Sunday 6 September 2015

Rallying cry: Wanna be a candidate? Fill up the form correctly & speak Hokkien

Let me first say I have nothing against Uber drivers. I have never used Uber before, but I imagine that one day I will.

I may even use the services of Mr Shirwin Eu, the Uber driver who became famous for 15 Warhol minutes after he was in the news for collecting a nomination form at the Elections Department.

But his plan to run as an independent candidate for Bukit Panjang SMC in the General Election was thwarted when, according to his Facebook post, “my wife told me all my existing signatures are invalid”.

He told The New Paper: “I didn’t read the election handbook.”

Apparently, the signatures he got were not from Bukit Panjang residents. As he explained on Facebook: “My friendship too limited in west, no friends in bp smc.”

I can relate. My “friendship” is limited in the West too. And the East. And the North. And the South.

To salvage his nomination, Mr Eu posted on Facebook:
“To only bukit panjang smc voters, I will be reimbursing your transport/ meal allowance tomorrow at $50 (neg) if you are willing to sign for me (limited to first 10 signatures) and be present at nomination centre tmrw.”
Shockingly, his generous offer was not taken up. Thus, Mr Eu’s bid to become the first Uber driver to stand for election in Singapore came to a dead end.

But still, he came pretty close to being a candidate. Hey, at least he got the nomination form.

I wish I had made the trip to Prinsep Link to pick up the form and be treated like a rock star by the media.

And I would have, but the Elections Department is too far to walk from the nearest MRT station, which is either Dhoby Ghaut or Bras Basah.

Ironically, I could have used Uber.

I mean, if Mr Eu could almost become a candidate, why couldn’t I?

But to be a candidate takes more than just filling up the form correctly.

Never mind running town councils and a willingness to lose your $14,500 deposit. What I’ve noticed in the past few days and in previous elections is that being a candidate requires a lot of public speaking.

Surveys regularly show that many of us fear public speaking more than anything else, even death. This is understandable. If I were asking people to vote for me at a political rally and some clown in the crowd shouted, “No!”, I’d wish I were dead too.

But since I’m a heckler myself, getting a taste of my own medicine would be kismet.

And as if speaking to an audience of possible trolls isn’t harrowing enough, it seems that as a candidate you’re expected to speak in multiple languages too.

Candidates like Mr Chan Chun Sing of PAP, and Mr Pritam Singh and Mr Leon Perera of Workers’ Party spoke in English, Mandarin and Malay at their rallies.

Singapore Democratic Party candidate Chee Soon Juan spoke in English, Mandarin, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Malay, Tamil and possibly Klingon.

Even though I got a respectable B4 for my O-level Chinese (ahem), I’m pretty much a “potato-eater”, meaning I’m a Westernised Chinese person who speaks mostly English (and eats potatoes on occasion).

If not for my mother, I wouldn’t use my mother tongue at all. (Ohhh, so that’s why it’s called “mother tongue”.)

But just speaking Mandarin isn’t enough. To connect with the (predominantly Chinese) voters and prove you’re not a potato-eating elitist but a man (or woman) of the people, you need to also speak a Chinese dialect — preferably Hokkien — even if you’re not Chinese.

It seems all the candidates, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, have used at least some Hokkien in their rally speeches, going against years of Speak Mandarin campaigns.

Just don’t call it pandering.

Fortunately, I know some Hokkien, thanks to national service. Unfortunately, most of the Hokkien I know are swear words.

Hokkien is the largest Chinese dialect group in Singapore. Teochew and Cantonese are second and third largest respectively. Then come the Hakkas and Hainanese.

I’m from the last group, which is why I’m disappointed I have yet to hear a rally speech in Hainanese.

PAP’s candidate for Hougang SMC, Mr Lee Hong Chuang, is Hainanese, which raised my hopes. But then The Straits Times reported that he learnt Teochew to connect with Hougang residents. No chicken rice for him!

Now I really wish I had picked up a nomination form like the Uber driver did. I would have been the first candidate at a rally to speak in Hainanese.

That is, after I overcome my fear of public speaking, you know, since I’m such a shy, introverted fellow.

No, wait. I just remembered my Hainanese kind of sucks.

Must be all the potatoes I’ve eaten.

Damn you, McDonald’s french fries!

- Published in The New Paper, 6 September 2015

UPDATE: The Hokkien election: Politicians speaking (& singing) in our favourite dialect