24 January 2013

The roads taken to a by-election

On the eve of cooling off day, I make no prediction on the by-election for the ward of Punggol East but instead offer everyone a platform for reflection for their words and actions, the paths they chose to take to herd public opinion and potential voters for the vote on Saturday.

We don't need opposition unity

Perhaps overcompensating for the loss of the multi-cornered presidential election last year, online commentators, bloggers, and alternate media groups were more than eager to declare the Workers Party the natural candidate to contest the People's Action Party in Punggol East.

Whatever the merits of this argument, which has just about as many holes in it as Singapore's take on the concept of meritocracy, online commentators, bloggers, and alternate media groups saw their role to cajole, intimidate, castigate, ridicule, and in essence bully the Singapore Democratic Party, the Reform Party, the Singapore Democratic Alliance, and their supporters into dropping out of the contest, in the interests of "opposition unity" and the apparent mandate of heaven for the Workers Party.

In the best of worlds, the blogosphere ought to be a vanguard of society. It may not be representative of the public (not to say the voting population of Punggol East), but it can lead public discussion, shape responses and criticisms to policies.

We at Illusio question the mobilisation of online resources to be unleashed as attack dogs on RP, SDP, and SDA. As a vanguard, the power of the blogosphere has been underestimated and misused. Long after the nominations were tendered and the by-election was under way with rallies held, my online colleagues continued to expend much effort attacking the RP and SDA. Now if these two parties are that obviously non-contenders, why did the attacks persist till 22 January?

I do not enjoy calling my fellow Singaporeans political illiterates. Yet many of the loudest voices of this fortnight seem to forget the political narrative: the PAP is on a long downhill slide in popularity and it is far more effective and economical for the political blogosphere to drive up the negatives of the PAP during this by-election instead of driving up the negatives of their non-preferred opposition parties.

They have forgotten their power as the vanguard to set the national issues for this election, their power to force agendas onto the political incumbents. Because of this curious blindness and muteness, the major national level issue of AIM-gate only surfaced, brought up half-heartedly at the WP rally last night - 3 days before the election.

Again, I do not enjoy calling my fellow Singaporeans political illiterates. What appears to be elite strategy to leave major issues of an election unexamined till the eve of the election is pure unadulterated utter stupidity. It is a strategy designed to not make major issues count in an election. Where the blogosphere could have pushed the agenda on both the PAP and WP, to accelerate the timeline so that this major issue has sufficient time to percolate into the considerations of voters, by and large it chose not to.

This particular argument applies to the SDP as well. Whatever merits its decision to pull out of the election, the SDP is not excused from continuing to speak out against the policy failures of the ruling party, and driving up its negatives.

We hope the blogosphere at large will reflect on their mis-steps in this by-election, get themselves a real political education, and do better by 2016.


Anonymous said...

Damn right!

But why didn't you say this earlier?

akikonomu said...

I would have been a subject of an internet lynching had I said this before 22 January when the tide started to turn.

Anyhow Hantam said...

I think I have to disagree with your arguments, but I will concede some, maybe many, will agree with you.

We will probably never find the answer to that although the results today night(and how it went for whom), might be construed as part of the answer.

First of all, not all bloggers (perhaps only a certain section) that comment on issues and politics in Singapore, are blogging merely for the political aspect.

For those that comment mainly in the political blogosphere, some of them might be unwilling and some afraid even (of lawsuits etc) of attacking the PAP and its policies. They might highlight some genuine grievances and sometimes even disapproval of PAP policies, but they aren't blogging merely to oppose the PAP or to support any opposition party.

Some of them too might actually want to highlight the level of opposition quality - hence the 'attacks' and mocking of the SDA and RP. This is because they feel that enough has been written by others, in rallies and elsewhere about the PAP's way of doing things, and commenting further would only repeat the same refrain of how much angst and discomfort that Govt policies affect the ground.

Whereas the SDA and RP are 'small players' and as such they construe their participation and plans, as being impossible, silly, unworkable and merely a spoiler. Therefore they lean to the WP as the more established opposition that can actually continue to represent them (voters in PE and island-wide) in the House, whilst still run their town effectively.

Then there is also the fact that both these smaller parties did things that would always attract the wrong kind of attraction and comments. Desmond Lim with his 'slogan' and self-promotion, but he came up with some silly ideas, like Satay clubs, doing the purchasing of marketing not to mention his weak performances and style of speech in his previously 'unheard and unseen' online rallies. It was like a parody happening right in front of us, and you would find few political bloggers who wouldn't want to join the bandwagon.

And Kenneth, well the sideshow of personal attacks and threats, plus a pledge of no broken promises, with 3 promises that anyone could keep, was an invitation to respond that was taken up by bloggers.

And then Kenneth went on the offensive against the WP, which would also elicit a response. Yes there have been some nasty comments made to him and Desmond, on their FB pages and elsewhere, some perhaps very aggressive and rude. But the inference was that all these was done by WP supporters. Perhaps there might have been some, but this could also have easily been the work of a PAP supporter pretending to be a WP one and attacking the parties. Or even their own supporters in some twisted way, to justify their participation as democratic or win sympathy votes.

To tar the WP for all these and attack the WP on their record, had to garner response from Low and Sylvia and there again, a new thing blog about.

I don't think it was a missed opportunity to comment on the SDA and RP, or the WP's rsponse, rather than focus solely on the Govt and its policies. Multi-cornered contests will eventually become common-place, if the political process here is to mature. There has to be a clear line to differentiate between opposition parties, so people can decide which parties have the means or ability to deliver.

It had to start somewhere, why not in PE, why wait until 2016? In the 9 days of campaigning in a GE there are so many issues and wards to look at and comment, having so many multi-cornered contests at 1 go might actually confuse many voters and play straight into the PAP's hands.

Anyhow Hantam said...


It's good to do it now, and show the rest of Singapore how the opposition parties square up not just against the PAP, but with each other. This could send a clear signal to the electorate at large, that they have to choose their candidate or party wisely, not just 'Anyhow Hantam' (that's my blog btw) and spread their votes between parties. They have to start choosing which 1 party (or 2, since I doubt 1 or more parties will contest every seat) they want to lead the charge against Govt policy.

As for the WP and the AIM saga, that too I disagree with you. The AIM saga might be big news to certain bloggers and interesting news in the local press (with their 'usual unbiased reporting'), but it was not really such a big deal with ordinary Singaporeans.

True one could say this is important as it involves all town councils, but the back and forth is really to 'cheem' for many ordinary folks or just not important in the scheme of things that concern them. Even myself and some friends who follow local politics a bit, aren't really interested, dismissing it as typical PAP behaviour and since it's been raised, let's just wait to see how it pans out in the end. Usually a denial by the PAP of anything sinister against the opposition but with a pledge to improve it or make it transparent so it won't happen again.

Therefore the WP was correct to focus on municipal issues and the larger issue of giving the PAP a 'slap' so not to take things for granted. To add numbers in Parliament and grow in strength, so the Govt can no longer ram policies down the people's throat.

Playing the plain "Jane or Ah Lian' card against the 'privileged or elitist' Dr Koh, seems a reasonable tactic.

Not going all out against PAP policy at national level, which requires more than 9 days of campaigning to explain, and focusing on a few which resonates with the common people and PE residents was a strategic choice which I think was wise.

The fact that there are 2 other parties that might take votes they need to overhaul the PAP, meant that municipal issues, the common touch and disassociating themselves from these 2, was a safer approach in trying to secure as many votes as possible.

Anyway all these is conjecture at this point, let's await the results as see what was done right or wrong as the case may be.