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Bouncing back through social media

PAP candidate Tin Pei Ling, flamed online during GE 2011, has made social media work for her

POPULAR WITH CONSTITUENTS: Ms Tin Pei Ling.

Former Marine Parade MP Tin Pei Ling was vilified on social media soon after she was introduced as a new candidate in the 2011 General Election.

But she has become popular with her constituents in the MacPherson ward in Marine Parade GRC.

Ironically, this came about mainly due to her use of social media.

There was an online backlash against the youngest People's Action Party (PAP) candidate in 2011 after a photo of her posing with a Kate Spade box went viral. Things got worse when she said her biggest regret was not taking her parents to Universal Studios Singapore.

THE NEW PAPER, MARCH 31, 2011

But after she was elected, Ms Tin often posted photos and updates about her grassroots activities and issues that she spoke about in Parliament.

Singapore Management University Associate Professor Eugene Tan said: "By posting updates on the ground and sharing her thoughts online, she has used social media as a virtual extension of herself.

"And by taking ownership of her image online, she has further supplemented her connection with voters on the ground.

"Authenticity is key here. Had they felt a disconnection from her online persona and how she is on the ground, she wouldn't be as popular."

Ms Tin, who is contesting in a three-way fight in MacPherson SMC, which was carved out of Marine Parade, is not the only politician engaging voters on social media.

Almost every politician now has a presence on social media.

Dr Ang Peng Hwa, director of the Singapore Internet Research Centre at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), said: "No political party can afford to ignore social media."

This is a stark contrast to the 2011 General Election, when the ruling PAP was the least active on Facebook, according to an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) study on the impact of new media in that election.

The Reform Party and National Solidarity Party were the most active.

COMPLEMENTS

Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin told The New Paper: "I see social media as another medium for engagement. It complements rather than replaces existing modes of interaction."

Mr Tan posts updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram regularly. Some posts are personal and refer to his family life.

In a recent Facebook post, Mr Tan wrote: "Long day. Managed to catch the kids before they sleep. Had little chats with them in their rooms before they turned in for the day. Amidst the helter-skelter of the elections, this is a little oasis of calm."

He also often posts fun photos with cats and, yes, food as well. (We now know that his favourite orh luak, or oyster omelette, is in Chinatown.)

Workers' Party candidate Daniel Goh, who has also been active on Facebook, was lauded by many for his heartfelt and authentic posts.

The sociology professor at the National University of Singapore was thrust into the spotlight after an e-mail alleging that he had an affair with a former student was sent to the media.

Mr Goh "categorically refuted these baseless allegations" to the media as well as on social media. He also shared updates and his thoughts on the situation.

Prof Tan said: "Goh took proper ownership and responded in a timely manner to an issue that he knew voters would be concerned about.

"He definitely wasn't economical in trying to reach out to voters and his authenticity came through. His posts were also crafted in a way that was engaging."

But experts said that being on social media may not be enough for politicians to reach out to voters.

Dr Ang said: "People are migrating to closed chat groups through services such as WhatsApp and WeChat and it is harder to reach them through social media.

"The closed groups are like friends having a conversation and then you, a stranger, butt in saying: 'Vote for my party.' Unless you get invited in, it is impossible to have a genuine, engaging conversation."

Dr Carol Soon, a senior research fellow at IPS, wrote last month in a commentary on the IPS website: "Post the 2011 GE, the proliferation of smartphones and Instant Messaging applications like WhatsApp have boosted the sharing of political news, pictures and videos. Hence we anticipate a greater volume of information exchange and discussion among users for the coming election."

But whether the politicians can penetrate these closed groups to reach out to gain new supporters remains to be seen.

As Dr Ang told TNP: "I think the political parties will have to be even more creative."

Online news sites: Less partisan, more popular

Senior research fellow Tan Tarn How of Institute of Policy Studies.

Has the Internet become less of a Wild Wild West?

Since the 2011 General Election, the online landscape has seen more balanced and more moderate websites such as Mothership.SG and The Middle Ground.

These two lead a pack that includes Six-Six News, Inconvenient Questions and Must Share News.

Senior research fellow Tan Tarn How of Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) wrote on its website last week: "The political Internet in Singapore is now home to a much wider spectrum of political views and players, and this is even more so since 2011."

This, he said, was a contrast from the "early Internet", where alternative news media online was used to express sentiments against the Government.

In 2011, Mr Tan and his fellow researchers found that people put more trust in mainstream media than the information available online.

DIVERSE VIEWS

The popularity of the more moderate sites like Mothership.SG can be attributed to a more mature public looking for more diverse views and who are more willing to trust alternative news media, he said.

