On the 31th of August, SMU Apolitical team held a book launch event 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
This is our write-up on the points discussed by the panelists on the day, that we felt were essential and learning points relevant to what we’ve been writing on Offbeat Perspectives.
What the book covers
The booklet is a non-partisan informational guide for voters partaking in the upcoming GE2015. It comprehensively covers the terms used in Singapore’s political landscape to details of the electoral process and political parties in the field.
The booklet is the second of a series of primers introducing public law concepts to the general public in an easy-to-understand way. (directly adapted from the booklet synopsis)
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 recognized 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.
Prof. Jack 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.
P.N. Balji discussed about the media coverage on Singapore elections.
Firstly, he noted that the Workers’ Party received a considerable amount of media publicity during GE2011 (where it is a good situation). In years to come, media coverage will become “bolder*”.
*There wasn’t a clear definition given to what it means for media coverage to be “bolder”. We interpreted that it means for mainstream media to become more receptive to cover both opposition and the ruling political parties during the election season
Secondly, 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 in the case of Chinese Daily’s wrongful allegations against WP candidate Daniel Goh [read about the case here].
Thirdly, 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 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.
Balji illustrated the relationship between mainstream and independent media to be one of an interdependent one. While the independent relies on the mainstream for firsthand information like facts, the mainstream sources “surveil” and possibly model popular topics after independent sources to interest its readers.
Being the moderator of the discussion, Prof. Eugene initiated the discussion and occasionally commented on the points mentioned by the above-panelists. He agrees with Dr. Gillian that GE2015 may see some opposition parties as being “irrelevant”, screening them down to a significant few. When asked about media, he expressed that there are “no such thing” as independent media since most of them would have to rely on funding from somewhere. He considered about the “illusion*” of independent media that most of us would have.
*The illusion wasn’t further elaborated by Prof. Eugene. We interpreted it as the objectivity of media, that there shouldn’t be a preconceived notion among us that all independent sources are objective. Prof. Eugene added that nevertheless, we should refer to both mainstream and independent sources for information to form an unprejudiced perception of the situation.
Dr. Gillian 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).“
Written by: SY
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Article for reading: 1994 – 2015: A Chronology of Authoritarian Rule in Singapore