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Media as politics in Singapore

The following article was first published on Asia Times Online

Megawati Wijaya/

SINGAPORE - Days before Singapore Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced the government's 2011 budget in parliament, the political opposition offered a glimpse of how it would allocate the national finances in a "shadow" budget. The state-controlled mainstream media gave the opposition announcement scant coverage, but it was picked up widely by a number of alternative news websites.

To be sure, opposition criticism of the ruling party's budget is nothing new. But rather than being forced to wait for parliament to meet to air their dissent, now opposition parties are able to post pre-emptively their criticisms online, shifting the time and space of Singapore's political debate. Each opposition party's posts of their competing budgets sparked robust discussions in a variety of online forums.

Singapore's People's Action Party (PAP)-dominated politics are increasingly being contested online and over social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Pushed by the perceived pro-PAP bias of the mainstream media, Singapore's opposition parties are using various new media to communicate with voters and express dissenting views. Alternative news websites, including The Online Citizen and Temasek Review, have won strong followings by presenting more opposition views in their news mix.

With general elections expected to be held by June, it remains to be seen if opposition parties can translate their blogs, tweets and telecast videos into actual votes. The PAP, which has dominated Singapore's politics since 1959, now controls 82 out of 84 seats in parliament. The PAP has come under consistent criticism of curbing the national debate through laws that suppress free speech and co-optation of the mainstream media. But new media platforms are fast changing the way politics are contested in this wealthy city state.

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