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Getting out of apathy zone
Fri, Feb 19, 2010
tabla!

By Sheela Narayanan

CYNTHIA Mark R. Mohan is the kind of candidate the Young PAP - the youth wing of the ruling People's Action Party - would like in its ranks.

She is a young, bright, articulate Singapore Indian woman who is politically engaged. The 25-year-old, who works with a shipping company, joined the Young PAP (YP) last April and is part of the surge of new members - more than 1,000 last year - the organisation has welcomed.

Miss Mohan told tabla! that her interest in politics was triggered when she was part of the National University of Singapore's students' union.

"In university, I found that there were two groups of people, one that was politically apathetic - most of them wanted to get a good degree, get a good job and get out of Singapore - and the group that opposed government policies," she said.

"When I was in the union, I found that this apathy and opposition were growing and it got difficult to do things when it came to fighting for student welfare, like the increase in university fees. We had certain issues we wanted to approach but it was a challenge to rally a student body with such opposing viewpoints."

Despite being disinterested in politics, even though she had a mother who had a keen interest in it, Miss Mohan felt she needed to make a contribution: "I felt that something needed to be done. If I could not bring this (the apathy and the opposing views) up to the top, I could do something at the ground level, through my friends and my peers."

After evaluating the youth wings of all the political parties here, she decided that the YP was the best fit for her as the PAP was a big draw factor.

"When it came to what I wanted to achieve, I felt that the PAP was more aligned because it was not just about politics, it was also about working with the community," she said.

Indian influx... Miss Mohan (right, with other new members of YP). They were part of some 1,000 new members of the PAP's youth wing.

YP memberships are issued through the 84 branches under the constituencies in Singapore and Miss Mohan became a member of the Pasir Ris branch where she volunteers as a petition writer during the Member of Parliament's Meet-The-People sessions every week. Members have to be between the ages of 18 and 40.

Like her, Mr Harish Kumar Janak Shah, who co-ordinates training programmes for a local organisation, became politically aware only when he was an undergraduate at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

In 2007, he joined YP, volunteering at the Marine Parade GRC. "After my exposure overseas, I felt I had to get involved, to be part of the discourse," said Mr Shah, 29.

Mr S. Shaikh Ismail, chairman of the YP network, is in charge of the organisation's membership. He feels that the increase in membership is due to two main reasons: The efforts of the YP branches to recruit new members; and YP's effort to shed its image as the youth extension of the PAP, which it did by reconfiguring itself as an organisation that also serves the community.

"A lot of youths came in wanting to make a difference, not just sit down and receive information about policies, which was what YP used to do," he said.

He estimates that about 10 per cent of the 1,000 new members are Indians and would like to see more young Singaporeans - both new and "old" citizens - joining the YP.

sheela@sph.com.sg

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