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To the polls!

Kirsten Han photo
Kirsten HanSingapore
To the polls!
After months of speculation the Writ of Election has finally be issued, with Singaporeans to go to the polls on 11 September. And once again that little thrill of political activity runs through the country.

The news came at last: "Parliament has been dissolved!" 

The Writ of Election was issued shortly after the news broke, setting September 1 as Nomination Day, when all candidates are required to submit their nomination papers with the election deposits (S$14,500, or US$10,376, each this time). With a nine-day campaigning period followed by one "Cooling Off Day" – in which no active election campaigning is allowed – Singaporeans will head to the polls on September 11. 

The race is now on for opposition parties to get their houses in order and introduce their candidates. The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) has already got a head-start; they started introducing their candidates the week after the National Day Parade. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also used the annual National Day Rally last Sunday to urge Singaporeans to support the party and provide them with the mandate to lead the country into the future.

It's set to be another exciting election; you don't always get those in Singapore. There have been five general elections so far in my lifetime, and I remember only one of them, that of 2011. In the general elections of 1991, 1997, 2001 and 2006, the number of walkover voters – citizens who would have no chance to vote as the PAP won by default – ranged from 43.4 to 66.8 per cent. I was a first-time voter in 2011, but making a choice at the ballot box was almost as much a novelty to my parents. The last time they'd voted was in 1997.

That's why the 2011 general election was considered a watershed. It was the most contested election since 1988, and awakened many a politically apathetic Singaporean. People began to discuss parties, politics and issues. The rise of social media meant that it was no longer scary to criticise those in power, or to say that one was thinking of voting opposition.

For a young Singaporean, first-time voter and volunteer rookie writer/blogger, it was new and fascinating. 

Once every five years – or less, in the case of this snap election – Singaporeans hold real political power. It's so rare an occurrence in a country like ours that I don't think we quite realise how much power we have. We saw it briefly in Lee Hsien Loong's apologies for the PAP's mistakes during the last elections, as the anger of the electorate over issues such as transport, immigration and security lapses shocked the party. Finally, people said, he is scared enough to say sorry

Much has happened in the past five years, but much has remained the same. Issues that garnered attention during the last election are expected to get an airing this time 'round. Having got a taste of widespread political competition amid an environment of rapid-fire social media interactions four years ago, Singaporeans are now headed for round two. 

Eyes are not on whether the PAP will win – it's a fairly safe assumption that they will receive a majority and form government again – but on the margins: in 2011 they received 60.1 per cent of the vote. It was their worst performance ever. Have they done enough to turn the tide, or are more Singaporeans seeking alternatives?

The next two-and-a-half weeks until September 11 will be jam-packed with press releases, rallies, walkabouts, analysis and speculation. And while it will not be as outrageous, flamboyant or entertaining as elections in countries like the US (where things, I think it is fair to say, are "cray"), it's still one of the most exciting times to be a Singaporean.

#elections, #singapore, #democracy, #politics