It might not strike you as anything out of the ordinary when a teenager shows no interest in politics.
There seems to be a belief among the young that anything to do with politics is “uncool”. Do young people feel that way because they can’t vote until they’re 21? Or is it that youths are disinterested in politics because election talks are always geared at adults and the increasing “grey vote” of the baby-boomers?
Based on what’s going around in cyberspace, young Singaporeans do have an interest in politics. Young Singaporeans may seem apathetic but they can be more involved on the net.
On Young PAP forums, for instance, there are about 13,600 users who post on the Young PAP forums, with 300 or so regular users. Even then, discussions on the forum can stretch from pro-government to almost anti-government. Topics such as “Why LKY should step down” and “All should support Reform Party” are a few topics that stand out.
For example, forum user “rajapisang”, who started a thread titled “Why LKY should step down” posted, “LKY doesn’t want to step down not because he doesn’t believe the present bunch of leaders can’t manage and rule Singapore but because he realises that should he step down now, he might end up like Mahathir or Suharto .” To find such “touchy” topics on a government moderated forum shows the freedom provided for youths to express their thoughts.
Apart from the forums, there are the web logs. P65.sg is an online web log for the younger members of parliament to express their thoughts to the public. Here, readers can see what their future generation of leaders are thinking. Topics posted are usually current issues that have been brought up in parliament. Issues such as rising inflation, social ethics and national security have been hot topics for the past few months. And usually, posts are written in agreement with the government.
Mr Chong Ching Liang, a lecturer from Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP), says, “In the course of my work as a lecturer in NP, I don’t see any evidence that there is an increasing level of interest in politics among the youths of today. However, I’m convinced there’s a potential for change as there are more avenues for both accessing and broadcasting of information without censorship coming in, especially when it comes to the Internet.”
As with all content on the Internet, youths should be able to discriminate given information when reading political blogs, Mr Chong warns.
For example, he notes, the tone of a critical socio-political blog such as Singabloodypore, can variate vastly from what is written at P65.sg. People can fail to ascertain the veracity of these blogs and can be easily swayed by any comments made.
When it comes to educating youths on politics, Mr Chong says that the understanding of “what is politics” should be addressed first.
“Politics isn’t just about the government or the political parties we have in our political structure. It’s an active and critical appreciation of the society we live in and how governmental policies impact our lives,” he explains.
He further adds that when he brings up the issue of politics in his classes, the students seem disinterested. He does not blame the youths for not participating or even being interested in politics.
Mr Chong then poses this question, “How do we as teachers and how the society in general, show or convince youths that politics is relevant to them now and crucial for their future?”
He thinks we can’t teach people to have an interest as patriotism and social consciousness are more in the realm of human emotions. Emotions have to be self-acquired and not indoctrinated.
It can be an uphill task as interest in politics can be sporadic.
Zachary Lim, 19, a Temasek Polytechnic student says, “The last time I went to find out the difference between the PAP and WP was during the last election. And most recently, because of the Chee Soon Juan case in court.”
He adds that as much as he would like to keep up with new information on the socio-political scene, the lack of exposure and education makes him apathetic. However, he knows that as he grows older, he will have to learn to make more informed decisions. For now, Zachary is contented with reading the newspapers and going online to read about what people are saying of domestic politics.
Mr Chong says, “An interest in politics isn’t something that can be forced. You have to develop a mentality where you see yourselves as stakeholders in the country you live in or for the world you live in.”
“If you don’t develop emotions for the society and the country you live in, why would you care enough to have an interest in politics?” he adds.