Tuesday, September 6, 2011

'Online chatter' not just chatter

Sep 5, 2011

I AM shocked by what political scientists passed off as prescient commentary in last month's presidential election.

Dr Derek da Cunha ('What observers say'; Aug 28) stated that 'online chatter' was irrelevant to the May 7 General Election and the Aug 27 presidential election.

Really? 'Online chatter' was how the People's Action Party (PAP) discerned how unhappy Singaporeans were with policies, personnel and politicking in the GE. 'Online chatter' was why a relative unknown like Mr Tan Jee Say grabbed a 25 per cent share of the votes on Aug 27. 'Online chatter' cannot be dismissed any more.

[Bullcrap. In the first PE, the virtual unknown Chua Kim Yeow won 41%. There was no internet chatter then in 1993. Tan Jee Say's 25% proves nothing other than the fact the 25% of voters were optimistic. Or pessimistic depending on your point of view.]

That is why the Government, wisely, used a light touch in navigating 'online chatter'.

Dr da Cunha said that the PAP vote held up on Aug 27. Again, really? In the first contested presidential election in 1993, Singaporeans gave a reluctant Mr Chua Kim Yeow 41.3 per cent of the votes against a PAP-backed Mr Ong Teng Cheong, who expected well over 65 per cent.

Dr Tony Tan, the favourite candidate and most closely linked with the PAP in this year's election, should have swept most of the 60 per cent pro-PAP GE votes. By obtaining only about one-third of overall votes, he was clearly affected by his PAP link.

[And I say 70% voted PAP - split between the two Doctors from PAP.]

The only certainty now is that the PAP must be repositioned to 'change the conversation' about itself, to quote from the TV series Mad Men.

[Go back to watching TV, you couch potato.]

Singaporeans like myself are asking ourselves why we, as a nation, are dazed, confused and frustrated now more than before.

[So you agree with the other commentary that we should have an electoral college system to elect the President? So as to avoid further confusing and dazing you.]

We need a catharsis and it will not appear because results come after the fact, or because the Prime Minister asks us to move on.

We seem to have just finished a huge family quarrel. We need time to cool down, settle and discover fresh sensibilities within the new order - winners and losers both.

For that to happen, mainstream media like The Straits Times must find the people's authentic pulse; visionaries and insightful individuals must ask probative questions and share valid views; comedians must nudge us and artists, inspire us.

[You have us confused with the US culture. We do not have an tradition of comedians nudging us or artists inspiring us. No Sharon Au hugging Tony Tan does not count. Seriously, you want us to take inspiration from Hossan Leong? Gurmit Singh? Sheik Haikel? Stefanie Sun? Fann Wong?

Not to say that their views are irrelevant, but how are they authoritative. Oh wait. You are a couch potato and so you believe everything TV tells you.]

We need leaders committed to creating a healthy public space where we can all agree to disagree but have the best for Singapore in our hearts.

What we don't need are political scientists who offer no clues.

[Or forum writers from an alternate TV universe.]

Anand A. Vathiyar

Sep 6, 2011

Beware of political opportunists online

MR ANAND Vathiyar's assertion that Internet chatter played a major role in our final choice of president cannot be wrong ('Online chatter not just chatter'; yesterday).

["Played a role" does not imply that the role was responsible, intentional, or had the intended effect. I would say that if internet chatter had an effect it was to create a bias view that Tan Jee Say was leading and may have drawn some voters to him instead of say Tan Cheng Bock, and leading to the unintended freak result of Dr Tony Tan winning the election. So yes, in that sense it "played a role". ]

From the upheaval in Egypt and Libya to the recognition of epidemics way before the health authorities were aware of their presence, online chatter has proven influential.

Unfortunately, a significant amount of Internet chatter comes not from the genuinely aggrieved, but from the politically opportunistic who hide behind a cloak of anonymity.

Half-truths and misinterpreted statistics are perpetuated and made believable because they are replicated thousands of times on the Internet.

There are many local insightful political blogs that provide discursive commentary on Singaporean issues. Read discriminately, they can complement The Straits Times in providing counterpoise in its political and social coverage.

Unfortunately, unlike The Straits Times, which allows only civil debate and riposte with editorial adjudication, Internet chatter is replete with uncivil name-calling, where contrary ideas are shouted down by threatening claques of naysayers and any meaningful exchange of opinions is not possible.

It is no wonder then that the blogosphere artificially amplifies pessimism, negativism and nihilism.

Dr Yik Keng Yeong

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