The biggest fight since 1963
"What are you doing here if it's your day off?" a journalist exclaimed to a colleague on Monday afternoon as we settled down to a small press conference. "Tomorrow we have to go into battle."
And to battle stations we all trooped today as politicians of all stripes put the finishing touches on their nomination papers and headed to nine nomination centres (or primary schools) across the island to get their candidacy confirmed. Volunteers with The Online Citizen joined scores of professional journalists at the nomination centres, wilting under the blazing heat just so they could send photos and updates back to me, holed up alone in the office and furiously tweeting live updates.
Nomination Day in Singapore is a big deal; it marks the official start of the election campaigning period, the moment it becomes legal for political parties to unfurl their flags and hold them high. In a city-state where public assemblies are generally illegal – particularly if they are political in nature – Nomination Day also marks the beginning of ten days in which Singaporeans are allowed to be unabashedly political, declaring party allegiances and chanting at rallies.
This year things took on an added significance. For the first time since 1963 – even before Singapore's independence – every single seat is being contested in the election. No walkovers. Every registered voter will make it all the way to the ballot box this year. For the residents of Tanjong Pagar GRC, this will be the first opportunity they've had to vote since 1988.
It felt embarrassing at first to be excited about such a basic feature of democracy as that of seeing a contest for every seat in Parliament, but friends quickly reminded me that this was, in the Singaporean context, progress.
The 2011 general election gave people the feeling that there was change in the air. This time it's about strengthening that change, so that Singaporeans get more and more accustomed to exercising our political rights. It's not so much about whether the opposition wins or loses, but that voters actually made a choice.