Second part of interview with Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan
Youth excited by green issues, but... They’re just not that into POLITICS
IF VOTING were not mandatory, two out of five Singaporeans aged 21 to 35 wouldn’t be bothered to cast their ballot, according to a recent survey of 1,003 young voters commissioned by The New Paper.
Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan, speaking with TheNew Paper last week, provided yet another personal anecdote.
He said: “A good GP friend commented to me the other day that his kids do not know much about our political leaders. The only minister they can recognise is me because I am a family friend.
“These are post-secondary kids, with highly educated parents.”
But neither the survey finding nor his doctor friend’s observation fazed the minister.
All of this doesn’t mean that our youth are an apathetic bunch.
Mr Khaw believes that Singapore’s youth are actually quite passionate about many issues, just not the political ones.
“Young people’s interests are several,” he said. “I find that the green movement excites them a lot. How to protect the planet, organic eating, animal loving and so on, which is good, because they are mindful of how we are destroying our planet.”
Times have changed
He said that the youth care less about politics compared with those from his own generation because times have changed.
Back when he was younger, he said that his generation saw a lot of injustice in society.
“(There was) corruption, cronyism... if you wanted to move up, you would have needed to pull strings, cables and connections. There’s racial discrimination.
“So those injustices arouse in people a certain political belief,” he said.
But today, the political scene here is so “stable”, with very little instances of injustice.
“It just doesn’t excite (them). But it doesn’t mean that they are fundamentally not excitable,” he added.
“They are excited by other issues of the day. During our time, we were not too excited about a green planet and pollution because the sky was blue. What was there to be excited about?
“Whereas for young Singaporeans, the politicians are largely clean, the system largely corruption-free, but the air is hazy. Therefore, that excites them.
“That’s why I never agree with this comment that the young Singaporeans are apathetic. I think that’s unfair.”
He has a good example in his own household. His second daughter became a vegetarian years ago out of love for animals.
Mr Khaw added that his three daughters, who are all in their 20s, have “not the slightest” interest in entering politics but are up-to-date on political issues.
When engaging young Singaporeans in issues, MrKhaw said he finds it not difficult to explain topics like health care, sickness and medical insurance.
He said: “Just stick to basics and explain them in simple terms. For example, health-care cost is high because you need specialists and well-trained nurses. And they need to be paid.
“But if we save regularly, after several years, we will have enough to pay for the treatment despite the high cost. Hence, we have Medisave.
“But some unlucky ones can get very sick requiring very costly treatment – like cancer, or heart bypass. So we must spread the risk and buy insurance, hence MediShield.
“But if everything fails, there is the Government to provide the safety net, hence Medifund. It is not complicated when explained this way.”
He does find some of their comments surprising.
“For example, young girls like to look pretty, yet some take to smoking, discolouring their teeth. So there is a disconnect for me.
“After extensive probing, I find that the home and peer environment do not make it easy for them to quit. Many want to quit but fail repeatedly.
“When the father smokes, the brothers smoke, the boyfriend smokes, it takes a lot of determination to quit.”
Luckily for him, none of his daughters smokes. Two of them exercise regularly, like him.
“My complaint about them is that they are too skinny, but they think they are okay,” he joked.
With an estimated one in four voters aged between 21 and 35 this coming General Election (GE) – many of them first-time voters – this has been described as a “watershed” election by some commentators.
All three of Mr Khaw’s daughters will vote for the first time, in Ang Mo Kio GRC.
On whether his children are pro-PAP and if he gave them any advice as first-time voters, Mr Khaw said: “They have been to neighbouring countries and they know the importance of a good, clean government. They are pro-good governance... they do not need any advice from me.”
So how will this GE be different from previous GEs for Mr Khaw?
He said: “Every GE has its share of first-time voters, so that aspect is not new.
“But what is critical this time round is that Singaporeans will be voting in their fourth-generation leadership that will steer Singapore through the next 10 to 20 years. This is the critical issue.”