It was the first elections without the legendary man Lee Kuan Yew himself, on the year Singapore celebrates her milestone of 50 years. It was also the fiercest elections where all 89 seats were contested and alternative voices were widespread on social media.
The results of the recent General Elections may be a surprise to some, and there may be some of us still reeling from the results. Regardless, one cannot deny that it was an event that mesmerised the nation — it made us temporarily forget the ongoing haze problem to talk about what politicians said at rallies — and held us hostage for a while.
Besides manifestos, charming speakers with compelling back stories, colour-coded uniforms donned by the respective parties, and riveting speeches all around, this year’s elections was a visual buffet. From the newspapers to the myriad of social media platforms, we were treated to the technicolour spectacle that was GE2015. What is the elections without photos?
Alvin Ho is a photographer. More regularly seen at live concerts and musical shows, he is one stealthy and hardworking individual. This time, he swapped habitats and got into the chaotic orderliness of the General Elections. I say orderliness because if you attended any rally during the period, you’d have seen police personnel lining the sides of the arena, prepared for the worst.
While the political parties chose to parade bright colours, Alvin was skulking somewhere around dressed in black — the customary colour for most photographers. He is conscientious in his work, saying, “You have to be alert to your surroundings and pay attention to what is going on for key moments. You have to cover different angles of the event — the closeups, the crowd shots, etc. It’s also very emotionally charged, much like a concert. You can’t direct a photo, all you can do is merely observe and wait for the correct moment to present itself.”
The job of the photographer does not begin and end on the field itself. Alvin says, “Before the rally begins I take some time to do a little background research on the ongoings of the night, or of the speakers. I usually arrive a little bit earlier before hand to check out the situation and my surroundings. I think about the potential photos that I could take. As it begins, I slowly make my way through the crowd and start snapping.”
Some days, he slogs the night away. On September 3, he went to Boon Keng for the Worker’s Party rally, and then after, he zoomed straight to Buangkok for the PAP rally for the Paris Ris-Punggol GRC. Keep in mind that photographers only had three hours to get all the material they need, because all rallies had to end at 10pm sharp.
“The rallies are where you can listen first hand and experience the changing perspectives of the people. Upbeat cheers, rational speeches, casual applause or straight-out rowdiness. Each party’s rally is unique in its own way. People went all out with their support with banners, flags and party merchandise. This impressed me as it could be anyone from your neighbourhood, not like a particular fan at a concert,” Alvin reminisces.
Still, some rallies were going to be more memorable. He shared how the rally in Potong Pasir resonated with him the most because he had lived there all his life, and cited the ‘kampong spirit’ that was still strong in the small town.
Alvin’s pictures, though monochromatic, evokes a lot of emotions and is a stellar example of letting pictures tell the story. Through the elections period, he realised that what he captured on his camera was a bit of history, and a tribute to the extraordinary people of the nation — whether a fiery politician determined to win over the residents in his GRC, a feverish supporter at rallies, or a devoted civil servant keeping guard at arenas — Alvin had been part of a movement that saw a spirited side of Singapore.
He takes us through five photos and the stories behind them:
The Worker’s Party’s rallies are known for their massive crowd turnouts, particularly in Hougang. This was the rally for Jalan Besar GRC in front of Block 4 Boon Keng Road.
There is a saying that behind every successful man is is a wise, strong and hardworking woman. Despite his age and physical frailty, Mr Chiam See Tong didn’t fail to stand up at all five of the Singapore People’s Party’s rallies, with Mrs Chiam’s never ending support.
The People’s Action Party rally at UOB Plaza was one of two lunchtime rallies. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, also Secretary General of the nation’s ruling party, is seen with his fist raised – bearing similarities to his own late father, Mr. Lee Kwan Yew, when he also campaigned.
The distinctive slope-roofed HDB blocks, and a single feeder bus that connects the town and small provision shops are what gives Potong Pasir its rustic charm. The home rally has always been special to me as a resident born and bred in this neighbourhood. The kampung spirit is always strong in the crowd.
In the seat of Mr and Mrs Chiam See Tong’s faithful and iconic Volkswagen Beetle which they traversed Europe, Turkey, Afghanistan, India and Malaysia in. It has been with Mr Chiam since he started his political journey in 1976, when he campaigned with a loudhailer attached to its roof.
I ask if he will be up to cover the next elections as rigorously, and he says, “Yes, definitely. It will be exciting to witness what happens in 5 years’ time and see what the political landscape of Singapore has morphed into.”