‘Sweeping Changes’ in Singapore Politics (Voices on Facebook, part I)

Singaporeans are not much into politics. Singapoeans have too much of politics. Singaporeans read too much tabloid news. Singaporeans don’t read enough into tabloid news.

If we are not part of the solution, are we part of the problem?

I. Showtime and Encore

Barely two weeks after scraping through into power at GE2011, PAP politicians are putting up their best performance to demonstrate that they do hear all voices of the people. Ministers are activating their Facebook accounts and making it known that they are posting thoughts in the virtual world, what has now been identified as the new political frontline. After all, traditional official media like the national ST newspaper (part of the state-monitored press holding company which was created three decades ago in the wake of the historic win by JBJ of the Workers’ Party in one single constituency) have been rubbished by the Gen Y as mere pulp of propaganda.

Hard to say what kind of Pandora’s Box this may open in the unfriendly terrains of opposition supporters and trolls, for even their youngest colleague TPL has burnt her reputation there (or is it just her avatar?), but the Men in White, especially the cabinet ministers who have survived a sweeping ‘radical change’ (reshuffling of portfolio) into a Second Life, just have to put on their best botox smile and strike back.

(Note: this blog post was not meant to be all about politics and the exploitation of social media. Please skip to Part II if you are more keen on hearing a Facebook discussion on education and meritocracy in Singapore, as sparked off by a teenage suicide in Ang Mo Kio a week ago.)

With a vengeance, the ruling party is now going full force in the social media to showcase itself. Following a murder of an Indonesian maid whose body was then thrown into a water tank of a housing block in Woodlands, a young PAP MP decided to perform a stunt just to assure residents that everything is hunky dory. He put up a Youtube video of himself drinking water straight from the tap. But residents did not seem very impressed, as they went on to lodge a complaint against the town council for not alerting them of the incident immediately and expressing fears of previous breaches on hygiene.

Meanwhile, an MP in Mountbatten has posted on Facebook the findings he gathered from a heroic deed – he had ventured into public transport and discovered to his horror that three bus services do not arrive for as much as half an hour. He promises to follow up with SBS and the Public Transport Council. Interestingly, an annual survey by LTA was cited by outgoing Transport Minister Raymond Lim just two weeks ago to show that public transport is ‘heading in the right direction”. (One just had to wait a bit longer?)

In the Lianhe Zaobao over the weekend, one writer Han Yong Mei has remarked on some of the blind spots of the ruling party that have cost it dearly at the election. One is the fact that ‘equal opportunity’ is not something that can be appreciated if it does not quite translate into equality and fairness in real life. Another is the point that ‘dialogue’ is not quite effective communication, if one listens but would not do anything about it anyway; the incumbents can no longer depend on support from voters based on gratitude for past achievements.

The past week, which has seen the official stepping down of SM Goh and MM Lee from the Cabinet to take up new posts as senior advisors at MAS and GIC respectively, has interestingly seen a dramatic outpour of adulation for them in newspapers like ST. One reader called for local film makers to produce historical films to chronicle the legacies of LKY and GCT, while another suggested that Changi Airport be renamed after LKY. Most bizarre was perhaps a certain forum letter entitled “The Debt We Owe MM Lee”, thanking the octogenarian politician for his “selfless contributions, superb leadership and ‘tough’ rules” for creating a safe and comfortable environment with a strong Singapore dollar enabling one to say “Cheap! Cheap!” while shopping in another country. It is almost difficult to say if it was genuine tribute from a die-hard fan, or in fact a veiled satire edited so intelligently to look like a genuine tribute.

(But is has inspired at least one genuine satire on Facebook: ‎”Thank you for giving us such a strong Singapore dollar so we can buy food from all the farmers in the world who don’t know about life. Thank you for giving us such a clean country that we are brought up to litter in the streets only when we are in JB. Thank you for providing such a safe political environment, free from all the commies that helped to put you into power. Thank you for the freedom of speech that we enjoy under the Internal Security Act that gives us a choice to continue talking to ourselves even when we are locked up in prison. Thank you for such an open society where foreigners can come and enjoy and place their bets at the casino any time. Thank you for keeping the trains running even as they are packed to the limit, we know it would have been worse if you never made it expensive for the poor. Thank you for giving us a sense of pride to abuse our domestic workers and look down on students who can’t make it to local universities and can’t afford to study in Australia or UK. Thank you for accepting the high salary long after stepping down just so the newspapers have articles to fill the pages every other day, and above all, thank you for granting a middle class snob like me a voice in the newspapers instead of all the losers out there!”)

Fervent defenders of LKY have actually inspired no less than Singapore’s celebrated novelist Catherine Lim to write a little play on her blog, entitled Island, featuring a character named Supremo, who is sore that he seems foresaken by the electorate, but continues to despise people who are weaklings…  (Doesn’t look like it will become an instant classic, but it may be interesting material for practical criticism by O level literature students who no longer grow up on fairy tales and epics.)

Since election day, many have even fancied revelling to a Youtube club mix of Yam Ah Mee, the deadpan voice of the GE Returning Officer… no need for ’emotional dilemma’ between the incumbents and the opposition, or between local citizens and foreign talents (or is it really about the fortunate and the less fortunate?) …

There are people of a privileged club, who are desperately hoping to steal the show back from new faces which have suddenly gained popularity without going through the old sanctioned paths of ivy league scholars and army officers. Some of the new faces have so much confidence now (like the WP), they do not shy from sitting at any table and getting photographed with anybody. The old faces may still have their  loyal supporters, who insist that if there is more than one source of voices, it can only be noise. But there are also many now who believe that everybody can have his or her 15 minutes of expression, for there are always different sources of educated or informed opinions.

Being tired of hearing the same voices does not mean one is not interested in being constructive. It should only mean that the game of making constructive changes in society has changed. There is more than one channel to tune in to now, and one needs not just be on the receiving end. Maybe that’s why it’s called the new media?

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  1. Pingback: Daily SG: 23 May 2011 » The Singapore Daily