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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Handphones against the PAP

Handphones Against The PAP

As if the 'goodies' promised by the recent Budget are not enough, now there is the further promise of (what else) upgrading of our HDB flats, the one thing most central to our lives and living.

As the days count down to the inevitable announcement of the next General Election, even more goodies will be unveiled in a steady succession of promises to woo our votes. There is no doubt the GE is coming. And the worse the economic news emanating from the United States, the sooner it will be (and the news is rapidly getting worse).

However, the voter must always remember this -- the government has no money of its own. It is our money. And all this seeming largesse is but what the citizens in any other country would normally be entitled without debate and not a privilege bestowed by a generous government.

(Would you rather have a low monthly salary and be given a 'generous' bonus now and then or a larger salary that your responsibilities and hard work already entitle you to, that your union -- not our type of NTUC, would fight for?)

For example, if our HDB flats were properly designed and planned in the first place, there would be no need now to retroactively put in more lifts and storerooms.

If more money had been spent on designing and building our HDB flats and estates in the first place, they would (and should) come closer to a condominium than cheap public housing. There is a case for the 'condo-isation' of Singapore, but that is another story for another time. The trouble is, Lee Kuan Yew and his administration have never thought big and having built the first generation of public flats on a crash and low budget basis, never revised it, with the result that 90% of us live in dreadfully identical pigeon holes that are so similar that you could be in Ang Mo Kio and it would seem exactly like you were in Toa Payoh. The paucity of the HDB's imagination has resulted in the poverty of our lives. Now, we are to be thrown a sop so we would vote for the continuance of this kind of policies and attitude towards us, from a government that hardly thinks for us.

Another point to consider is that all this seeming generosity wouldn't come about if Mr Jeyaretnam had not come very, very close to single-handedly defeating an incumbent long-serving Minister in a large GRC of five or so, parliamentary seats. The PAP came very, very close to losing all those seats and were galvanised into preparing for the goodies we are now about to receive. The writing on the wall is clear, and it is billboard size lettering rather than tiny scrawled graffiti. Which is to say, if the voters continue to vote for the opposition in large numbers, the PAP would be forced to abandon its heavy-handed attitudes and dictatorial top-down manners to accommodate some, at least, of our wishes. For the first time, they would have to listen to our hearts and our minds.

In this new, changed circumstances, the people would be stupid not to vote for the opposition and thereby regain some of its long lost power. To vote solidly for the PAP would be tantamount to saying to them, "Continue to ignore us, just rule as you please, as you have done since 1959." The choice couldn't be clearer. That is what the coming GE will mean for all of us.

So the opposition should take its cue from the PAP, which is already campaigning. But since almost every form of political campaigning publicity is conveniently prohibited by law, which works in favour of the PAP, are there any new ones that may be explored?

How about handphones?

There are 2.5 million handphones in Singapore out of 4 million citizens and residents. By law, you have to be an adult to own one, so most of these 2.5 million handphone users are probably voters or potential voters in just a few years.

But no broadcasting system is available for handphones, only SMS or Short Message Service, which means you can compose on your handphone or on the Internet sites of Singtel, M1 or Starhub, short messages of up to 160 characters, spaces included, which you can then send from that website. This may not seem much but may be enough to communicate core points or slogans. Best of all, SMS can be saved and sent from one phone to another, repeatedly, so the potential is there for a chain-reaction type of messaging. If each recipient of a political message sends it to two others, hundreds or thousands could be reached in a short time.

Composing the message requires much thought. A pedestrian message wouldn't excite any recipient and may not be passed on. A fiery message may run afoul of the defamation courts who always interpret for the PAP. So the most useful SMS may be a short note about a candidate or his party or his position, from a short biography to his vision for the people. Of course, more than one SMS may be composed and sent out. Only the composition of the SMS is hard, requiring care and finesse. Once sent, any recipient can save and forward it repeatedly, and so on and so on.

Even tiny pictures can be sent. In the Philippines recently, Filipinos messaged each other small caricatures of Estrada with the words, "Erap resign!" It was good enough. However, pictures can only be composed on the telecom companies' websites and are receivable only on certain models of Nokia handphones, so there is a limitation to this process. (I have created a SDP logo including the letters "SDP". It now graces the screen of my Nokia 5110 handphone. SDP members or supporters or fans who have the requisite Nokia models may email me for a download. The SDP knows how to contact me. It was easy to create the logo and letters. Anyone may go to the websites of the telecom companies to do their own logos and pictures for sending to the requisite Nokia handphones).

However, when it comes time for the allowed political rallies, this SMS service may be most useful. A short SMS stating the time and place of the rally, the speakers, and their intended topics of address, can be covered in the 160 characters. Hopefully, this can be forwarded on and on so many more recipients can know of the rallies and attend. The work in composing the SMS requires some thought and care but the forwarding is so simple it is practically pushing a few buttons to send it on. So the opposition should take the trouble to compose the SMS and thereby let their supporters forward it on to as many handphones as possible.

Opposition parties can compile lists of handphone numbers through appeals in websites such as SFD. Thereafter, these lists can be used for messaging. At the end of every SMS should be the words in caps, "PPTO" which we can now publicise as "Please Pass This On".

And of course, we would all be very grateful if you would do just that with this letter.