Blogger says he will not observe “cooling-off” period

Andrew Loh

“I will let everyone know right now that I will not only post news reports but also my political opinions on my blog on the day before, and on the “cooling-off” day itself,” blogger and activist, Mr Seelan Palay says on his blog here. “I will post images and logos of the political parties and figures that I support and will blog about who I voted for and why,” he adds.

Mr Seelan, 25, has been involved in public protests for various causes since 2006, including the abolition of the death penalty and the Internal Security Act, demonstrating outside the Ministry of Manpower office in support of Burmese nationals, and conducting a one-man, 5-day hunger-strike at the Malaysian embassy calling for the release of the Hindraf detainees in that country.

He explains to The Online Citizen that his latest blog posting is not an act of defiance or protest. “What’s wrong with saying who I voted for? I am even using my real name. There is no reason why I shouldn’t blog about anything at anytime.”

He feels that the recommended “cooling-off” day or period made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong does not address the “fundamental issues” of what Mr Seelan calls “unjust laws and regulations”. PM Lee said he hoped that netizens will observe the “spirit” of the proposal. Citing the exclusion of the mainstream media or “news reports” from the proposed rule, Mr Seelan feels this is neither justified nor fair. “The mainstream media is controlled by the [PAP government].” He says he might have considered accepting the proposal if Singapore had a plurality of independent media and news outlets. Since this is not the case, bloggers and netizens should not be curbed in expressing their views online during the elections, he says.

PM Lee said he wanted the 24-hour “cooling-off” period so that voters would have time to calm down and be rational when they go to the polling booth to cast their votes. But to Mr Seelan, it is the People’s Action Party (PAP) which has been irrational all these years. He cites the detention and imprisonment of opposition members and the closing down of independent newspapers in Singapore as examples. “Why should I observe [something] coming from someone who is irrational? I am talking about the party he represents and the system [it] has put in place,” he says. “The entire election system is grounded on irrationality.”

What of the fear of public disorder from the highs of electioneering, as MP for Aljunied GRC, Mr Zainul Abidin, expressed in the Straits Times on 2 Dec? Mr Zainul had cited the 1997 incident in Cheng San GRC where he said opposition supporters nearly caused an incident of “public disorder” when the results were announced and the opposition Workers’ Party team had lost. “I don’t think one incident can be claimed as disorder,” Mr Seelan says. “This should not prevent bloggers and others from sharing their views.”

In the elections of 2006, the government had, just before the hustings, banned podcastings and said that while “individual bloggers can discuss politics, [they] have to register with the Media Development Agency if they persistently promote political views,” the then-Senior Minister of State for Information, Communications and the Arts, Balaji Sadasivan, was reported as having said. To Mr Seelan, however, such means of control do not work. “Instinctively and naturally,” he explains, “people will post what they think.” He noted that bloggers virtually ignored the ban on podcasting in 2006.  “In a country which is so restricted, online is where we can actually speak our minds. We have this space to ourselves and even this they want to control.”

When asked why he is openly declaring that he will not observe the new rule, if and when it comes into effect, he explains that he wants to “set the tone”. While websites and blogs such as The Online Citizen, the Singapore Democractic Party, Temasek Review and Sgpolitics have given their views on the issue, no one has said if they will observe the 24-hour silence online, Mr Seelan says. “I urge all Singaporean bloggers to join me,” he appeals on his blog, “because we have a right to post and share our opinions, political or not, on our personal blogs at any time.”

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