It is not every day that you interview a candidate in the General Election. But then again, it is not every day that you meet someone from Singapore’s newest party. We sat down with Nicholas Tang from Red Dot United. Nicholas, who turns 28 this year, is one of the 12 founding members of Red Dot United (RDU), and is the second youngest member in the party (the youngest being 25).
Nicholas’s inspiration to join politics came during his time in the UK, and seeing the passion that the British youth had for their own political issues. After meeting one of RDU’s founders, Ravi Philemon, he found Philemon’s ideas “exciting”. For Nicholas, he was sold on RDU’s campaign platform, ‘captains of our own lives’. In his view, Singaporeans need to move away from a paternal culture.
As a party which is only two weeks old, the RDU does not have a formal youth wing. It intends, however, to begin a youth wing after the election.
According to Nicholas, lack of a formal youth wing has not hindered the youth voice in the RDU. As he highlights, given the size of the party the youth voice has a significant proportion in the party. As a youth member of RDU, he does not “feel as though we are being buried by the older voices”.
Nicholas demonstrates that RDU’s proportion of youth voices touches upon the larger issue of ensuring a youth voice in society as a whole. “One of the problems with politics today, is that the youth do not feel like they are being heard … so the youth feel their voices are being silence in some way. What [RDU] wants to do is listen and make sure they are being heard”.
How then does the RDU plan to nurture the youth in Singapore?
Part of RDU’s charter is to “become a social political platform for people”. RDU wants to encourage discourse outside of simply having elections.
One of RDU’s ideas is to organise ‘mock parliamentary sessions’ for the youths. Where they can discuss and have a balanced discussion. From LGBTQ issues to climate change, the RDU hopes to see a more youthful debate.
Here to stay
“In the next five years we definitely want to grow the party, and we are definitely here to stay,” explains Nicholas.
RDU is intending for Jurong to be its home ground.
One of RDU’s focuses would be to “encourage an active citizenry”. Nicholas explains that the reason for the political apathy in Singaporeans is that they “never took an interest when they were young”. For Nicholas, the issue is that the government shys away from teaching or discussing social issues (both in public and in schools).
For RDU this fostering of an active citizenry starts young.
It is a common saying that joining the opposition is often a risky choice for individuals. But, maybe due to a change in the political wind, Nicholas never experienced any negative sentiments from his friends and family.
In one instance, one of the RDU’s volunteers posted how “she wanted to know more about Singapore politics, the party, and that’s why she followed us around”. As Nicholas recounts, this experience helped her realise “the difficulties opposition parties have in Singapore and how much effort it takes to campaign”. This experience touched on one of Nicholas’ hopes for the future.
“This is very memorable to me because it is exactly what we set up to do. We wanted to energise the youth. We wanted to energise the people … and we have gotten people who have taken an interest.”
That being said, some people have also called Nicholas “brave” for joining the opposition. But, for him, “[he] wants to live in a Singapore where joining the opposition or joining politics is not considered a brave move. But rather consider that something anyone can do.”
Nicholas recounts an incident relating to nomination day. The Elections Department published the assentors’ IC numbers on the board for verification. “Some of the PAP members had taken pictures of their IC numbers and they wanted to check whether these assentors belonged to the GRC that they said they were from, we objected to this of course … the checks could have been done entirely by the ELD. And our assentors were not very happy with that.” For Nicholas, outside of the private sphere, there is a certain level of “fear mongering in Singapore that I think should be avoided. I don’t think politics should be scary for something to enter into.”
Who moves first?
RDU’s views on youth political participation pins priority on “government policy … these all have a chilling effect on discourse and conversation. It leads to the youth to not speak up on issues.”
Nicholas highlights the recent case of Hwa Chong Institution recommending their students to avoid discussing politics on social media. On one walkabout, the RDU talked to a student from the HCI. When asked about his school’s policy, he simply replied “no comment”.
For Nicholas, it seems the youth voice needs to be bolstered in Singapore. The lack of conversation, he feels, creates a culture opposed to fear, and is a result of a culture which is averse to trying. It is this ‘trying’, which led Nicholas to join the RDU.
Many parties comprise youth voices. Stay tuned for our coverage of youth wings throughout Singapore.