“Thirteen of them are in their 20s and 30s, making this the youngest crop since the 1991 General Elections. The PAP will also be fielding its youngest candidate in three decades, Miss Tin Pei Ling” (The Grassroots Edge, With Youth On Its Side: Greener With More Grassroots Experience, Mr. Teo Xuanwei).
The commentary “The Grassroots Edge, With Youth On Its Side” (April 15, 2011) by Mr. Teo Xuanwei: fielding a team of relatively young candidates – many in their 20s and 30s – seems like a calculated decision on the part of the People’s Action Party (PAP). After all, a new generation of Singaporeans would have the opportunity to express their political sentiments at the polling booth come the General Elections; at the same time, they have been taking full advantage of the accessibility of the Internet to expound upon individual perspectives – from concerns over the cost of living to rising healthcare demands et cetera. Younger political candidates, with their exposure and usage of social media and online channels, can also reach out and relate to their corresponding younger constituents more effectively and efficiently.
Nevertheless, has too much emphasis been placed on the age and purported youth of the election hopefuls, instead of allowing for more holistic evaluations of their intrinsic motivations, policy positions and on-the-ground sensitivities? As a young Singaporean and stakeholder, I would not be inclined to vote for a politician on the basis of his age per se. Therefore, if age does not matter, what does?
First, constituents would be well-acquainted with individuals who have been consistently walking the ground, and seizing these opportunities to comprehend bread-and-butter concerns or community issues. Even though many of the recent PAP candidates have had months of experience in grassroots or community involvement; comparatively, their engagement and participation in activities pale miserably in comparison to on-the-ground volunteers or their Opposition counterparts. Additionally, tapping the expertise of the former group can facilitate organisational orientation, and make it easier for the candidates to ease into the roles and responsibilities if they do get elected.
Second, as reiterated on numerous occasions, candidates should proactively render their voices heard as potential parliamentarians. Select candidates have started to utilise online platforms to offer commentaries on substantive policy issues – such as improving healthcare for the elderly, increasing the quality of education – but their content and subsequent responses have been met with mixed reviews online. Young Singaporeans, with their interest and access to information, have constantly reflected the desire to be engaged in dialogues or discussions on socio-economic issues that matter.
Finally, individual candidates – with their diverse backgrounds and credentials – must not be afraid to justify independent questions or clarifications related to their lives or decisions: “why politics when grassroots engagement – the status quo – can be equally fulfilling”, “does non-involvement in community activities – prior to the announcement of candidates – reflect some form of apathy or lethargy”, “does the completion of National Service matter for a political candidate” et cetera. These things matter; and Singaporeans have the right to know.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.