I’m writing this issue on National Day itself—it’s the 54th anniversary of the day Singapore left the Federation of Malaysia. Today, Popula also published an essay that I wrote for them, entitled “A ‘Traitor’ To My Country”, where I reflect upon the bizarre experience of being accused of treachery against Singapore, and why such accusations aren’t good for our society in the long run.
Ooh, and one more thing: I’m really sorry I had to cancel the democracy classroom on the 8th because I had stomach flu (ugh), but the one later today is still on!
The Citizens’ Agenda!
I’m going to be extra cheeky this week and kick off this issue with a plug: last week, New Naratif launched our first edition of The Citizens’ Agenda, a new initiative to double down on our engagement with members and readers, and make sure our community has a voice in our process.
We’re starting The Citizens’ Agenda with just Singapore for now, since it’s our first time, with a focus on the upcoming general election (whenever that is). We’re inviting people to fill in this survey to tell us what issues are important to them; we’ll then categorise these responses and then ask Singaporeans to rank them in order of importance. The top five issues will help shape our coverage, and we’ll also be approaching candidates to ask them about their position on these issues. But don’t just take it from me, here’s New Naratif’s Managing Director PJ Thum explaining how it works:
Please fill out the survey, and share this page far and wide—we want as many Singaporeans as possible to be involved! (And of course, if you’d like to support our work at New Naratif, become a member.)
Election chatter (you can read this if you’re 18)
Last Saturday, the Progress Singapore Party had its official public launch (not to be confused with the press conference launch I wrote about in a previous issue). I wasn’t at the morning session, but went to the afternoon one, which was pretty well-attended—all the seats were taken up, with people standing in the back half of the room.
There still wasn’t a whole lot of detail about policies and proposals, but the PSP did mention that they plan to champion lowering the voting age to 18 years old. Malaysia lowered its voting age earlier this year, leaving Singapore the only country in ASEAN where the voting age is still 21.
But the PAP government has no intention of lowering the voting age, says Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing. “Voting in elections involves making serious choices, which requires experience and maturity,” he said in response to a question in Parliament.
This seems weird, though, because the state certainly treats many 18-year-olds like adults; 18-year-old young men are conscripted into the armed forces and trained to use guns. Some young people are also charged as adults for particular crimes (remember Amos Yee?) So if the state can treat you as an adult, and have you take on adult burdens, it seems only fair that you should have a vote, no?
The PSP isn’t the only party getting an early start. The Singapore Democratic Party has also come out to say that it’ll be contesting the same five constituencies that it did during the last election. The SDP is also still calling for an opposition coalition—something that the PSP also hasn’t ruled out.
Education and the taxpayers’ dime
There’s been talk of education recently: more specifically, who’s paying for what. Some are unhappy that the PAP government spends quite a tidy sum each year on scholarships and tuition grants for international students, but the government says that no Singaporean has been displaced from university because of foreign students. The publicly-funded cohort participation rate in Singapore is around 30% (although this Ministry of Education webpage doesn’t seem to be very updated…?)
Singapore’s very own Jolovan Wham is interviewed by Amanda Tattersall in this episode of the ChangeMakers podcast. He talks about his work and his motivations, and the lessons he’s learnt being involved in activism in a difficult environment like Singapore.