Yes, General Election is finally here. After all the media hype and build up to this coming elections, 6 May will be the decisive day where the talking will end and the people decides (subjective…). Needless to say, this GE would be significant in many ways. This will not only be the first real test to the new leadership under PM Lee Hsien Loong, but is also the longest preparation time (and warning) given to the oppositions to GE. In this coming election, maybe we would see some fireworks and sparks.
Obviously, the new leadership would be questioned in the coming elections. In the previous transition of leadership (from LKY to GCT, in 1991), there was a significant drop in the percentage of votes. If Lee Hsien Loong was deemed a less popular Prime Minister than Goh Chok Tong, this election will show. Another issue on everyone’s minds is whether Ang Mo Kio GRC (PM’s ward) would be contested. Perhaps, only Low Thia Khiang has the answers. But in my opinion, it would be uncontested. The oppositions have already been hard-pressed for manpower and resources. Unlikely, they are going to devote that much time and effort to tie the PM down to his ward. Moreover, the oppositions have not been visiting the blocks or markets of AMK GRC that often.
Some opposition parties such as the Singapore Democratic Party (under the leadership of Dr Chee Soon Juan) have announced that they would be challenging Sembawang GRC and Khaw Boon Wan on this issue. The interesting twist is that the Board members and TT Durai have been charged in court and the case is still in progress.
The problem now arises as it is unlawful to publicly comment on a case while it is still under judgment — otherwise known as sub judice, in legalese. As mentioned by Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah, on TODAY papers: "The public is always at liberty to discuss matters of public interest. However specific issues such as guilt or liability which are the subject of pending court proceedings should not be pre-judged." Mr Shashi Nathan, head of criminal department at Harry Elias Partnership, explained that general comments on the NKF saga can still be made during the run-up to the elections, although "specific references to allegations or to people involved in the case should be avoided at all times".
For example, he said, it "should be fine" for candidates to express a public opinion such as citing the old NKF as an organisation lacking good governance, transparency or accountability. Likewise, it would not be against the law for Opposition candidates to question why the Government did not take action against the NKF much earlier. While the neutrals think that the NKF trial was not timed to coincide with the GE, many would differ with that opinion.
Thus it would be interesting to see the contest at Sembawang GRC where Khaw would have to face the heckling of Dr Chee and his party. Leading up to this point, I would make this prediction…
The laws on public rallies, campaigns and speeches on NKF-like issues have been placed on the table and made clear. Dos and do nots have been issued and to be observed. However, I am quite sure that a particular opposition member would deliberately break the law, in the name of civil disobedience. The idea is not to proclaim in the name of civil rights to prove a law unjust by deliberately breaking it, but to use this as an election tactic. This is my following prediction.
At present, the various charges he received render him ineligible to run for elections. Wherever and whenever he made public rallies, there will always policemen tailing him. Come elections, it will be the grand stage where he will plan to make a big media bang out of this issue. First, he will talk in places where he has no license to talk. Next, he will talk on issues where he is, informed by law, not to talk on. In other words, it is civil disobedience.
Police will be there to enforce the laws and give him the usual warnings to leave the place. He would obviously refuse. Just when the police arrest him, he would try to make himself the martyr of political freedom, in the presences of the foreign and local media. Next day, his party would come onto the rally and ask the public why is TT Durai still on bail, walking free (technically), while the Singaporean who spoke on that issue gets jailed. The foreign media and the political blogs would have a media blitz to support this “martyr”. His aim, to be the “single spark that started a prairie fire”, is accomplished. If his party is lucky and able to capitalize on the anger of the people, they might walk away with a GRC. And all these controversies would start on the first few days of elections so that the issues discussed during elections would be drawn to what he wants rather than being dictated by the PAP. The rest of the opposition parties would tap on to this issue and exploit this controversy to their advantage.
May I just add that I have utmost disrespect for such civil disobediences. Nonetheless, this is quite a lethal election tactic. Let’s just see how accurate is my predictions.
Another tricky issue would be the casino. Granted, that the whole saga was badly managed by the PAP. What started out as a public consultative project, led to not whether would there be a casino or not, but resulted in two casinos. Previously, I’ve written on my thoughts on the casino and will not repeat it further. Some have suggested that the PAP went against the wishes of the PAP, but this is quite hard to validate. It is a case of a vocal minority versus a silent majority. Should this issue be put to referendum, casino might still get the go ahead. Nonetheless, the oppositions are likely to use this as ammunition against the PAP.
Podcasting and Political Blogging
How could this (political) blog not talked about the regulations of podcasting and political blogging? =P
Firstly, the bloggers have to understand that there have been no additional rules placed. The recent parliamentary speech on podcast and blogging was just an interpretation of the existing laws (namely PEA) in place. Perhaps, the bloggers should view this issue in two distinct periods: election and non-election period. For the 9 days period of General Elections, podcasting on political rallies, parties and advertising are disallowed. After the elections, they are free to resume. Thus, there isn’t an extreme violation of speech or internet freedom. It is just a matter of adjusting to the election period and the regulations governing it.
Secondly, a blogger should know the rationale behind the election advertising laws. Although, the law purports to provide a level playing field for both the ruling party as well as the opposition, many would felt otherwise. Without a doubt, the ruling PAP has far more resources (eg: finances, manpower) to create their own pro-PAP websites, shadow sites or blogs, compared to the oppositions. In terms of online advertising resources, they have far greater capabilities than the opposition or any individuals. If the PAP wishes to “flood” the internet with their own advertisements they have more than enough resources to do so. Thus, it is not a matter of oppression or creating unfairness to the oppositions but the rationality of the law. While they may not agree with the law, the law has to be observed and obeyed. Thus, distinguishing between agreeing/disagreeing the law and obeying the law is important.
Lastly, the nature of the internet and blogging makes the law difficult to be enforced. It was announced that if the blogs persistently propagate, promote or circulate political issues relating to Singapore, they are required to register with the MDA. However, the nature of blogs is such that blogs can easily change their web address, name or even spawn multiple blogs with similar content. Registering one blog may just lead to another 10 blogs that have exactly the same content but not being registered I am sure the authorities realized this and this could be one of the reasons why there hasn’t been any blogs (or not to my limited knowledge) asked to register with MDA. This will simply create more negative publicity for MDA, without being able to remove the content. Thus, the nature of blogs and internet may simply render it ineffective.
To sum up my lengthy opinion, I do not view this (law) as an infringement, contrary to many other bloggers’ beliefs. I do agree with the purpose of the law but in the modern era, the law is simply not enforceable and should be revised. If you are wondering whether will this blog cease “operations” during elections? The answer is no. Bottomline is that we should always blog responsibly.
By the way, did anyone say this coming Election to be boring?