New media transforms Singapore election | Connect Asia

New media transforms Singapore election

New media transforms Singapore election

Updated 18 January 2012, 16:15 AEDT

This year's Singapore elections are proving to be the most keenly contested since the city-state's independence in 1965.

A new generation of voters and opposition parties exploiting an uncensored internet and online social media to overcome the traditionally restricted coverage of television and newspapers.

Presenter: Kean Wong

Dr James Gomez, opposition candidate; Jimmy Yap, online editor and journalism lecturer; Alex Au, Popular socio-political blogger

WONG: The usually sedate evenings in Singapore's teeming suburbs, of 12-storey public housing blocks, have been spiced up this past week by feverish nightly rallies of the six political parties drumming up votes for tomorrow's (saturday) polls.

Singapore's 16th general elections have been dubbed a 'watershed election'. For the first time in decades, the opposition parties will be contesting most of the parliament's 87 seats, which are overwhelmingly held by the ruling People's Action Party, or PAP.

With half of all voters born after independence, and over a quarter of them under 35, Saturday's poll is also promising to be the coming-out party for Singapore's internet-savvy generation of voters, who're able - for the first time - to read and watch online the various opposition alternatives to the PAP government.

For opposition candidate Dr James Gomez, the government-licensed mainstream media of television and newspapers has had to open up in order to compete with the online world's less restrictive coverage of Singapore politics:

GOMEZ: The editors of the mainstream media in Singapore have no choice but to report on the opposition, because during these elections it's not just the legitimacy of the ruling party, but it's also the legitimacy of the mainstream media. In the past they have suppressed opposition news, this time around they want to shape opposition news.

WONG: According to Jimmy Yap, a pioneering online editor and journalism lecturer, Singapore's younger generation of voters are discussing political and other issues through social media networks such as Facebook, while over a third of the population now claim to get their daily news online:

YAP: In previous elections, the mainstream media has been very very partisan, and there was no alternative. Now, because of things like Twitter and Facebook, people have the ability to share information, you have citizen journalists going out. As a result of that, the ruling party has been unable to control the narrative quite as much as they used to be able to in the past. The ruling party ..has had to scramble to respond to other alternative narratives. It hasn't been able to control the dominant political discourses as it used to do.

WONG: Popular socio-political blogger Alex Au says this year's core election issue over Singapore's huge income disparities between the wealthy and the growing numbers of working poor belies the debates over the soaring costs of living:

AU: For a long time, the govt never quite believed that the online media can challenge the mainstream media in terms of influence and readership. So they were complacent enough to say, 'oh, let them be, they're not going to change the world'. I think this is one election where they may have reason to rethink some of their assumptions. But perhaps it's already too late, perhaps Singaporeans are so used to the idea that a free internet is part and parcel of their lives, they're not going to accept any going back.

WONG: While the ruling PAP has warned of dire economic circumstances should parliamentary seats be lost in tomorrow's poll, some Singaporeans are mocking such warnings using social media's online tools of ubiquity and speedy rebuttal. Whether such 21st-century responses will translate to similarly novel outcomes for the opposition on Saturday remains to be seen.

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