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.