07 October 2015

Singapore's popcorn democracy

Every election, Singapore becomes popcorn democracy. Just look at its expert panellists.

No one expected the huge PAP win. Party insider Inderjit Singh did not. George Yeo did not. Sylvia Lim did not. Pundits who made predictions did not. PAP volunteers taking internal polls during the first weekend of the campaign most certainly did not come close to the actual voting numbers.

Maruah's post election forum was an attempt to explain what had happened. The talking heads it curated ranged from professional establishment opinionators, self-proclaimed independent scholars, bloggers, and NGO representatives. Maruah's expert panel has given birth to an unfortunate meme: that Singapore is a popcorn democracy where Singaporeans go to the polls for entertainment to hear **** politicians say. Instead, I put it to you that Singapore is a popcorn democracy where Singaporeans go to post election panels for entertainment to hear **** expert panellists say.

An astute observer would notice that on the whole, the panel lacked credibility, coherence, rigour, or even expertise. I kid you not. Here are some of the more egregious howlers this post election commentary season from expert panellists so carefully curated by Maruah.

Failure to Math

"In the case of opposition parties, comparison restricted to same (or nearly same) constituencies contested in 2011 and 2015."

Alex Au calculates the national swing in GE2015 for opposition parties by ignoring newly created constituencies, as well as in constituencies where the same opposition party did not contest in both 2011 and 2015. By mathematical definition, a national swing needs to take into account all votes cast in the election. Alex Au is telling us he is no psephologist, has no psephological expertise, and has no interest in analysing any election with credibility.

Prescribing non-viable strategies

No horse trading, no coalitions! Alex Au demands that opposition parties should wade into multiple-cornered fights as much as possible. Because branding. We fear that the Social Darwinist ghost of Papalee has taken possession of Au; someone call an exorcist, quick!

Reality check: WP, currently the "main" opposition party in Singapore, has the resources to contest less than 1/3 of the seats in parliament. The Electoral Department imposes a huge deposit that will be forfeited should a candidate or group of candidates fail to poll above 1/8th of the total votes cast in the constituency.

Optimal strategy for any non-WP party would be to contest the other 2/3s of the seats instead of getting into multiple cornered fights, which would be a waste of resources and a far surer bet of losing their deposits. Alex Au is no game theorist, and any party following his dictates on strategy will lose their shirts in the next GE.

Lack of expertise: failure to comprehend own terms

Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh led the charge of the lightweight panel into the valley of Death. While attempting to ground his analysis of GE2015 in light of the trends in recent elections around the world, Sudhir made the error of attributing the huge PAP win to "the return of voter apathy", a stand-in for voters more concerned with "bread-and-butter issues".

Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh is a former economist. Yet he demonstrates a lack of understanding and comprehension of "voter apathy", talking about it like a political pundit or commentator instead of say, an expert.

Contrast this with what Pierre Bourdieu says about voter apathy.
In Japan, the rate of participation in general elections is highest among the least educated women of rural districts, whereas in France, as I demonstrated in an analysis of nonresponse to opinion polls, the rate of nonresponse - and of indifference to politics - is especially high among women and among the least educated and the most economically and socially dispossessed. This is an example of a false difference that conceals a real one: the apathy associated with dispossession of the means of production of political opinions, which is expressed in France as simple absenteeism, translates in the case of Japan as a sort of apolitical participation.

We should ask further what historical conditions (and here we should invoke the whole political history of Japan) have resulted in the fact that conservative parties in Japan have been able to, through quite particular forms of clientelism, to benefit... from the conviction of not being in possession of the statutory and technical competence which is necessary for participation...
Why does Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh talk about voter apathy without understanding what it means? Why, in fact, does any pundit on a political panel talk about apathy without knowing that it has a very specific political meaning? Why in fact, would any academic (former or otherwise, tangentially related to politics or not) talk about voter apathy in Singapore, knowing full well that no study has ever been taken to identify, profile, and quantify indifferent voters in Singapore?

Intellectual dishonesty or plain incompetent research?

Derek da Cunha last had a job in academia 10 years ago. Since then, he's been calling himself an independent scholar. Truth is, he's a showman of a political pundit. He is literally the popcorn concession vendor of every recent election in Singapore, the non-technical heel commentator at the ringside table in every wrestling match.

His big thesis statement was: Social media did not help the opposition in the general election. His evidence: none of the social media blogs made an impact; why, look at TRE, FAP, Fabrications by FAP, etc!

News flash: if you look at the fringes of social media, of course you will see that social media had no impact on the elections. If Derek da Cunha were an evidence-based and data-driven researcher, he would've constructed a survey of what people read, what people share, and what people use to share what they read or hear. He would've realised that internet penetration of Singapore is over 80%, and would've found ample evidence for Singaporeans on both sides of the political divide using social media to pass on political stories.

Maruah's expert panel vs non-experts

The worst Mediacorp unleashed on election night was Devadas Krishnadas, career bureaucrat turned professional bloviator and "strategist", who was worried that the PAP had won its crushing victory by lurching "to the far left". We have noted earlier that the PAP won because it took a 10% discount on its unpopular policies and shifted about 10 degrees left. But here is an opinion maker whose sense of proportion is so broken, he thinks what the PAP has done is lurch to the FAR LEFT!

The worst the ground could come up with was the idea that GE2015 was won because the "middle ground" had weighed in for the PAP. Never mind that the middle ground is just a reformulation of Nixon's idea of a silent majority, and that for all intents and purposes, is not a serious term any political scientist or psephologist would use. Rather, it's a term that a political propagandist would use. Or given the success of political propagandists, a term that the politically illiterate would use.

We at Illusio, having duly considered the facts and circumstances laid before us, do hereby state that the greatest manifestation of popcorn democracy in Singapore lies in its incompetent and indifferent "expert panels". These expert panels contribute far more than the PAP's social engineering to Singapore's continuing political illiteracy, and should be up for nomination for an Ignobel prize or two.

1 comment:

El Lobo Loco said...

"Rallies are like Las Vegas. What happens in Rallies, stays in Rallies."

Also campaigning is a waste of time. If this survey is correct: http://www.quad.sg/#infographics

Voters decided one month before polling day, weeks before parliament was dissolved and before the "Rally speech" that was NDR, to vote for PAP.

So fear, electioneering, tactical manoeuvres, horse-trading, etc were all non-factors. If the survey is correct.