By Christalle Tay
In the first of a four-part series on how political parties in Singapore are gearing up for the next General Election, Yahoo News Singapore examines how ruling and opposition parties are engaging the public through their online platforms.
SINGAPORE — Politicians are out and about, political figures are back on their soapboxes, and new political parties and faces have entered the arena. Preparations for the General Election are gearing up, especially after the formation of the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee (EBRC) in September. There has even been talk of an Opposition alliance led by the secretary-general of Progress Singapore Party (PSP), Tan Cheng Bock.
As political parties suit up to impress voters, their websites too have been dressed up. The incumbent People’s Action Party (PAP) is doing no less. On 10 November, a revamped website surfaced. It has undergone some structural changes but ironically has less information about the party than before.
Organisational information on PAP’s four subgroups – PAP Women’s Wing, Young PAP, PAP Seniors Group and PAP Policy Forum – and their activities, as well as written papers have been dropped from the website. The party’s digital archive of its newspaper, Petir, has also vanished. Only general information about the PAP can be found.
Information that is available on political party websites can be described as political propaganda, in the same way a commercial company would promote its products and services. With the election nearing and parties on their best behaviour, online and offline, one wonders if their websites provide enough basic information about the parties, their stances, and their activities before campaigning gets underway.
This is because information about political parties is hard to come by. There is no regulation requiring them to make public any information such as their financial records, their party constitution or membership numbers. They release information into the public domain only as and when they want. Most parties keep their websites updated with party goings-on and opinions on policies, but Facebook is the preferred online platform for providing more frequent, bite-sized updates.
How active are parties in updating and posting online?
PAP, the Workers’ Party (WP) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) have been keeping their Facebook pages and party websites updated with new posts every few days.
PAP provides regular updates on party activities, such as the recent meetings of its subgroups – PAP Seniors Group and Young PAP. To commemorate PAP’s 65th anniversary, recent posts paid tribute to the party’s past, with write-ups about its early members and a series of interviews with former PAP Members of Parliament (MPs).
WP’s website comprises mainly videos and parliamentary speech transcripts, and photographs of its walkabouts.
SDP frequently posts videos on Facebook, including videos of secretary-general Chee Soon Juan and chairman Paul Tambyah addressing viewers, and animated videos of characters facing various issues. SDP was especially active in October to promote its Hong Lim Park pre-election rally on 19 October. The news archive of SDP’s website is regularly updated with commentaries on various issues.
PSP, founded earlier this year by ex-PAP MP Dr Tan, has been equally active in posting on Facebook and its website. Its Facebook posts in October comprise the party’s community outreach and posters calling for affordable healthcare and retirement, and lower cost of living.
The Reform Party has also kept its Facebook page active with multiple posts per week, which mainly share articles from secretary-general Kenneth Jeyaretnam’s blog.
There is, however, no Facebook page for the People’s Voice Party (PVP) – another new party founded by the former secretary-general of National Solidarity Party (NSP), Lim Tean. Unlike his peers, Lim’s personal Facebook page doubles as the page for his party, where he typically shares articles with his own commentaries. Lim’s page is also an online soapbox, where he posts homemade videos of his speeches, among other things.
On the other hand, Singaporeans First (SingFirst) has three Facebook pages. @SingaporeansFirst was created in 2014 but has not been updated since last April. The party’s second page – @SingFirstTanjongPagar – was created in 2015, likely as part of GE2015 campaign efforts. It was last updated in December 2015.
SingFirst revived its online presence with its third page, @SingaporeansFirst2014, which was created this September. The page is primarily populated by article reposts, with one post on 23 September addressing voters of Tanjong Pagar, where it staked its claim last election. SingFirst is likely to return to the ward, with the post promising Tanjong Pagar residents that it “will work harder to serve [their] needs”.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is the least active of the lot. Its Facebook page is resurrected every few months to send its followers festive greetings. Party updates are scarce, with the last one given in March to announce new office-holders in its CEC. Unlike other parties, DPP did not have recent photographs of its members walking the ground.
While most party websites can be found off Google or in the “about” section of their Facebook pages, the websites of SingFirst, People’s Power Party (PPP) and DPP could not be found. The link on SingFirst’s Facebook page led to a blog on online poker, whereas PPP and DPP have broken links on their pages.
PVP’s website, although accessible, was not completely functional when checked on 10 November. Some webpages – “What We Stand For” and “Get Involved” – were not yet populated. Default text paragraphs were left on the site and its online forms were not functional. The site’s latest article is from May.
A few parties have taken to messaging apps such as Telegram as a more direct form of outreach. PSP’s channel mimics Facebook’s notification system, alerting subscribers to the party’s latest Facebook posts with its accompanying link. WP, on the other hand, treats its messaging channels as a way to give supporters more streamlined WP news – it copies and reposts Facebook posts by the party and its MPs.
While PAP does not have a party Telegram channel, party leader Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong does. The channel shares pictures and speeches from events attended by Lee. Similarly for PVP, its party leader also has a Telegram channel which occasionally shares links to Lim’s Facebook page, political memes and images of his interactions with residents.
WP and SDP have WhatsApp broadcast lists for supporters to subscribe to and receive party news and announcements.
Before the internet, there were party newspapers. Copies were distributed to the public to share information about party members and stances taken on policies.
Petir is still published regularly, with two to three issues per year. Before the PAP website was revamped, issues up to 2016 were digitised and archived on its website, with the latest being the November 2018 issue - the latter is no longer online.
WP’s website also contains some digitised copies of its newspaper, the Hammer. Some issues are hosted on a third-party website, with the latest one from 2014. However, the party newspaper still lives on in hardcopy and is distributed during party walkabouts.
SDP’s publication – the New Democrat – while not archived online, continues to be distributed on walkabouts.
North Star News, the newspaper of NSP, is also distributed when the party makes its rounds on the ground. The newspaper in 2014 faced a hiccup – a nine-month wrangle with the Registrar of Newspapers after some CEC members refused to divulge their salary details for the application form, citing privacy reasons.
Christalle is a final-year Communications and New Media Department undergraduate.