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First-class voters, not first-world parliament: GE2015 panel discussion

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Image – Wikipedia

By Thian Si Ying

The SMU Apolitical team held a book launch event on 31 August for its second publication titled “A Guide to General Elections in Singapore (GE 2015 Edition)” edited by alumnus Grace Morgan. Afterwards, a panel discussion followed the launch was graced by the following panelists:

  • Gillian Koh, Senior Research Fellow from NUS’ Institute of Policy Studies
  • Eugene Tan, Assoc Professor of Law from SMU
  • Jack Lee, Asst Professor of Law from SMU
  • P.N. Balji, Former editor of TNP and TODAY

The booklet is a non-partisan informational guide for those voting in the upcoming GE2015. It comprehensively covers the terms used in Singapore’s political landscape and includes details of the electoral process and political parties in the field.

The booklet is the second in a series of primers introducing public law concepts to the general public in an easy-to-understand way.

Gillian Koh (image - LKY School of Public Policy)
Gillian Koh (image – LKY School of Public Policy)

Dr. Gillian Koh inaugurated the discussion with three points she feel that voters should take into consideration:

  • Matching party’s promises (from the last election) to their performance
  • Citizens’ demand for an efficient and diverse government for check-and-balance purpose
  • GE2015 may be the watershed election that will “filter” the opposition down to a few prominent parties

She recognised the pluralistic views among the younger generations, as well as the high-income and better-educated citizens, to want to have alternative voices within the government.

Also, she considered that voters’ decisions may be swayed by their emotions during the rally experiences. She explicates the rationality and the importance of looking at government’s policy development over the years to vote for the party who will be able to serve its people well.

Jack Lee (image - SMU)
Jack Lee (image – SMU)

Prof. Jack Lee questioned the ambiguous nature of politics-related laws, drawing attention to:

  • Defamation Act
  • Section 33 of the Films Act Ban: banning “party-political films” directed towards one’s political end (one gets charged merely having the film content to be related to politics?)
  • Electoral laws and advertising (potential pitfalls for unwary parties)

He also mentioned that it is not allowed for parties or anyone from the general public to conduct opinion polls among voters to seek out information of the party they’re voting for. One-to-one message transmission is allowed but not via mass/social media. A food for thought raised by him was whether this stifles the opposition’s opportunity to garner votes.

PN Balji (image -Marketing Interactive)
PN Balji (image – Marketing Interactive)

P.N. Balji discussed media coverage on Singapore elections. He first noted that the Workers’ Party received a considerable amount of media publicity during GE2011. In years to come, media coverage will become “bolder”.

While he did not give any clear definition on what it means for media coverage to be “bolder”, his point suggests that mainstream media could have become more receptive to cover both opposition and the ruling political parties during the election season.

Secondly, he said that the way the government manages the media sources has its impact on the professionalism and the sophistication of media content. It is also important to ensure ethical news reporting (i.e. truthful), as exemplified by the case of Zaobao’s allegations against WP candidate Daniel Goh.

Thirdly, he believes that social media plays an important role in today’s political landscape. There is an increasing number of players – some lie in the extremes (either pro- or anti-government) but there are certainly others who hold onto balanced views in their articles.

The biggest problem encountered by these players is the lack of resources (manpower, time and cost) to conduct investigative journalism which is a critical step to obtain objective information. There is also a lack of credible platforms for the government to put across their message to the citizens.

Mr Balji illustrated the relationship between mainstream and independent media to be one of an interdependent one. While the independent relies on the mainstream for first-hand information like facts, the mainstream “surveys” and possibly models after the independent for popular topics to interest its readers.

Eugene Tan SMUBeing the moderator of the discussion, Prof. Eugene Tan initiated the discussion and occasionally commented on the points mentioned by the above-panellists. He agrees with Dr. Koh that GE2015 may see some opposition parties becoming “irrelevant”, screening them down to a significant few.

When asked about media, he expressed that there is “no such thing” as independent media since most of them would have to rely on funding from somewhere. He considered independence in media an “illusion” that most of us would have.

Prof. Tan did not elaborate further on this “illusion”, but he seems to be proposing that we should not have a preconceived notion that all independent media sources are objective. Nevertheless, Prof. Tan added that we should refer to both mainstream and independent sources for information to form an unprejudiced perception of the situation.

Dr. Koh then ended the panel discussion with some meaningful words on voting: “What we need are first-class voters, not a first-world parliament. That would also mean we’d need to have a first class game (diversity within the government and unbiased media sources).”

This is an edited version of an article that was first published on Offbeat Perspectives.