Wednesday, May 04, 2011

How will new citizens vote?

AT THE age of 47, Mr Saw Han Win Aung is finally getting the chance to vote. The businessman was born in Myanmar, a nation under military rule. He lived in Singapore for 20 years before he became a citizen in 2009.

And as he prepares to take part in the democratic process for the first time, he wants to make sure he casts his vote correctly.

Mr Saw, who will vote in Jurong GRC, pays close attention each time the 'infomercial' telling voters what they should do on Polling Day airs on television.

He said: 'I don't want my vote to be rejected because I was careless and marked the voting slip wrongly.'

Mr Saw is one of several new citizens going to the polls for the first time who told The Straits Times they are excited to have a say in the future of their new home.

Nearly 90,000 people became citizens between 2006 - when the last general election was held - and last year, Ministry of Home Affairs figures revealed. No information was available on how many of them would be voting. It is also hard to determine what proportion of new citizens are of voting age, say political analysts and sociologists.

One thing is for sure, however - the new citizens interviewed by The Straits Times are taking their electoral responsibilities seriously.

Mr Fong Chi Chung, 42, a China-born restaurateur who became a citizen in 2008, said: 'In the past, I found it hard to relate to the general election but this time, it is close to my heart and I have no difficulty immersing myself in it.'

Mr Fong, who has lived here since 2000 and will vote in Moulmein-Kallang GRC, has been closely following the election campaign by reading the newspaper, watching TV reports and surfing the Internet for news.

Mr William Graham, 67, who gave up his British citizenship to become a Singaporean in 2009 after living here for 11 years, likes that Singapore's campaign period is 'short, sharp, intense and focused'.

'This way, people can move on with their lives quickly, or else it gets extremely tedious,' said

Mr Graham, executive director of The Quayside Group of five restaurants. He will vote in Moulmein-Kallang GRC.

Sri Lankan-born retiree Mahinda Thenabadu, 66, who will vote in Marine Parade GRC, is impressed by how orderly the election process is.

'There are rules and everyone, the political candidates and the voters, follow them,' said Mr Mahinda, who became a Singaporean in 2009 after living here for over 30 years.

This group of voters share similar concerns with other Singaporeans on hot election topics such as the cost of living and housing prices.

However, they pay particular attention to the issue of foreign workers, having once been foreigners themselves, and they are likely to be more sympathetic than most other Singaporeans towards workers from overseas.

China-born businesswoman Diana Song, 28, who became a citizen in 2007, said: 'I don't deny there are drawbacks to having too many foreign workers, but I don't think it is right to magnify those and ignore the benefits of having them.'

IT executive Roberto Espanol, 41, left the Philippines for Singapore in 2001 and became a citizen here in 2008. 'I was given a chance to make Singapore my home because the Government welcomed me. But as a new Singaporean, I feel the Government should control the flow of foreigners, and I believe it has been doing so,' said the resident of Marine Parade GRC.

Analysts interviewed said new citizen voters are likely to support the incumbent government.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said immigrants who take up citizenship do so because they 'buy into' the Government and its policies. 'When they converted their citizenship, that's their vote already,' said Associate Professor Straughan.

However, political observer Derek da Cunha said new citizens' voting choices may be influenced by how well they relate to individual candidates. He said: 'For them, being able to identify with a candidate may in fact be more significant as they do not have the experience of voting habitually for any particular political party.'

New citizens interviewed said they will base their votes on candidates and parties who have a proven track record, who consistently show concern for residents in their area, and who have contributed to the success of the country.

Mr Myint Ko Tun, 46, the Myanmar-born director of a power supply company who will be voting in Moulmein-Kallang, said he is looking forward to attending rallies by the Workers' Party and the People's Action Party, which are contesting in his area.

Mr Myint, who has been living here since 2002, said: 'I've made up my mind on who I want to vote for and I don't think the rallies will change my decision but I want to be with other Singaporeans to experience this thrilling moment.'