Dear reader,

One week till you vote! This is Jom’s coverage of the presidential election:

Jom has decided that for the foreseeable future, we will not be making endorsements at elections. We’ll simply assess the candidacies, including policy platforms and characters. This approach, among other things, reflects the diversity of electoral preferences within the team, including with next Friday’s vote.

The last time Singaporeans voted for a president, in 2011, the smartphone was only four years old and TikTok was still five years from creation. This year’s presidential election is the first in which a candidate’s social media “game” will affect their chances. For those of you who have not been following the online contest, Jom has compiled the best videos from Ng Kok Song, Tan Kin Lian, and Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

Might the next president help foster civil society? That’s how 87-year-old Constance Singam has chosen to begin her review of The Singapore I Recognise, a new book by 35-year-old Kirsten Han. I mention age because of the temporal dialogue: “the mother of civil society” is writing about arguably Singapore’s most prominent young activist and journalist.

“Kirsten and her community of activists did not emerge from a historical vacuum, but as part of a strand of history that began at independence…Each generation takes a step, sometimes many steps towards a more progressive, compassionate society. As an activist myself, I appreciate the kind of courage of conviction that Kirsten has displayed, that suspends fears about the fallout to oneself.”

Connie’s own story, as told in her memoirs, is quite remarkable. Whether as a child on Kerala’s beaches in the 40s, discovering Havel in a Berlin train station in the 80s, or completing her MA at 60 and returning with new vigour to activism, Connie is a vessel for larger ideas and forces. The book should really be required reading for anybody interested in the larger Singapore story.

A three-term president at the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), Connie also in 2009 delivered what I consider the most iconic speech in Singapore’s history, during the so-called AWARE Saga. “Where were you?” she asked, over and over again, to the “new guard” insurgents who’d tried to take over the organisation. I still get the chills listening to it.

Connie is by far the oldest writer ever to publish with Jom, and we’re thrilled that she’s published her first piece for us. In the past few weeks, the process of communicating with her over e-mail and WhatsApp for this piece was smoother than with writers many decades her junior. Having had the good fortune to attend a couple of dinner parties at Connie’s flat, and having seen her move around briskly while keeping the conversation flowing, I’d say that she’s a shining example of ageing with purpose.

This week, we also continue with Jom’s first-ever ad campaign. It features four notable public figures endorsing Jom—our newest Jomrades, in other words. We wrote about the first, Teo You Yenn, associate professor at Nanyang Technological University and author of This is what inequality looks like, a few weeks ago, and last week we spoke about Walid Abdullah, assistant professor at NTU and host of the wildly popular “Teh Tarik with Walid”.

This week it’s Dominic Ziegler, Banyan columnist at The Economist. I first got to know Dom over a decade ago when I was working at a sister unit in the firm. He commissioned me to write some pieces on Singapore in the “magazine” (newspaper). I remember one on Kong Hee/Sun Ho. It was really poorly written. Dom had to intervene (in his usual gracious way).

I think it’s great that Dom, along with numerous other journalists from The Economist, are now based in Singapore. They’ll help nurture our local journalistic community—look out for a Jom Cakap event with one of them later this year—while also helping the world better understand Singapore. I love how Dom explained “ownself check ownself” to readers in a recent column.

Finally, in Singapore This Week, our weekly digest, we talk about Tan Kin Lian’s troubling history of racist and sexist posts, public housing policy changes, a gender neutral toilet, the National Arts Council’s 2023 scholarship recipients, and much more.

And like last week, I’ll sign off with a nod to our vote next Friday.

Jom undi,
Sudhir Vadaketh
Editor-in-chief, Jom

p.s. You Yenn is moderating Kirsten’s book launch next Friday evening (Polling Day). The free tickets are gone, but you can put yourself on the waitlist here.

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