Singapore's top satirist thrives in election season

As Singapore heads towards general elections on May 7, one of the most avidly followed individuals during the campaign is not even running for public office. He is a blogger known as Mr Brown. Singapore's most popular satirist -- Lee Kin Mun in real life -- pokes fun at public figures in the economically developed but politically conservative city-state ruled by the same party for 52 years. "This has been a very lucrative time for me for fodder," said Lee of the campaign which officially kicked off Wednesday but has been going on informally for weeks. "I think if you don't make fun of it, it will be a waste," said the 41-year-old who produces videos and other multimedia content for corporate and government clients in his day job. Lee, who describes himself as "L'infantile terrible of Singapore," is the founder of blogsite which since 1997 has been making fun of many things Singaporean, especially politicians of all stripes. He said the site -- labelled after his childhood nickname -- draws 6,000 to 10,000 visitors daily, with at least 20,000 downloads for each podcast which include tongue-in-cheek commentaries and politicised spoofs of pop songs. But during election periods, the numbers spike sharply, and the Mr Brown Twitter account boasted 23,378 followers as of April 27. Lee's irreverence is unusual in Singapore, where criticism of the government is rare. Foreign publications and opposition politicians have had to pay fortunes in damages to government leaders who sued them for defamation. The ruling People's Action Party (PAP) held all but two of the 84 seats in the previous parliament but is now facing a spirited challenge from smaller parties, making it one of Singapore's most keenly contested polls in decades. Lee insists he is a non-partisan figure and argues that the PAP's overwhelming dominance simply makes it a "big fat target" for satire. "They're going to get more of the nonsense from me because they permeate our lives more, so there's more opportunity for humor there," he told AFP. Recent postings at include a photograph of four beaming PAP politicians who appeared at first glance to be dressed in the party's trademark all-white shirts and slacks. "Never wash your Party whites with the pink underwear," a headline reads as an arrow points to the light pink shirt worn by one male politician. He has also posted mock movie posters of opposition candidates depicted as superheroes or movie characters, gathered from Singapore's growing ranks of "netizens" who are shut out of the mainstream media. Lee's humour has been tolerated by the authorities for the most part. "Obviously they don't see me as a threat, I'm just the guy with a big mouth, the class clown at the back of the class, so I'm not worried," he said. However, Lee had a regular column in a local newspaper yanked in 2006 after he penned a tongue-in-cheek piece entitled "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!" which bemoaned the rising cost of living. But Lee remains sanguine about his notoriety, saying his writings are "not political commentary, it's just comedy really." Social media and political party websites have become important campaign platforms in the current election campaign because the country's mainstream newspapers and broadcasters are all closely identified with the PAP. Lee says political parties still have a long way to go. "You haven't seen them for the last five years online and suddenly they pop up and they're tweeting and they vomit all over your Facebook page! And on top of this, they are not used to the response," he exclaimed. Lee believes the polls will be the "most exciting" since Singapore became a republic in 1965 because most seats will be contested. "Once the hustings begin, every day someone will say something really stupid," he said.