Once again, we are at the dawn of a new year. It is that time of the year for some reflections. 2006 has been an eventful year for Singapore and us Singaporeans.
So many things happened that I find it impossible to cover them all. Thus I would be focusing on only a few key issues; GE 2006, the rise of the new media, the inclusiveness of society. The last issue would be covered in an upcoming article.
One important question to bear in mind is, “Would the New Year would be a dawn of a new chapter in Singapore?"
This election was the first in many years that more than half the seats were contested and the PAP was not automatically returned to power on nomination day (1st time since 1988).
GE 2006 remained far from being a fair fighting ground; media coverage of the PAP was overtly more comprehensive, chirpy and positive, upgrading carrots costing millions of tax-payers money were still offered as incentives to vote for PAP, GRCs remained a feature of the election etc. Despite this, there were some improvements; for once, electoral boundaries were minimally changed, the mainstream media had more coverage of alternative parties etc.
This election had proved that not all Singaporeans are materialistic. This is because despite PAP's carrots of S$180M upgrading to PP and Hougang residents, offering S$1 sharks-fin soups and abalone porridge in Potong Pasir and free breakfast every Friday in Hougang, the PAP’s share of votes dropped by 3.31% and 7% respectively in these two constituencies. In other words, there was an increase in voters of Hougang and Potong Pasir who rejected the PAP’s strategic offer of materialistic incentives. It is obvious that they need to find another way to woo voters.
I feel that many Singaporeans and the mainstream media (MSM) have grossly exaggerated the rise of the opposition. Although the results for the opposition did improved drastically from GE 2001 (increase from 24.7% to 33.4%), a better comparison would be with GE 1997 where the economic circumstances were more similar. Comparing 2006 to 1997, the PAP’s percentage of total votes actually improved a little by 1.6% (from 65% to 66.6%) while the WP’s increased by 2.1% (from 14.2% to 16.3%). The WP’s improvement in share of votes increased slightly more than the PAP’s. Hence the rise of the opposition was not as dramatic as one thinks.
Despite this, there are some indications that alternative parties are on the rise. Take the WP for example. They fielded 20 candidates this time (up from 2 in 2001). Furthermore, their candidates fielded are credible; they have good qualifications and backgrounds (eg. Perry Tong is a Berkley graduate working as a management consultant, Sylvia Lim is currently a Temasek polytechnic law lecturer etc.) and are good speakers (judging from the speeches made during their rallies).
In addition, they have demonstrated strong discipline in focusing their campaign on important issues close to most Singaporeans' hearts (eg. rising cost of living, transparency, means-testing, the "new poor", lift upgrading being a national issue not a party issue and it should be free since it was as a result of PAP's lack of foresight) and actually came out with suggestions and alternatives.
The WP had also presented their manifesto before the PAP and the WP’s manifesto was much more comprehensive (You can check it out yourself via their websites). One has to also applaud them for being focused and not distracted by the name-calling and “Gomez-gate” issue. All these clearly show that they are improving slowly but surely.
With the end of GE 2006, PAP was returned to power. All eyes are now on how the PAP is going to fulfill their promise of “staying together and moving ahead.” Meanwhile Singaporeans are also observing the activities and growth of alternative parties like the SDA and the WP. The excitement might have died down but the building of the road to the next election continues.
Rise of the New Media in Singapore Politics
Time magazine's Person of the Year award goes to “You.” 2006 saw the exponential “growth and influence of user-generated content on the internet.” In particular, youtube, blogs and podcasts were used by ordinary Singaporeans to make their voices heard.
Many people termed GE 2006 as Singapore’s first internet-influenced election. This is true to a large extent. At the beginning, the government attempted to control the new media during the hustling of GE 2006 by issuing statements warning netizens against political postings.
In fact, senior minister of state Balaji Sadasivan said that anyone using the Internet to "persistently propagate, promote or circulate political issues" need to register with MDA. In addition, he emphasized that “videocasting of explicitly political content during the election period is prohibited under the Election Advertising Regulations.”
