Sunday, 13 September 2015

Shaping public opinion and the possibility of migration.

The days leading up to the GE, I heard from sources - normally credible people who were professors at universities - that the WP could be expected to win big this GE. They referred me to some bookies' predictions. Being a cautious person, I decided to check out some real commentary from people on Twitter. Sure enough, I read a whole lot of negative comments about the other political parties, ranging from how some of the Opposition party members "can't even speak proper English" to how WP "can't even run Town Council". These comments were all from young people who were eligible voters. It was apparent that the Opposition parties weren't getting a lot of love from them. Someone even said that his school fees will surely go up if WP takes over East Coast. Such a statement reflects lack of awareness about how governance (and school fees) work, but judging the owner of the statement isn't the point. The Opposition parties must reflect on how they can win the votes of these people who have yet to experience the problems caused by government policies, such as job insecurity for those above age 40 as they are replaced by younger hires. 

PAP claiming its share of the online sphere

GE2011 had seen the Opposition parties dominating the online sphere, with The Online Citizen making its presence felt. But as mentioned in my previous post, the PAP machinery has done its work online. Not only do we have people affiliated to the PA grassroots organisations criticising the Opposition parties online, we also have websites praising the status quo, as well as individuals and Ministers sharing stories from the community and explaining government policies on their Facebook pages. Some resonant posts can receive thousands of likes and hundreds of comments from Singaporeans. The PAP's online presence builds from its strong control of the mainstream media, where a lot of pseudo-documentaries were produced and aired focusing on Singapore's transformation from Third World to First World. After LKY's passing, the propaganda wave swept across the country to the extent that any prominent online bloggers who dared to take the middle ground about LKY would receive some online bashing. 

I think we can safely say that if there was indeed a silent majority supporting the PAP, they have not been silent for many years. They are very vocal now, and they have been successful in shaping the perceptions of voters via both the mainstream media and social media online, and the results of GE2015 are testament to this. If I may speculate a little, it is also likely that the PAP is using civil servants to promote itself, on the pretext of ensuring national stability and explaining government policies. 

The mainstream media is a gone case for the Opposition. When I look at the Chinese newscaster Dong Suhua's openly "black face" and pursed lips when WP won Aljunied, it was just a further reminder that Singapore's newscasters on TV do not bother to stay neutral. The question is how Opposition parties can withstand this wave of online "attacks" from the PAP. "Attack" is often accurate, because some Facebook pages do routinely churn out insulting Photoshopped images of Opposition party members to ridicule them. 

I am curious to find out about the plans of the Opposition parties. Merely relying on The Online Citizen and TRE (or whatever similar websites with permutations of the same name) is no longer enough. The ground has changed. While the people of my generation appreciated the balance offered by these websites, the still younger generation no longer believe that websites like The Online Citizen can be trusted. 

For the next five years, I hope to see the Opposition parties making more effort to communicate their ideas via social media. Few people will plough through their 150 policy recommendations or read through their manifestos. The parties have to reach out to Singaporeans in other ways. I think the actions of Fabrications about PAP is a good example. The group is overtly pro-PAP but readers tend to be swayed by them because they view this as a ground-up rather than top-down initiative from the politicians. For the Opposition parties, why not get your party supporters and volunteers to form their own groups online to write about your policies? 

Post-GE possibilities

Post-GE, we have heard calls from the Ministers to stay united, and reassuring us that the Opposition can still play a constructive role in Singapore. These Ministers should be credited for being in tune with public sentiments. Despite the PAP's landslide victory, I have not sensed any overt public happiness that they have won. Instead that were many sighs of relief that the WP just managed to scrape by in Aljunied. The majority of voters seem to agree that having an Opposition presence in Parliament can be a boon to governance, and they do not want to see just one Opposition member whose voice can easily be drowned out by the PAP. I also know of people who have voted for the PAP simply because they were not offered a better choice, and not because they supported the PAP.

Some pro-Oppo supporters are understandably angry. I think there's nothing to be angry about, because I support the WP, and there are actually more WP MPs and NCMPs in Parliament now than ever before. However, if you want to make a stand for the party of your choice, follow the suggestion of Kirsten Han and do your part to be updated about their policy alternatives.

My favourite Cynical Investor tells us not to panic and think of migrating, but just in case you are one of the majority of Singaporeans who want to move overseas, you can always try Australia and New Zealand. There are plenty of resources online, contributed by former Singaporeans who have moved there. 

It has been said that people like me and my friends who supported the Opposition, we are the urbanised well-educated, well-travelled minority who want diversity in Parliament because we have seen it happen successfully in other countries, and we want to have a say in government policies instead of go with the patriarchal "government knows best" approach. However, we are the minority, so too bad, we should respect the views of the majority who want stability in the form of the PAP.

Yes, precisely because we are the urbanised, well-educated minority, we have the choice to migrate if we feel that this country is not going to provide us with the best environment to thrive in. Do I want my children to grow up being brainwashed in school and on TV that PAP can do no wrong? 

Do I want to have to spend time correcting misperceptions planted in my children's minds that Singaporeans are a lazy lot and spending a little more to improve people's welfare will bankrupt our tiny city-state (which, incidentally, has an annual GDP not far behind the GDP of South Africa)?

Increasingly, I can understand why so many Singaporeans do not want to remain in Singapore. Under the governance of the PAP new-gen leaders, this country is shaping up to be one that is great if you are sufficiently well-heeled or a transitional expat with free lodgings in a Marina Bay condo. Not so for the middle-class professionals. I wonder if this type of development is a sustainable way of maintaining GDP growth. That's not to say that we can just pack up our bags and leave, but the possibility is there.

Within the short span of time since the last GE, my husband and I have had five friends who have permanently moved overseas with their families for various reasons, including the lack of a work/life balance in Singapore which affected their health. These are not low-life Singaporeans, but well-educated professionals. We are waiting to see if the PAP will honour its promises of "improving our lives".

Yes, we are the minority. But we are a sizeable minority.

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