Young voters say they will cast their votes with care

Undergraduates Tan Yu Jun (left) and Benedict Chan, both 22, are among an estimated 245,500 youth aged 21-25, most of whom will be voting for the first time.
Undergraduates Tan Yu Jun (above) and Benedict Chan, both 22, are among an estimated 245,500 youth aged 21-25, most of whom will be voting for the first time. ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG
Undergraduates Tan Yu Jun and Benedict Chan (above), both 22, are among an estimated 245,500 youth aged 21-25, most of whom will be voting for the first time. ST PHOTOS: MARK CHEONG

First-time voter Tan Yu Jun, 22 is excited about casting his first ballot. The economics undergraduate and West Coast GRC resident says: "I feel privileged to have a say in the direction Singapore will be taking."

Law undergraduate Ian Low, also 22, and who lives in Tanjong Pagar GRC - which saw a walkover in GE2011 - agrees: "I finally have the right to suffrage, and I have a say in who governs my country."

This year, there will be an estimated 245,500 young voters aged from 21-25, most of whom will be voting for the first time, and 220,700 voters aged 26-30, according to the population census figures of citizens as of June 2014.

Of the 25 first-time voters Insight spoke to, issues like the accessibility of education and social welfare are what they would like to see politicians address on the hustings.

Part-time relief teacher Francoise Lee, 23, who lives in Hougang SMC, appreciates the education policies that have allowed her to earn a degree in sports science and management. But business student Joshua Wong, 24, who is in East Coast GRC, thinks more can be done, saying there is still a stigma surrounding polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

Referring to upgrades such as a $380-million ITE mega campus that opened two years ago, he says: "Just revamping these schools and providing financial support is not sufficient. More has to be done with employers to ensure it is not a paper chase."

Mr Tan, meanwhile, wants to hear more about social welfare policies. More can be done to help less fortunate Singaporeans, especially "those struggling to keep a roof over their head and make ends meet", he says.

Physics undergraduate Jackson Leow, 24, who lives in Ang Mo Kio GRC, admits some policies for the lowest tier of society are comprehensive, but " the middle-class earners are left by themselves".

National University of Singapore (NUS) political scientist Reuben Wong thinks education, jobs and housing will be the key issues among youth. "I am not sure Singaporeans aged 21-30 are so much more confident about their jobs and future as they were in 2011," he says.

East Coast GRC resident and law student Godwin Tan, 22, says it is untrue that only the older generation appreciates the People's Action Party's (PAP's) work. He says: "The peace and prosperity in Singapore do not go unnoticed, especially among the younger generation."

Young voters have been a concern for the PAP, as they prefer more diverse views in politics, which is seen as a disadvantage for the ruling party.

NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser believes that young voters want greater diversity in Parliament, but they will vote only for credible opposition parties.

"It matters to them that whichever government they vote in must deliver stability, good jobs and a decent standard of living," he says.

Similarly, political science undergraduate Henry Lim, 24, of Sembawang GRC, believes his peers will be discerning: "We are not anti-establishment. While conservatives may worry that youth will opt for the opposition for the sake of (it), many young voters also recognise that many opposition parties are just not there yet."

But some first-time voters are concerned about having enough opposition voices in Parliament.

Singapore Management University law undergraduate Benedict Chan, 22, of Aljunied GRC, says: "While I do believe that healthy debate can occur within a single party, having two parties of different values does contribute greatly to having differing, but not necessarily opposing, views."

Jurong GRC resident Amanda Yeo, 21, an accounting undergraduate, says: "Although the opposition is not as strong as the PAP, they are capable and persuasive. Also, it helps to keep PAP on its toes if they do not want to be overtaken by the opposition in the future."

However, biological sciences student Benjamin Goh, 22, a Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC resident, feels opposition voices should not come at the expense of residents' well-being. He says: "The most important thing for an MP has to be the capability to work for your voters."

Ultimately, the youth Insight spoke to emphasised candidate quality rather than political party branding. Mr Chan of Aljunied GRC says: "Candidates should be able to communicate their ideas well but, more importantly, communicate well with residents and translate their opinions in Parliament."

Computer science undergraduate Wong Jing Yao, 22, of Sengkang West SMC, says: "It is not about PAP or the opposition parties, but the components and talents that make up these parties. I will vote for those who can lead us, regardless of their party."

Miss Dew Yang, 23, a pharmacist from Sembawang GRC, says: "My vote, though small, can affect the future of Singapore. With that in mind, I will vote wisely for the most deserving candidates who will be able to lead Singapore for another 50 years."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2015, with the headline Young voters say they will cast their votes with care. Subscribe