The Online Citizen, which was prominent during GE 2011, was seen as anti-establishment. It attracted as many as 1 million viewers a month, but viewership slumped after the election.

IPS research fellow Carol Soon said: "While the online space was more partisan in the past, we are hearing more voices from the other end of the spectrum now."

And Singaporeans here are taking notice as they turn to these sites for political news.

Communications professor Liew Kai Khiun of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) said: "For Singaporeans interested in the political scene... they would have also included The Middle Ground and Mothership.SG in their newsfeeds.

"What these sites do for Singaporeans is contribute a more neutral - and perhaps witty - ground for netizens."

As younger voters clamour for more voices in Parliament, they are also looking for more diverse views and robust debates of policies.

NTU's Ang Peng Hwa said: "People use the Internet to search for information and alternative views.

"Searching for and listening to alternative news don't mean that they will vote for the opposition - they just want to ensure that they have made a good call."

Media Literacy Council president Tan Cheng Han also said that "people are increasingly trusting online sources" as opposed to just the mainstream media.

When asked why moderate sites are now more popular, founding editor Belmont Lay of Mothership.SG said: "The audience has grown up."

But it is also possible that bloggers and editors of online news sites have grown up, too.

Earlier this year, IPS found that the blogosphere now tends to be fairly rational, logical and reasonable.

The study, focused on rationality of the political online space, also found that a possible reason for this is the recognition by bloggers that balanced arguments are required to sway minds.

Six-Six News has published exclusive interviews with the likes of Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam and Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin.

This is a change from 2011, where such sites would not have as much access.

Prof Liew said this could be because "the Government is accepting the reality of the social media landscape".

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin told The New Paper that opening himself up to social media and the online media is "another medium for engagement" and that it was a "useful platform for us to further explain our policies and thinking".

"(The online) space will naturally be contested, but Singaporeans must decide how conversations and discussions are conducted and what kind of tone should be set," he added.

TALK POLITICS ONLINE

Other than the mainstream media, these websites also discuss local politics.

MOTHERSHIP.SG

One of the more popular sites offering GE 2015 coverage with light-hearted and easy-to-digest content. Former civil servants are among its editors.

HITS 1.2 million unique visitors a month

THE MIDDLE GROUND

One of its founders is former The Straits Times journalist Bertha Henson. The Middle Ground has lengthy, opinionated articles. Its well-researched articles include one that analysed how often each MP spoke in Parliament.

HITS 300,000 views a month

INCONVENIENT QUESTIONS

Founded by former Nominated MP Viswa Sadasivan, it has video discussion panels featuring political analysts including Associate Professor Eugene Tan of SMU School of Law.

HITS 4,000 views in July

THE ONLINE CITIZEN

A prominent source for alternative news in Singapore during the last elections, The Online Citizen stays up-to-date in its coverage of GE 2015, leaning towards being pro-opposition.

HITS 570,000 views in July

MUST SHARE NEWS

This sociopolitical site is more of an aggregator of content. But it carries interesting items like The Blur Sotong's Guide to Reform Party.

HITS 330,000 views in July

NEW NATION

This is Singapore's answer to satire site The Onion. It was founded by Mr Belmont Lay, who is now the founding editor of Mothership.SG.

HITS 360,000 views in July

SIX-SIX NEWS

This relatively new site has had high-profile exclusive interviews such as with ministers Tan Chuan-Jin and K. Shanmugam.

HITS 6,000 views in July

TEMASEK REVIEW EMERITUS

Temasek Review Emeritus, which is critical of the Government, mainly covers opposition developments. In 2012, it was revealed that IT company director Richard Wan is one of its five editors.

HITS 190,000 views

Volunteers describe prep work before party posters go up

Volunteers describe prep work before posters go up, including recceing lamp posts

STEPPING UP: Outgoing Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew putting up a poster.

Thousands of posters and banners of the various political parties went up on Tuesday just hours after the nominations were announced.

Volunteers The New Paper spoke to said they had been planning ahead of Nomination Day in anticipation, with some even taking time off just to recce and take note of the locations of prominent lamp posts.

One volunteer said she intends to take two weeks’ leave just to help put up the posters.

Another explained how a network of volunteers even looks out for damaged or defaced posters, so that they can be replaced quickly.

Mr Lui Tuck Yew, the outgoing Transport Minister who will not be standing in this year’s general election, was also spotted helping to put up posters.

Read the full report in our print edition on Sept 3.

Subscribe to The New Paper, now available in print and digital, at http://bit.ly/tnpeshop.

Tentage companies see booming business

STAGE IS SET: A tent at a PAP rally in Tiong Bahru yesterday.

