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Saturday, February 17, 2007

PAP afraid of Truth

PAP Afraid Of Truth

The General Election is coming. We all know that. Not that soon however, because the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee hasn't met yet -- to plot against the Opposition as is usual. This, it is expected to do yet again by increasing the number of Group Representation Constituencies, thereby reducing the number of Single Member Constituencies where Opposition candidates have the most chance. It will probably also increase the size of many GRCs from 4 or 5 Members to the current maximum 6 or even more, thereby making it difficult for the Opposition to field enough candidates befitting the requirements.

Also, with the PAP bagging a world first in that Singapore is the first country in Asia, in this period, to go into a recession, the PAP is obviously in no hurry, hoping that a quick upturn in the US economy will dig us out of it. Or at least, if other countries in the region also follow suit, then the PAP would seem absolved of mismanagement of the economy and setting wrong strategic economic directions because we are not alone in recession. As is usual, there will be the grand tactic for this GE. In the last, it was the carrot/stick or bribe/threat of upgrading of our HDB flats and precincts. By counting the votes by precinct, the PAP made it clear that it was indeed possible to know how each precinct voted, whether for the PAP or Opposition. If Opposition, that precinct stood to lose all priority for municipal upgrading. It worked. The PAP's percentage of votes, which had been declining, went up.

Whether the PAP is ingenious enough to come up with another potent 'winner' like upgrading is in doubt. They are many things, but ingenious they are not. They have plodding reputations, richly deserved. So, unless they surprise us, they will probably continue to use upgrading as the grand tactic, while fighting dirty in a rearguard manner as its concomitant. Dirty tactics would include branding Mr James Gomez as a drink driver, which stretched a little, can become alcohol abuser or even alcoholic or even perhaps a reckless driver who imperils others -- remember how longtime PAP senior minister and President Devan Nair was branded an alcoholic? Or Dr Chee Soon branded a cheat and a liar? Or Mr Tang Liang Hong branded a "anti-Christian, Chinese chauvinist". (By branding Mr Tang as anti-Christian, the PAP thus cost him the Christian vote. By branding him a Chinese chauvinist, they cost him the non-Chinese vote. Actually, branding an opponent anti-Singapore, as is sometimes done, is even better because that costs the opponent all the votes!).

PAP tactics are crude but effective and many Singaporeans are still unaware of how they work. But the GE this time may hinge on the Internet. In the last GE, not many of us had pcs. This time around, about half of Singapore households have a pc. The PAP recognises this threat to their total domination of information and predictably, there are moves afoot to curb Opposition use of the Internet. Already, we hear talk from Lee Kuan Yew's heir apparent son that the Opposition must be prevented from spreading 'lies and rumours' because it would be 'impossible' to rectify that in a GE, given that the Internet travels at the speed of light.

However, that is, of course, not the whole story. The more complete story is that the PAP has all the whole panoply of a vast arsenal of publicity machines at its disposal that can disseminate and propagate the PAP's views or rebuttals even faster than the Internet. How so? Consider this. The PAP has absolute, total control over every print and broadcast media in Singapore. Through its control of all the major Internet, print and broadcast media, it can put out its case or rebuttals within a mere hour or two through TV, radio, Internet and even print. The last one may be a bit slower, but since there are afternoon papers as well as morning broadsheets, meaning 2 print runs a day, even the print media is able to publish rebuttals within half a day. As for TV, radio and Internet, it is even faster. Assuming that someone puts out a 'vicious lie' or 'rumour' in the morning, in just a few hours, the afternoon papers would print the PAP's rebuttals. Even faster, the radio stations, online newspapers and the TV stations would broadcast the rebuttals and more, almost as soon as they receive them. And by next morning, the venerable Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao would have the whole thing sewn up conclusively. End of 'vicious lies'. End of 'rumour'. Killed even before most Singaporeans can even hear it.

Thus, what the PAP is afraid of is not so much 'lies and rumours' as the truth. Lies and rumours can always be quickly or even instantly rebutted, especially if you have total control of the media, but the truth is another, more troubling matter. For example, the Young PAP had a very lively Forum. And naturally, since the PAP is unpopular (as any objective survey like a Gallup Poll would show) and even hated, this Forum attracted a lot of anti-PAP posters who posted their hate in Young PAP. Result, the Forum was shut down. Even the small army of PAP surfers whose job it is to surf all the websites for local politics and whose job it is to post rebuttals could not cope with the volume of hate postings. Similarly, the new PAP site began life without even a Forum for visitors to debate issues. It would have been an embarrassment and a natural magnet for anti-PAP vehement postings.

A few years ago, Dr Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party produced a short, modest little low-budget political video. It was banned, the reason given being that a video with the inherent possibilities of music, sound and visual effects could be more persuasive than cold print and therefore should not be part of political discourse. (Actually, this is not quite true. In the hands of a good writer, print can be emotional to an extent a poorly produced video is not). The irony is that that video was so modest an attempt that the PAP, with its unlimited war chest, could have produced a whole series of far better productions and given them away for free or little cost, thereby overwhelming Dr Chee's little production. That the PAP is fabulously rich can be seen in the fact that every year, the PAP gives away several millions to various causes. This probably represents only the interest, and not the principal amount, in the PAP's kitty; or its investment revenue, not the total size of its funds. Thus, the PAP could have countered the SDP's little video with Steven Spielberg productions and George Lucas effects, if they wanted, with full orchestral scores.

But they preferred to ban political videos because they had no need of videos, having the entire print and broadcast and now, Internet media, industries spewing their propaganda. Thus, the new Internet gag rules will probably ban videos or moving images, music and flashy effects. Maybe even biodata because the new generation of Oppositionists like Mr James Gomez and Dr Chee Soon Juan are very well qualified. Better, in fact, than most PAP ministers. Also, the PAP had long branded, successfully, all Oppositionists as charlatans and thieves, so biodata that proves the contrary would destroy this long-term branding exercise. All these pathetic efforts to roll back the forces of change and the Internet will fail, of course. For example, if SFD and other websites are blocked, and it is too difficult to change host servers or takes too long, new articles can simply be emailed to group email lists or direct to email recipients. Or the new articles can simply be posted on soc.culture.singapore, which is unlikely to be blocked or shut down.

The beauty of the Internet is that already, mechanisms exist for propagation of alternative news and articles, albeit, only to those who frequent the right sites and stay in contact with each other. In a GE, many more people will turn to the Internet than usual. They will seek out what they want to know and nothing can stop them. To conclude, perhaps it can be added that the whole exercise of gagging the Internet is not so much to prevent falsehoods as to prevent truths. There is in addition, the whole edifice of the PAP institution being so fossilised. Every institution, given enough time, develops a rigidity in the joints like a decrepit old person. The thinking runs along channelled grooves. The actions become replays of past performances. The instincts of habit suppress creative impulses. The PAP had long lost any ability to think and anticipate. It remains trapped in the present without any guiding visions of the future. Thus it is better for us to begin the process of renewal of Singapore by whittling down the PAP's dominance. The GE, not that soon, but not that far, will be a good start.