Too little, too late

Posted: May 6, 2011 in Politics
Tags: , , ,

Singapore’s general elections this year is remarkable, for it’s the first time in decades that most Singaporeans can exercise their basic right of being in a democracy: the right to vote.

In past elections, many of the seats up for election have been uncontested, resulting in walkovers by the incumbent People’s Action Party, who has never been voted out of power since independence. This year, with the exception of residents in the Tanjong Pagar Group Representative Constituency, the rest of Singapore will vote and exercise their democratic rights as citizens, many for the very first time.

The past nine days of campaigning has revealed discontent, frustration or even anger at the ruling PAP. The PAP has appeared to be caught off-guard by the groundswell of negative sentiments and only attempted to defuse these feelings late in their campaign.

How did the PAP, with its much vaunted grassroots network under the People’s Association, fail to read ground sentiment? The main reason is that demographics and habits of the electorate has started to change, but the tools that the PAP use to gauge ground sentiment has not.

Social media is increasingly becoming the preferred way for Singaporeans to communicate and share information. Social ties are now fostered not just at block parties or grassroots events, which might have appealed to Singaporeans in the past, but younger Singaporeans are not biting. The PAP has not done a good job feeling the ground sentiment online. Perhaps the PAP thought that online sentiment had little impact in the last general elections, so it did not really pay attention to social media until it was too late.

Social media is a completely different animal from other forms of online media. Facebook, in particular, is not made up of anonymous members. There is a real face, a real identity to an individual Facebook profile for the most part, and this means that opinions on Facebook can no longer be brushed aside as anonymous attacks or propaganda. The opinions posted on Facebook are just about as valid as an opinion said face to face.

The overwhelmingly unhappy sentiments about the PAP circulating on social media are not trivial. They are real sentiments by real people, and the PAP appeared to have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear until Lee Hsien Loong’s apology at a lunchtime rally in the city centre.

Is it too little, too late? Will Singaporeans believe that the PAP, which has brushed aside the cries of many Singaporeans for the past five years, will change its ways? Why did the PAP wait until the elections to apologise? Can the PAP be trusted again? If the PAP cannot be trusted, then who else can be trusted?

Singapore will find out tomorrow.

  1. lilgal says:

    Just to add on, sharing my thoughts 🙂
    Personally, I’m skeptical about PM’s apology not just because of it’s timing but partly with the choice of using “IF” and his unnecessary explanation that follows. It makes me think of this as part of his party’s political tool, when threats/timely advise fails, try getting them to see all the good/benefits that were generated, and when this fails, appeal to their sympathy…
    Doesn’t this make us question if they are trying to hoodwink us??

    Quoting from TODAY’s report (–PM-Lee):
    We considered carefully and I thought this was a suitable message to Singaporeans at this stage of the campaign to focus minds on key issues,” he told reporters after meeting commuters at Ang Mo Kio MRT Station yesterday.

    “So one set of issues is the policies … but the other set of issues is the politics of it, and also the emotional connection, which is very important, between the Government and the people,” he added.

    At a lunchtime rally at UOB Plaza on Tuesday, Mr Lee had apologised for several mistakes which his Government had made, such as Mas Selamat’s escape and flooding in Orchard Road.

    Mr Lee added that he felt that it was a message that the people wanted to hear and which the Government wished to send out.

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