IT'S POLLING DAY. Battle lines have been drawn and political parties formed. No, we're not talking about the hustings, but parties of a different kind – the ones where food and a certain amount of alcohol are involved.
Stefanie Yuen-Thio, TSMP Law joint managing partner, avid food-lover and hostess with the mostest, recalls having raucous polling day parties at her house with lots of food and fun-loving guests. Every election, her plans always include 30 to 40 guests who would dig into hawker food prepared a la minute. She says, "I would get a prata man and a kon lo mee lady, and I hire big screen TVs."
The letdown this year is of course the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing measures that only allow her to invite five guests at most. But that isn't stopping her from a smaller scale gathering. "I'm having a mahjong game and watching the results. It should be fun. There will be more than one bet on the table!"
What's on her menu this time? "Long Ji crab bee hoon and cheng tng that I make myself with dried longans I buy at Holland Village wet market. I have also developed a damn good Thai coconut jelly concoction." And of course, lots of Corona beer.
While Ms Yuen-Thio's parties are politically neutral with a dress code that's usually pink or orange, there are those who do lean towards their favourite parties. Like Kong Fengxian's mother, a staunch PAP supporter who cooks up a storm every election and invites only similarly-minded friends and relatives.
"Parties in general are a norm in my family," says Ms Kong, who works in human resource management. "My parents were Malaysians before and first generation Singaporeans, so they really appreciate the government and country. So Polling Day and National Day parties are a big thing. We even dress in red and white on National Day."
There's no dress code for Polling Day, and usually it's just about enjoying a homecooked meal and watching the results on TV. "This year, we're having a nasi lemak party. There are four of us at home and my brother and sister-in-law will come over so that's six of us. My mum initially wanted to invite some friends over, but she decided against it because she didn't know if they were opposition supporters or not," she laughs."She can get quite riled up whenever she hears others badmouthing the government!"
南阳五圣OTHER COLOURS WELCOME南阳五圣
On the flip side, lecturer Genevieve Lee's gathering will not include PAP supporters as the dress code is "anything but white - friends can come in blue or red with any related merchandise," she says. "Just for these few days, the battle lines are drawn."
Polling Day isn't so much for the food ("no plans yet, but there will be some alcohol according to a friend") but more "to be in the presence of like-minded people who share the same hopes and dreams for a democratic Singapore. It is much like the Singapore spirit that was present during the Malaysia Cup days in the 1990s. One united people gathering for a common goal. Except now, we are seeking accountability."
One thing she misses are the rallies, which she had hoped to take her four-yearold daughter to, if not for the pandemic putting a halt to crowded events. But even with the small gathering she's able to have this year, there will be plenty of sparks to keep things interesting.
"Having a debate is always healthy and that's what our parliament needs to have. So yes, there will be squabbles, but it will be friendly since none of the white team pals are allowed."
Daniel Goh has lived in the East Coast for 12 years and will be voting in the hotly contested East Coast GRC. "My family and I follow the electoral contest here closely," says the co-founder of several alcohol-related businesses such as Smith Street Taps and The Good Beer Company. "I used to attend election rallies in the past, and in 2011 I volunteered as a poll agent."
Polling Day used to see him meeting up for drinks with close friends in a hawker centre or coffee shop to follow the results. "Generally, a lot of beer would be involved," he jokes.
But this time, he is wisely watching it from home. "With the coronavirus pandemic still raging, there is just too much risk in meeting outside with friends.
And with social distancing measures restricting gatherings to five people or less, the atmosphere wouldn't be right in any case."
He and his friends will enjoy a virtual drinking session on Zoom instead. "Being in the alcohol business, my stash is rather extensive. I have a wide range of spirits, wines and beers at home."
He's even curating drinks to time with the pacing of the results. "A shot of whisky or rum to celebrate an election result that goes the right way, and a long drink like a gin and tonic or whisky soda for the long waits between announcements."
Food and camaraderie are what make election parties, along with some healthy debate. For Michael Lim, who works in the education sector, "I'm getting five friends to gather in my Holland Village apartment to watch the results. I'm making some strong cocktails, ordering some pizzas and hamburgers, and that's what we'll gorge on for the rest of the night."
It'll be a chance to catch up with pals as well. "In the past week, our WhatsApp chat group has been buzzing with memes and opinions about the candidates. But this time, we'll get to speak our minds in person."
For the director of a brand and lifestyle consultancy, Polling Day is a boisterous affair with siblings and friends who feed on white food or blue and red desserts. "Some dress in political colours, and as we plonk ourselves in the living room instead of the dining room, we would be eating finger food such as kong bak pau," she says. Meanwhile, Mr Lim conceded that the buzz is different this time without the rallies. "I remember some years when my friends and I would trudge through muddy fields in our work clothes and shoes just to listen to the candidates speak. Afterwards, I would have to get my shoes professionally cleaned."
While he doesn't expect any major surprises, "there's some nail-biting action to be had, especially in Aljunied and West Coast GRC".
南阳五圣CAPTURING THE OCCASION南阳五圣
For Darren Soh, it isn't so much about sitting around watching the election results but creating visual memories.
"I've been shooting rallies for a long time, and this year, I was ready to sit it out," says the editorial and commercial photographer. "However, I realised that as a visual archivist, I could not let this gap happen in all the years of me photographing the election."
When he learned that rallies and speeches would go online, he had an idea to shoot the speeches as they were broadcast online on his iPhone, against the background of the actual constituency the politicians were contesting in. "I used my Sony full frame mirrorless cameras to photograph my iPhone, and the photos are posted on my company Facebook page."
He is doing the same for the election results, in one context or another, he adds. While nothing beats the atmosphere and visuals of a live rally, this is an election like no other, and however Singaporeans mark the day, it will be one that stays in the memory for a long time to come.