Singapore Adventure

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Vote Early and Often
by jima

"What are you up to this weekend?" I asked Whee Cheng in the hall outside the coffee nook.

"I'm voting! For the first time."

I examined her quizzically. I'd thought her roughly my age, certainly in her 30s, and voting is mandatory in Singapore. Had I grossly misjudged her, mistakenly granting years of experience and maturity to a 19-year-old, fresh out of school and unable to drink legally? Not that I know what Singapore's drinking age is.

She wisely read my look and took pity on my confusion, volunteering that this is the first time since she reached voting age that her district has not been a . Not that I know what Singapore's voting age is.

Strange as this seems to me and surely to most Americans, most Singaporeans would find nothing odd about Whee Cheng's situation. In fact, her situation turns out to be quite common; my lab manager, who is 10 over years older than I am, has never voted and didn't in the recent election.

Also depressingly common is the electoral freakshow. The media widely portrays opposition candidates as incompetent, bungling idiots, and while my wife is scornfully skeptical, the Singaporeans appear to buy it. Whee Cheng gets to break her voting drought only because the opposition candidate, managed to fill in all the paperwork correctly this time, although he failed to turn some of it in, lied about this, was exposed as a liar (dratted ), was forced to confess to all, and was allowed to run anyway. This all was preferable, apparently, to the last election, when he skipped a field on a form and was thus soundly disqualified.

Is Mr. Gomez some nut-job who has to beg to get his mother to vote for him? Not at all! This is a major opposition candidate, with lots of supporters, enough to make the election relatively close. He lost by a 12% margin and the next day was arrested for "criminal intimidation", having threatened an election official (again with the dratted CCTV).

You couldn't make this stuff up. Or could you? If this is typical of those rare occasions when Singapore actually holds an election, I can see why they require everyone to vote. Surely no one would bother otherwise.

The legal drinking age in Singapore is 18. The legal voting age is 21.
The PAP got 66.6% of the vote in the recent election and holds 82 of 84 government seats.