Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pardon my "PAP supporter" face!

I'm going to live in the opposition ward pretty soon. But that's besides the point. Upon signing the documents and stuff with the agent and the elderly sellers, we were talking about how decent the place is and that it was in the opposition ward. The agent, I think it was the agent, remarked that I, Sam, had a face belonging to a person who would vote for PAP.

It was an uneasy moment, but I laughed. But the incident got me wondering about something. I'm not referring to the insanely expensive housing prices, but rather to how political support in Singapore is imagined.

Political affiliation, as sometimes exercised through the vote, which comes by every five years, depending on the elections committee which decides for Singaporeans the best time to vote, is textured by elements of race, class and age.

One half of a young destined to be middle-class Chinese graduate couple, I speak decent English, poor Mandarin, broken Chinese dialect, and I look like someone whom you'll stare in the face for a minute and exclaim with doubt, "Are you PURE Chinese?"

What's "pure" Chinese by the way? Quite scary concept huh? Are you trying to insinuate I'm "unpure"? Do I deserve certain sanctions if I constitute your definition of "unpure"? Will you cleanse this impurity that is Sam? Final solution, any one?

We were buying the flat from an elderly couple, Chinese educated, of seemingly working class roots. So the "yuppie" couple (although I wished I had a yuppie wallet with yuppie money) comes in, English-speaking and all, and you call the boy a supporter of the PAP, just by his looks.

Yes, the PAP government is an institution of middle class values: meritocracy, democracy, technocracy, eugenics (graduate husband + graduate wife = graduate baby), 5 C's. Although it continually adopts and espouses anti-welfarism rhetoric, it is actually exercising socialist policies for the working class folk and the needy. This essentially connects the PAP government with working class folk, winning the working class vote.

Excellent political engineering. Reminds me of the Malay-isation of Singapore to improve Singapore's chance of a merger with Malaya to form Malaysia. I wouldn't call it a pro-Malay policy, but what still stands today is the adoption of a Malay-friendly policy which the PAP takes. You win the Malay vote.

I haven't researched much into politics in Singapore, so my views will be rather short. But I know that one strength the PAP has over the opposition parties is its ability to connect with the Malay population. It is a bit of a generalisation, but this is observed in the electoral contest of Aljunied, a constituency in which I currently reside. What I felt was pivotal to PAP's success in retaining the constituency (maybe they'll gerrymander again to improve their "legitimacy") is their Malay support, which is reflective of their pro-Malay policies. This is something the opposition need to build from the grassroots - engage Malay folk. Then again, most "Malays" in Singapore are not indigenous.

That's the good side of the PAP government. They do think about the ethnic minorities (although not sexual minorities), and also the underprivileged among the working class. When people come to hate the PAP government, they associate the men in white with fat salaries and technocratic and elitist divides.

I believe the disdain with the government is viewed through a working class lens, which makes a critique of elitism and disconnect a lot more damning. The working class frustration against the middle class values and normalities is extended to the government, which is profiled and ascribed with these characteristics. It's like an internet witch-hunt and all you have to do is slap a "Wee Shu Min" mask on some other person.

What is ironic is that the articulate and internet savvy presumably middle-class folk, actually adopt the working class analysis/critique of the government and speak the same way like they do. In using the working class rhetoric to criticise the government, the middle class in a way damns itself.

The "sandwiched" class should speak from the patty where it belongs and not from the bottom bun.

Going back to my experience of being called the guy with the "PAP supporter" face, the worker class seems to internalise a belief that all things English-educated (unpure) Chinese-raced mostly middle-class guys like myself essentially belong to what they imagine as PAP. My face, behaviour and voice become conflated into all things PAP, as perceived by them.

They believe that PAP is middle-class, English-educated Chinese, materialist and potentially elitist. I get profiled accordingly and associated with this description. Profiling someone and having their identity associated/conflated into another category/domain is beyond the action itself. It is layered with undertones of racial, class and age. That's how one creates the differentiation that goes beyond defining the "other".

It's a bit sad that certain forms of rhetoric are used to shape and limit our realities and experiences, which leads to a different understanding and appreciation of these meanings and symbols. Being blinkered by the rhetoric, we may miss out on other aspects of life and the experiences that might enrich us and empower us with different perspectives.


Kevin said...


I'm Peranakan, English-educated, upper-middle class, speaks lousy Mandarin and passable Hokkien.

Yet I've never seen myself as a PAP-type voter. In fact, my heritage has made me more liberal and skeptical.

Sure, I wouldn't turn down a chance to prosper or a couple of million more, but I never believed that one needed to be elitist and snooty to be so.

Perhaps I would classify the atypical PAP voter as the noveau riche, not necessarily English-educated, but someone who has benefited largely from their policies of house ownership, decent education and all that.

The movers and shakers in the realm of social justice and NGOs are ironically those who have grown beyond the middling 5Cs.

Sam Ho said...

i agree with your analysis. the "new rich" will love their government.

any way, i'm still very grateful to the government for the subsidised education they have provided me with (although it would be lovely if it were free, and that probably means more taxes).

when i vote, i don't vote for the larger policies. i vote as firstly, a resident in my own constituency. i'm usually concerned if my place smells like urine and there's a bad pigeon problem and lots of litter.

alex said...

most of the working class, whose rights are being fight for in debates, don't bother to decipher natters, which they don't even know that they have been short-changed or disadvantaged at. tell them foreigners are the reason behind their depressed pay, and they will have the what-can-i-do attitude.
their minds are too preoccupied with working enough to pay for their overdue bills.

the middle class criticize the government from the working class point of view not because they are too free.
they are fighting for an altruistic cause:

for the poor who cant fend for themselves.

Sam Ho said...

i'm not sure about altruism as a motivator of middle class struggle on the part of the working class.

i would think that middle class are fighting with the state for power, engaging in the semiotic war with the institutions, trying to redefine realities as how they deem fit.