GE 2015: 50-year wait for this general election

Candidates from the People’s Action Party and the Workers’ Party at the Raffles Institution Nomination Centre on Sept 1, 2015.
Candidates from the People’s Action Party and the Workers’ Party at the Raffles Institution Nomination Centre on Sept 1, 2015.PHOTO: ELD
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong leads his team during a walkabout at Ang Mo Kio Central on Sept 1, 2015.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong leads his team during a walkabout at Ang Mo Kio Central on Sept 1, 2015.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
PAP supporters, including the PM's wife Ho Ching seen in the left of the photograph waving a small Singapore flag, at Raffles Institution nomination centre on Sept 1, 2015.
PAP supporters, including the PM's wife Ho Ching seen in the left of the photograph waving a small Singapore flag, at Raffles Institution nomination centre on Sept 1, 2015.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
A Reform Party supporter at the Raffles Institution nomination centre on Sept 1, 2015.
A Reform Party supporter at the Raffles Institution nomination centre on Sept 1, 2015.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - If you've never been at a nomination centre on the day the candidates register for the general election, you haven't missed much.

For observers, it's mostly waiting - outside - while all the action is taking place inside.

At Raffles Institution where I was this morning (Sept 1), that means in the hot sun, out in the open field where RI boys in white play their sports.

Not today though.

There's plenty of men and women in white from the ruling party but the school itself is closed for this, the start of the GE, to determine exactly which candidate from which party will contest in which constituency.

For party supporters who have gathered here to cheer their teams, the mood is relaxed, even celebratory.

The PAP crowd which outnumber the opposition at least 2 to 1, burst out occasionally in song with We Are Singapore and Home, but, out here in the open, it's hard to work up the sound level.

For the opposition, it's mostly the people in blue from the Workers' Party with their red flags, though there are two other parties in contention here - the SPP team contesting Bishan-Toa Payoh and the Reform Party taking on the Prime Minister and his Ang Mo Kio GRC team.

But they are few in number.


Workers' Party supporters at the Raffles Institution Nomination Centre on Sept 1, 2015. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

"Not that many supporters compared to the PAP", I say to the person next to me.

"It's a working day, and they are from the Workers' Party," he quipped.

The battle lines are beginning to be drawn.

It's 12.45pm, and the first of the candidates appear on the balcony facing their supporters; this is the moment when the contest is officially declared.

They take turns to speak but it is mostly introductory remarks; there will be time for many more speeches the next nine days.

The excitement level picks up when Mr Ng Eng Hen of the PAP, who is leading his team in Bishan-Toa Payoh, took a jibe at opposition supporters who had started jeering the PAP candidates when they speak, including PM Lee Hsien Loong.

"We have educated Singaporeans to behave in a way that is right, not like these supporters who are just jeering," he pointed at the opposing side.

Even louder jeers followed.

It is 7pm and I am at Ang Mo Kio Hub watching the PM and his GRC team work the ground.

It's been a busy day for him, at RI in the morning, a press conference at PAP HQ in Changi in the late afternoon and now in his own ward.

At the NTUC Fairprice supermaket, it is jam-packed with evening shoppers and now everyone wants to take a photo with him.

It is only Day One, but the stage is set for a historic contest with every one of the 89 seats being contested.

It is the first time since the 1965 elections - that's 50 years ago, and a fitting cap to the Jubilee year celebrations.

Too many Singaporeans have grown up not having voted because there were no contest in their wards for far too many elections.

Too many have become either completely disengaged from politics or cynical about the system that had led to this state of affairs.

For the candidates, the political awakening of the Singaporean voter means they have to work extra hard to win hearts and minds.

When WP's Png Eng Huat of Hougang SMC was asked this morning how well he slept last night in preparation for today, he was only half joking when he said: "I haven't slept the last three years."

Mr Lim Swee Say, helming the PAP team at East Coast GRC in a contest with the WP that is closely watched, would know what he means.

"Our preparations began in 2011, as our vote share dropped and that was a strong signal to us... So the past four and a half years, we have enacted many measures on the policy level.. (and) on the municipal level, our interaction is deeper and more intimate," he told reporters this morning.

So, on the first day of the campaigning, my vote goes to the voters of Singapore, now that, after 50 years, every single one of them has the opportunity to choose which MP to send to Parliament.

It's been a long, long wait.