‘Orchid Evolution’ sweeping through S’pore: veteran editor

A mother and daughter were found dead in Bukit Batok on Friday. (Yahoo!)
A mother and daughter were found dead in Bukit Batok on Friday. (Yahoo!)

The "Jasmine Revolution" or turmoil that has toppled governments in the Middle East is not likely to take place in Singapore, but a major transformation is sweeping through society in the country, said a veteran local journalist and editor.

Speaking before an audience of about 80 executives at a seminar on corporate reputations on Friday morning, PN Balji, former CEO and editor-in-chief of TODAY newspaper, said this transformation, or what he termed as Singapore's "Orchid Evolution", is reflected by the new mood of the nation and other changes.

"I notice a certain restlessness, even restiveness, among different sections of the people," said the former editor with over 40 years of experience in journalism.

"Because the government has played a critical role, a womb-to-tomb role in people's lives, now there's a boomerang effect. They blame the government for everything that goes wrong in Singapore."

He said there have been "quite a lot" of blunders in the past few years such as the flooding of Orchard Road, the security lapse at the MRT station and the prison escape of Singapore Jemaah Islamiyah leader Mas Selamat Kastari.

Coverage of politics

Balji, who is currently director of the Asia Journalism Fellowship at the Nanyang Technological University, noted that the public's new attitude towards the government goes in tandem with the change in how the traditional media cover the opposition parties.

"It is like a breath of fresh air, the way the media is now reporting on opposition politicians and opposition politics," he said.

"There are two elements to this. One, the kind of prominence that opposition politicians and politics gets, and, second, the reports try very hard not to put them in a negative light, which as recent as 2006 was not true."

He believed that that this approach by the traditional media would not have gone ahead without some tacit acceptance by the government.

"Why do I think the government has tacitly agreed to this? I think the government doesn't want readership, circulation, viewership to drop," he said.

"If it drops the biggest loser is the government. They don't have any other platform which can reach that wide an audience."

He acknowledged that social media is available, but that it may not work for the PAP. He cited how Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's attempt to make a joke on Facebook about PAP's new candidate, Tin Pei Ling, fell flat.

"The new media is putting a lot of pressure on the mainstream media. If for some reason the mainstream media is not seen to reflect a kind of public opinion, they are going to be punished, and punished very, very heavily," he said.

Other issues

Meanwhile, he noted that immigration has become one of the biggest issues in Singapore, despite the government making "concession after concession".

"I don't think a right-thinking Singaporean is against foreigners per se. I think they understand foreigners are needed," he said.

The question among people's minds is how come this government, if it is so good, cannot manage the problems of infrastructure -- whether the congestion of roads and MRT trains or the rocketting prices of housing -- that came as a result of it opening the immigration floodgates in 2005, he added.

Another change that he has observed has come over Singapore is the wild swings in economic growth. "One year you will go into recession, next year you will have 15 percent growth, the next year maybe 5 percent. How the people will adjust to that wild swing is another issue."

Furthermore, he believes the attitude towards older people has changed. He noted that the PAP has been stressing the point of having young people.

"The government keeps on harping on young people, but what is there to say you can't have a 65-year-old man or woman serving Parliament for five years?" he asked.

Yearning for change

Overall, however, based on his conversations with different types of people, Balji said that he gets a genuine feeling from people that they are not against the PAP government, but that they have a strong desire for more voices in Parliament.

"Look at the opposition, the young, talented, impressive people who are joining the opposition. That must indicate that there is less fear, and there is really a genuine desire to see some kind of change -- not the change of revolution, but a change in wanting more voices," he said.

He said he could not tell how this new groundswell of opinion would translate in the upcoming polls.

"Maybe this is just people letting out steam, and when it comes to the final analysis, they know which side their bread is buttered," he said.

Nevertheless, his gut feeling based on anecdotal evidence is: "One, I won't even be surprised that the PAP doesn't lose any seats. Two, that they might even take back Potong Pasir. Three, there will be a number of close fights, very close some of them. Fourth point, PAP's percentage of votes may go down even further. In good times, they manage 60 percent of the votes."

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