Singapore, 28 April 2011
Yesterday in Singapore was ‘Nomination Day’ – a day when the slate of candidates for the 7 May General Election is decided. When people first started talking to me about Singapore’s upcoming election, to be completely honest, I thought it would be disinteresting, impassionate and predictable. For me, elections should be something like Donald Trump’s bizarre ‘run’ for a Republican nomination in the U.S. 2012 Presidential Election. Well, I am happy to admit that I am once again wrong. Of the 87 seats, 82 will be contested on 7 May (with the Aljunied GRC seat shaping up to be the key battleground), meaning 2,211,102 of the 2,350,873 eligible voters can cast their vote at the polls. This makes Singapore’s 11th election the biggest electoral battle for the People’s Action Party (PAP) since independence; and the day did not go by without some flair.
Controversy started early in the week when the Singapore Democratic Party fielded a purpotedly gay candidate, Vincent Wijeysingha, to stand for the coming election. A video posted on the internet shows Wijeysingha discussing whether ‘Section 377A (“Outrages of decency”) of Singapore’s penal code’, which criminalises male-to-male relationships, violates the constitution. He also discusses whether the age of consent for boys should be lowered to be 14 years of age. This is believed to be the video:
**NB: ‘sotong’ is a Malay term, colloquially meaning ‘stupid’. When discussing food, it means ‘squid’.
On Tuesday, the PAP was forced to make a last-minute change after prospective candidate Steve Tan dropped out of contention for the Tampines GRC at the last minute citing ‘personal reasons’ after discussions with his wife. Tan was replaced with Baey Yam Keng from Tanjong Pagar GRC, who in turn, was replaced with Dr. Chia Shi-Lu, who received the call to serve the night before Nomination Day. When the PAP won the Tanjong Pagar GRC seat in a walkover, within 15 hours Chia went from orthopaedic surgeon to Member of Parliament. The walkover was assisted by the opposition candidates, the Singapore Democratic Alliance, filing their nomination papers 35 seconds after the noon deadline and thus being disqualified from contending the seat on GE day.
Then on Nomination Day, Independent candidates Ooi Boon Ewe and Boon Suan Ban were involved in frenetic scrambles to find enough assentors to back their bids for Sengkang West SMC and Mountbatten SMC respectively. Another independent who wanted to be on the Mountbatten SMC ticked was Zeng Guo Yuan. Zeng turned up in a yellow baju kurung and a songkok and when asked about his choice of clothing, he said he had converted to Islam and that his name was now Muhamad Ali. When reminded by a reporter that he had an unpaid fine – from a previous conviction for molesting a woman – that could bar him from running, he tore up an envelope believed to contain his nomination documents and stormed off.
Despite the glitz and glam of the day, the result still begs the question of whether this will be the start of a genuinely competitive, two- or even multi-party democracy in Singapore? Despite some analysts saying that the PAP’s share of the vote could dip below 60%, there is no sign yet of the fraying of relations between the Lee Hsien Loong led PAP and Singaporean citizens, who trade some individual freedoms for prosperity and stability. As PM Lee so adequately put it in his post-Nomination Day media conference: “But what we would like to tell Singaporeans (is), when you vote, think carefully because it affects your property value, it affects your neighbourhood, it affects your country, it affects your future.”
 A candidate needs at least four assentors, in addition to proposer and seconder to be present at the time of filing his nomination.