New media engagement may have given Tony Tan and Tan Jee Say the edge

~by: Ravi Philemon~
~pictures: Shawn Danker~

‘Change’ was the theme of the 2011 Presidential Election. All four candidates tried to articulate and win over the electorate with their version of change.

For Presidential candidate Mr Tan Kin Lian, it was change through demystifying the office of the President. He wanted to do this by producing an annual report to account for the reserves under the custody of the President.

For Mr Tan Jee Say it was the substance of change.  He wanted the President to be unaffiliated to the ruling party so that the primary role of the President which (according to him) was to check and balance the government would besides being independent, would also be perceived as non-symbiotic.

For Dr Tan Cheng Bock, change was about symbolism. He advocated for a clear separation of the offices of the President and Prime Minister.  He wanted the Prime Minister’s Office to shift from the Istana and be situated elsewhere.

Even for President-elect Dr Tony Tan, it was change by the acceptance of the ‘new normal’. A ‘new normal’ which will see a stronger opposition in Parliament to compliment the ruling party to formulate better policies to enable a better Singapore.

In the end it was about who communicated their idea of change the best; it was also about whose idea of change the majority accepted (even if it was razor-thin) as something they can live with.

And speaking about communication of ideas, I think the new media was more instrumental in deciding the winners in the Presidential Election, than it was in the last General Election.

Let me explain.

In my opinion, it was Dr Tony Tan and Mr Tan Jee Say who went across various platforms to not only communicate their ideas, but also to give alternate media almost unhindered access to cover their campaign.

This was the reason why Mr Tan Jee Say was able to garner more than 25 per cent of the votes, and Dr Tony Tan was able to convince those that were ‘sitting on the fence’ that he may be worth considering.

And when I say the new media was more instrumental in deciding the winners of this election, I do not mean those that tried to reach out from their own new media platforms, (for going by that, Dr Tan Cheng Bock and Mr Tan Kin Lian were perhaps more tech-savvy than the other two) but those who besides engaging from platforms of their own, also engaged from those of others.

For example the team that was covering the Presidential election from TOC, needn’t guess on the schedule of Tan Jee Say during the campaign. His media team was very proactive in providing the full run-down of his schedule and gave unhindered access to our team.

As for Tony Tan, he kept engaging TOC despite the critical pieces our writers were writing about his campaign.  He had absolutely no reason to do so.

Contrast this with one candidate’s “you are the one who wrote nasty articles about me right?” confrontation; and “Because I’ve never heard of you guys from the online media and my friends haven’t either, so it’s hard for us to take you seriously. The important media is the print media”, dismissal by another.

In a four-cornered, tightly fought election, proactive engagement with a platform like TOC could have given Tony Tan and Tan Jee Say that little bit of edge.

TOC congratulates Dr Tony Tan Keng Yam on being elected.

Going forward, it will be very difficult for the new President to not keep engaging the people of Singapore, using  different and varied platforms.

In fact, this was the question TOC asked President -elect Dr Tony Tan at his media conference after his electoral victory, “How does he intend to remain accessible to the people of Singapore?”

To which Dr Tan replied that there are “many noises” before correcting himself, “voices – sorry” in Singapore today, and that he intends to reach them through small group gatherings and community events.

At the media conference, I had a relook at the handout which was given out (it was a copy of Dr Tony Tan’s statement at the media conference), and I was drawn to the words, “[Big SMILE]” on the handout; which was a personal reminder for him to smile at a certain juncture of making his statement.

I think this will be descriptive of the tenure of the new President. He will have to have a personal reminder to engage and remain accessible to the people who elected him, ever so often.


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