One meets his Member of Parliament for various reasons. The most common, of course, is when one has a problem. MPs conduct Meet The People Sessions or MPS, which are held weekly in the MPs’ constituencies. One might also meet his MP when the MP is on his walkabout or at a public forum. Besides these opportunities for personal contact with MPs, there do not seem to be many other opportunities.
Of course, now there’s the Internet. Not as personal as being up close with the MPs but an opportunity nonetheless. They’re on the blogs, such as Minister George Yeo and to a lesser extent, Mr Teo Ser Luck who posts comments on the P65 blog. And thankfully, many MPs now are on Facebook as well. Most politicians, both from the ruling party and the opposition, have their personal pages. A notable absence is the Workers’ Party’s Mr Low Thia Khiang and Ms Sylvia Lim.
I haven’t interacted with all of the “Facebook MPs” but have had Facebook dialogues with several such as Minister Yeo, Mr Kenneth Jeyaretnam from the Reform Party, and I’ve just been accepted as a friend on Mr Zaqy Mohamad’s Facebook friends list. Minister Yeo, being in charge of Foreign Affairs, naturally is very diplomatic, not the big bad wolf which some may make him out to be. Of course, like me, sometimes we’re disappointed with the replies he gives to our questions on Facebook. But one should understand that Facebook is primarily a personal page and one should not expect government policies to be spelt out in details there. Indeed, Minister Yeo has said that he hopes for his Facebook page to be “fun” and not for spelling out policy positions. Still, on the thorny issue of Burma, for example, Minister Yeo was sympathetic to what his detractors said on his page, but at the same time stood his ground on S’pore’s and Asean’s policy.
I feel that any politician who is afraid of the Internet and social networking sites like Facebook can take a leaf from Minister Yeo’s example. You can engage your audience and still stand your ground – and be respected for that, even if one is not convinced of his explanations or reasons for doing so.
In the future, perhaps online engagement will become an integral part of an MP’s outreach programme, besides the MPS. More and more Singaporeans are going online to seek out alternative views and new ideas, or even help with their problems. An MP who does not engage online, in the future, will be seen as some sort of dinosaur, or an anachronism - out of touch with the ground.
Of course, the most conspicuous absence among politicians are the top ministers – the Prime Minister, the Minister Mentor and the two Senior Ministers.
Perhaps it is time the Prime Minister made his presence felt online?