As election fever heats up (despite no date being announced), there have been signs that the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) may have ramped up their public presence.
For example, the government has embarked upon a series of televised speeches being broadcast by Temasek owned Mediacorp which features Cabinet ministers laying out the nation’s plans for the future in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The speeches, which are now underway have not ostensibly been marketed as part of election campaigning. However, looking at the generic content of the speeches so far and the prime time TV slot it holds, it would be fair to wonder if such speeches are actually election campaigning disguised as COVID-19 talks.
Televised speeches aside, it would seem that the various arms of the government have also been roped in to raise the profiles of our various PAP Members of Parliament (MPs).
Take for instance the Singapore Police Force (SPF) sharing a video of PAP Member of Parliament (MP) for the Pasir Ris-Punggol Group Representation Constituency (GRC) of Punggol West, Sun Xueling, warning the public of online scams.
Given that the SPF has a large social media following — about 670k followers, could their sharing of a video that prominently features a PAP MP be seen as the PAP led government leveraging the social media presence of state agencies to boost the public persona of its MPs? Ms Sun’s FB page has just but 25k followers.
The SPF is funded by the public purse to take care of all Singaporeans. It could be a conflict of interest if the SPF is seen to be promoting a particular MP so close to the general election. The post was also shared by Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) which has about 100k followers.
On its own, this could be perhaps be brushed off. But, there appears to be a pattern.
The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) has also recently shared a FB post written by S Iawaran, PAP MP for West Coast GRC, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) has shared a post written by MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, Koh Poh Koon and Ministry of Education (MOE) shared a post by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, MP for Sembawang GRC.
MHA also shared a video posted on Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs & Ministry of Health, Amrin Amin’s FB page, which seems to have been produced with government resources.
Just like the SPF, the MCI, MHA, MOE and the MTI are government departments that are supposed to be non-partisan. In sharing such posts on their FB pages that are managed using public monies, could they be seen as endorsing a particular party when they are supposed to be apolitical? Note that these are just a few of the examples one can find on the various Ministries FB pages.
Could they be viewed as trying to promote PAP candidates on social media ahead of the general election? If so, this could potentially be viewed as conflict of interest and a misuse of influence.
With COVID-19, normal campaigning activities are suspended. Most of the campaigning will likely be done via television and social media. Could the PAP be viewed as using Temasek owned Mediacorp and supposedly non-partisan government agencies to boost its election campaign? If so, is this fair?
It is also noteworthy that resources such as the Citizens’ Consultative Committees (CCC) and the Peoples’ Association (PA) appear to favour the PAP even though these resources are supposed to be non-partisan.
Let’s take the Punggol North CCC as an example. The Punggol 21 Community Club has uploaded a number of videos on its FB page. In these videos, PAP MPs are featured as special guests in talks that ostensibly have nothing to do with their areas of expertise.
For instance, the Evening Punggol Town Talk Series on starting your own business and raising money featured Sun and Janil Puthucheary, another PAP MP for the same GRC as guests. While it is understandable for a CCC, which exists to serve the community to host talks such as these, it is less clear why Sun and Puthucheary need to be involved?
Puthucheary is a medical professional while Sun was formerly from the banking sector. While she may have worked at Temasek and Business China, these are large entities with clout. From that standpoint, it is difficult to see how her experience would be directly relevant to business start ups. Surely, someone who has actually started a local business from ground up would be more appropriate?
Puthucheary also features as a special guest in “Starting a Small Business – Legal Consideration Talk.” Yet again, what is the relevance of featuring Puthucheary? He is neither an entrepreneur or a lawyer.
Given the proximity to the looming general election, could this be seen as the CCC (which is supposed to be politically neutral) trying to boost the presence of its incumbent PAP MPs? And if so, is that potential misuse?
We have to note that while these individuals being promoted by the entities named, do hold certain political positions, their FB page belong to themselves and the moment the Parliament is dissolved, their FB page becomes that of a political candidate and not a FB page belonging to a government official.
In a government where there is an overwhelming majority of one party, there is always going to be a danger of there being no checks or balances and potential abuse of power.
Using state agencies and resources to further the election campaign of a political party certainly creates an unequal edge. This is especially so when rallies and other face to face engagement have been scrapped. The opposition parties who do not have clout with government agencies are unfortunately disadvantaged.