Despite the “warning,” many Singaporeans decided to take the risk and persistently aired their political opinions. According to a survey, the number of blogs covering the GE 2006 greatly increased during this period of time. Many also took videos of rallies and posted it on youtube; sgrally was at the heart of this by collating the various rally videos and posting it for people to view. Also, there was the rise of podcast; most memorable is the "Bak Chor Mee” podcast in which Mr Brown satirized the over-hyped Gomez-gate issue.
Of course there were the many pictures which usually never saw the light in the Main Stream Media. The most memorable one has to be Yawning Bread’s picture of the Hougang Rally in which he estimated 100,000 to 120,000 people attended this rally (take a look at the picture on the left).
To a large extent, it can be argued that the rise of citizen journalism reporting on their alternative views placed tremendous pressure on the main stream media to cover more opposition news as compared to the past.
After the elections, newly elected PAP MP Miss Denise Phua made a few controversial statements during the post-mortem GE forum 06. She said, “I know that something has gone wrong when more than 85 per cent (of the traffic) writes negatively about the PAP” and added, “This is something that the PAP would do well to take into account ... and to manage this channel of communication.”
Her statements amused many while the word “manage” got some netizens worked up. I have said in my blog before, ”manage” is a nicer word than ”fix” but nevertheless it still implies directing or controlling someone or the use of something. In this case, it is the space on the World Wide Web for political discussions.
Not long after this, PM Lee proclaimed his government’s commitment to adapt to the new media. He stated, “We will use the new media, multimedia, podcast, broadcast: all these things which you get in the internet, or somebody sends to you by e-mail, I think our ministries, our agencies have to experiment, have to try it out.” The government’s stance on the New Media clearly took a drastic u-turn.
Subsequently, some PAP MPs started testing the waters in the blogosphere. If you cannot beat them, join them. This could have been the motivation behind the PAP joining in the blogging phenomenon after they realized that it might be impossible to restrict Singaporeans from participating in politics via their blogs, forums, podcast and videocast.
Mr George Yeo started the ball rolling by guest blogging at Ephriam’s blog. Then on the 3rd October 06, 12 post-65 PAP MPs started blogging at p65.sg. It is heartening to see the ruling party engaging the New Media and hopefully they will continue to do so.
The alternative parties also seize the opportunity to engage with Singaporeans using the New Media. Both the SPP and NSP revamped their party’s websites and updated more frequently. Similarly, WP is slowly changing some aspects of their website. Some of WP members have also created personal blogs this year; such as Mr Perry Tong who contested in East Coast GRC and Mr Yaw Shin Leong who contested in Ang Mo Kio GRC.
In response to the “encroachment” of the ruling party in the New Media, Lynn Lee of the Straits Times wrote (in the 30th December 2006 issue on page S6), “rather than gripe, perhaps the Net community can do more to make their occupied turf count for more.” This is quite strange for if one explores the New Media and has been following in its developments, they would have realized that the New Media has been improving.
Political aggregators such as Intelligent Singaporean and Gahmen Watchdog was born this year and provided the vital role of organizing the political blogs. This made it easier to follow political analysis and happenings online.
In the case of Intelligent Singaporean, it has been regularly featuring insightful articles from both old and new political bloggers. Well-written political analysis could still be found at Yawning bread, Singaporegovt and Singapore Angle.
Furthermore, there has been a rise of new excellent socio-political commentators such as Singapore Patriot, Speranza Nuova, Hear Ye! Hear ye!, No Fear,Singapore, Zyberzitizen and many others! Last but not least, citizen journalism is given a more centralized space at the theonlinecitizen.
In case our main stream media does not realize, we have all been engaging them more fervently than ever.
With all these major developments in the new media, it is clear that it might play an even larger role in the next Singapore General Elections. A growing centralized platform for political discourse would ease the access of information and political analysis. This and the increase in more analytical socio-political blog posts would increase the pressure on the main stream media to become more objective and less bias in their reporting. There is currently an uneasy relationship between the two media types, but hopefully this relationship will slowly improve.
More importantly, the new media enables ordinary citizens to engage their ideas and thoughts while encouraging their readers to think more critically. As time goes by, with a more discerning population, the politics of Singapore might be taken to a higher and more mature level.
The author, Charissa, is a Singaporean undergraduate who dreams of a more humane