GE2015: Online bile, offline smiles

GE2015: Online bile, offline smiles
PHOTO: The Straits Times

In the online sphere, many signs hinted that the scales would tip in the opposition's favour. There was the positive reaction online to the candidates and the bookies' odds that suggested that the People's Action Party (PAP) would fare badly in the general election.

Yet, the results of last Friday's polls showed the opposite - the ruling party won by a landslide 69.86 per cent overall.

Even Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin admitted yesterday that he was perplexed by the disparity between online and offline voter sentiment.

He described how people would stop their cars, wind down their windows and greet him and his Marine Parade GRC teammates.

Yet, a list of bookies' odds making its rounds on the Internet showed that it would be a marginal win for Marine Parade GRC at best.

"Our ground sense was that it's very warm and supportive, and whether that translated into votes (was) difficult to say. So there was that uncertainty there.

"But we just kept focusing on our people and kept reaching out. That's what we've been doing all this while," Mr Tan said on the sidelines of Marine Parade GRC's victory parade.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan attributed the disparity to the viral nature of social media.

He said: "This election demonstrates quite clearly that the anti-establishment folks generally gravitate towards the online sphere to articulate their unhappiness.

"Because of the viral effect in the online sphere, the reach and impact of views there get amplified. From what is seen online, it seemed like it was going to be all doom and gloom for PAP."

University of Tasmania's Professor James Chin, whose research interests lie in politics in ASEAN countries, said the silent majority contributed to this "distorted view" of the state of play in the general election.

"Imagine if you read the Facebook comments whacking PAP. Many PAP supporters would think it better to keep their mouths shut before they are (verbally) abused.

"The end result was a very one-sided situation that showed people whacking the PAP, when, in fact, many of the supporters merely stayed silent," he said.

Don't ignore social media

But just because there is a gap between online and offline sentiment does not mean social media can be ignored, Prof Tan cautioned.

"It is still a sounding board. The ruling party and Government may have to recognise that while it may not absolutely represent the sentiment on the ground, it would be foolish to ignore it. Social media is here to stay and it's how young Singaporeans communicate," he said.

"The other thing they should bear in mind is that there are also very reasonable and thoughtful views and ideas that are propagated on social media... so it just means that it's up to the ruling party and the Government to separate (the) wheat from (the) chaff.

"It shouldn't be throwing the baby out with the bath water."

This election, he noted, goes to show how Singaporean voters still play their cards close to their chest and that how they behave in front of candidates during the hustings may not be indicative of their political allegiance.

"It still boils down to having a very close ear to the ground and I would say the ground now, like it or not, increasingly would include social media.

"It just means that (the ruling party and Government) would need to take the pulse in many different ways to try to have a good sense of what the public sentiment is," said Prof Tan.

Reach out to those who didn't support PAP

Differences will always exist among people, but the more important thing is to work around them and move forward as a nation, said Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin yesterday.

"After all, we are still all one Singapore and we're all Singaporeans. So we need to figure out how to rally round, how to continue to converse as best as we can. I'm sure differences won't go away. Some things, we will be able to find common ground.. Some things, we'll have to agree to disagree.

"But the main thing is, let's all move forward together as one nation," he told reporters at Geylang Serai wet market, one of the pit stops of Marine Parade GRC's victory parade yesterday morning.

The People's Action Party's (PAP) win of 64.07 per cent in Marine Parade GRC is about 7.4 percentage points higher than its 2011 General Election performance there and the team received a warm reception during the victory parade that started at Serangoon Avenue 3 and ended at PAP's Kembangan-Chai Chee branch.

At Geylang Serai wet market, for instance, residents dropped their shopping bags and clamoured for selfies and photos with the MPs-elect.

But the win is also a reminder not to be complacent, Mr Tan said.

"We are very deeply appreciative of the residents who supported us, but there are also residents who didn't support us.

"I think our responsibility is to also look out for them, to continue to reach out to them and hope that they will in turn support us again the next time round," he said.

He added that it would be "disastrous" if the strong support they have is taken for granted.

Now that the elections are done and dusted, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong said he will take a back seat in the next parliamentary term.

"I always prefer to look forward to the future so I am now taking a step back, so any questions that you have, please ask the younger ones. That's my role. I'll take a step back and give them my views behind the scenes," the 74-year-old said.

This article was first published on September 14, 2015.
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