Never mind when, focus on who and why

FUTILE SPECULATION: Voters queueing to cast their ballots in Ang Mo Kio during the 2011 General Election. Beyond PM Lee himself, and perhaps a handful of others, if at all, no one knows when the next election will be held. But the key is not the date - it is what voters do when the time does come. BH FILE


    Jul 14, 2015

    Never mind when, focus on who and why

    DEATH and taxes. The two proverbial certainties.

    Yet, the word around town, if you ask more than a few folks, is that they are dead certain of a September general election.

    How so, you ask them. Well, it is obvious, they say.

    There is this feel-good factor, of course. The sense that the nation has truly come together.

    That through his one final act, or gift, if you will, the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March at the age of 91, generated a unity and bond among Singaporeans that few have experienced in recent memory.

    So much so that they came to recognise and appreciate just how far the country has come - from the early, uncertain years after independence in 1965 to being a powerhouse city-state that punches above its weight on the regional and international stage.

    That the success of Singapore's sportsmen and women at the SEA Games was not just down to their own grit and determination, but came also on the back of their fellow Singaporeans who urged and willed them on, cheered them when they won, and picked them up when they did not.

    That a 156-year-old showcase of spectacular tropical flora that has long wowed Singaporeans and visitors alike received global acclaim and secured Unesco World Heritage Site status.

    And topping off all this will be the grandest celebrations to date, marking 50 years of independence as a nation.

    Not bad for this little red dot.


    And with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally to follow, so the argument goes, the momentum will surely lead to the ultimate political crescendo of an election.

    It is hard not to be caught up in the logic, including the argument that with a lot more economic and political uncertainty on the horizon, it makes sense to go to the polls for a fresh, if not a strong, mandate to steer Singapore through troubled waters.

    And that is even though there are those who argue that the spectacular breakdown of the MRT rail system last week makes an early call to the polls less viable.

    Too much angst, goes the argument. It brings to mind the last major breakdown in December 2011 - the accusations of overcrowding due to the influx of foreigners, and criticism about why the fixes recommended by the committee of inquiry do not appear to have taken root.

    And beyond that is the attendant criticism and continued perception that the system's operators are more concerned about profits than the safety and well-being of passengers.

    But is one incident significant enough to derail a supposed election schedule?


    Being on the political desk puts me and my colleagues on the front line of many issues, and not a day goes by without the inevitable question being asked of us: So when is the election?

    As if we are consulted, kept in the loop and have now been sworn to secrecy. So hot and prevalent is the issue that I long ago decided on a specific response: Picking a random date in the future and telling the curious questioner that that's when it will happen.

    There must now be in excess of 60 dates out there, from August through to May next year, that I have randomly cited just to get people off my back. The speculation has become a national pastime.

    But the reality that few appear to accept is that beyond PM Lee himself, and perhaps a handful of others, if at all, no one knows. And do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

    Beyond the importance of needing to know the date because of a significant event being planned - a wedding, a key travel assignment and the like - speculation is a futile exercise.

    Your guess is as good as anyone else's, and your reasons, based on your reading of the tea leaves, are probably as valid as the next guy's.


    But the key, as far as I am concerned, is not the date.

    It is what you - and everyone else who is in a position to vote - do when the time does come.

    Whose side do you come down on and why? Whom do you trust and believe in to best represent your interests, to fulfil the hopes, ambitions, aspirations you have for yourself and your family? Who do you think is best placed to govern and grow the country?

    There will be grand and exciting plans on offer from political parties; candidates - veterans and novices alike - competent and able, they will have you know, and more independent-minded, articulate and daring than the next guy; policies that are bold , innovative, practical, workable, do-able.

    That, to me, is what voters have to be concerned about.

    Not who speaks loudest, is the most entertaining, or promises more giveaways, more freebies but, at the end of the day, lacks the means to deliver on promises and the experience to know that promises come at a cost.

    Anyone who believes the general election is just around the corner and has not done so yet would do well to reflect on the issues at stake, the kind of future they want and who's best placed to deliver it.

    That is a far more important and practical undertaking than the never-ending and futile exercise of trying to speculate on election dates.


    The writer is the political editor of

    The Straits Times. This commentary first appeared in The Straits Times on July 12.