With events celebrating Singapore’s 50th birthday to the Hungry Ghost Festival, and now the General Election, people in the tentage industry are looking at an increase of up to four times in earnings this year.

Those whom The New Paper spoke to said they are fully booked and have even had to pass on some clients to others at the last minute.

They would not divulge how much they are making in this million-dollar industry. Despite that, they are not going to increase their inventory or manpower any time soon.

Read the full report in our print edition on Sept 3.

Subscribe to The New Paper, now available in print and digital, at http://bit.ly/tnpeshop.

Mixed fortunes for printing business

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Hot spots: In Aljunied GRC, is it all about town council issue?

In the first of our six-part series on the hottest contests in GE 2015, we speak to Aljunied residents about the issues that matter to them

FIVE-MEMBER TEAM: The WP team that won Aljunied GRC (above) in the 2011 General Election consists of Mr Chen Show Mao, Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, Mr Low Thia Khiang and Mr Pritam Singh.
FIVE-MEMBER TEAM: The WP team that won Aljunied GRC in the 2011 General Election consists of (from left) Mr Chen Show Mao, Ms Sylvia Lim, Mr Muhamad Faisal Abdul Manap, Mr Low Thia Khiang and Mr Pritam Singh.

It was the first group representation constituency (GRC) to be won by an opposition party since the GRC system was introduced in 1988.

And since then, Aljunied GRC has become a byword for the opposition Workers' Party (WP), which took the constituency during the 2011 General Election.

The People's Action Party (PAP) had 45.3 per cent of the vote share in 2011 - a swing of more than 10 percentage points - and its 2011 team had two ministers and a senior minister of state.

This year, the PAP is fielding a team that it says has the grassroots links.

Although backed by ex-Cabinet Minister Lim Boon Heng as its adviser, there is no anchor minister as with other GRCs.

The team, which includes long-time PAP MP Yeo Guat Kwang, says it is serious about bringing PAP "home" and disagrees vehemently that the WP team is the heavyweight in this contest.

But it is clear that there is a fair amount of ground support for the team in blue.

Mr Gerald Tan, 63, who has lived in Aljunied GRC for over three decades and spends most nights drinking at a coffee shop in Serangoon North, said it is nice that he sees his Members of Parliament around often.

"Every few weeks, we'll see Sylvia Lim walking around, talking to residents and inspecting the estate," Mr Tan said in Mandarin. Ms Lim is the MP in charge of the Serangoon division of the GRC.

He added: "We hope (the WP MPs) can speak up more in Parliament, because when we hear from them, it's always about the town council."

Political analysts note that the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) issue could be a double-edged sword, though it will likely dominate the Aljunied campaign.

Dr Mustafa Izzudin, a research fellow at the Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, said how much the issue comes up in the hustings will depend on the PAP, because the WP will be forced to respond.

"On the one hand, it will compel the WP to backpedal and be preoccupied in dousing the AHPETC blaze. On the other, the AHPETC affair could hijack the entire campaign coupled with the perception of 'bullying', which, in the end, will favour WP," he said.

FRAMING THE FIGHT

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said the PAP will frame the battle with the WP as one of competence and integrity, while the WP will use it to show how systems here are tilted in favour of the PAP.

"How pivotal the issue will be depends on how the PAP and WP calibrate their actions.

"Too much hammering away at the issue on the PAP's part, voters might get turned off and question if the PAP's electoral strategy is just about six letters: AHPETC," he said.

National University of Singapore law and business lecturer Lan Luh Luh said residents are unlikely to care about the saga unless they have to pay more in service and conservancy charges.

Aljunied GRC residents The New Paper interviewed were mostly sanguine.

Madam Anna Tan, 55, who has been living in Paya Lebar division for about five years, said that when people find out where she lives, they all want to know what it is like living in opposition territory.

"It's really nothing different, all the facilities here, we already have from before the last elections," said Madam Tan, who works in a school.

But one resident said she was concerned about where the town council's money was going.

"If they were really overpaying a company that was run by their friends, it's a bit unfair. They should share the money with residents, like build more amenities for us," said the woman in her 50s, who declined to be named.

Ms Jan Lim, 29, who has been living in Serangoon North all her life, said: "I'm happy to see that the PAP is trying hard to win back Aljunied, but even if it did, all the upgrading has been completed, our estate is still in order. So what more can they offer us?"

On the one hand, it will compel the WP to backpedal and be preoccupied in dousing the AHPETC blaze. 
On the other, the AHPETC affair could hijack the entire campaign coupled with the perception of 'bullying', which, in the end, will favour WP.

- Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute research fellow, Dr Mustafa Izzudin, on the impact the AHPETC issue may have

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