TODAY: ‘It’s a learning process’



THE main Opposition party in Parliament, the Workers’ Party, is turning to cyberspace’s most popular social tool to engage voters.

While its monthly walkabouts and discussion forums remain a priority, a website like Facebook provides an instant link to its supporters, WP organising secretary Yaw Shin Leong told Today. “Communication is a two-way process, and this online platform offers an opportunity for Singaporeans to contact us directly,” he said.

WP’s Facebook group of 56 members was initiated not by the WP leadership but party activists, known as E-Workers’ Party Singapore, last November.

Still, the party’s two parliamentarians have a very basic profile on the social networking site.

There are no “concrete” or “immediate” plans for WP’s online strategy moving forward, though.

“It’s all an ongoing learning process,” said Mr Yaw. “We’re planning the right ways to engage our constituents and this takes time as we’d rather not rush things just for the sake of countering the PAP (People’s Action Party).”

In 2006, it was reported that a headlong rush into online debates cost the party one of its Central Executive Committee members, Mr Goh Meng Seng, who took responsibility for creating a “bad image” for the party with his Internet postings.

Mr Yaw also drew fire from netizens in May after writing in his blog that he voted for PAP MP Teo Ho Pin in the last General Election.

Not surprisingly, he said, like any other media, “the Internet can be a double-edged sword”.

When it comes to the PAP, NMP Siew Kum Hong believes that the resources at its disposal will be a big help in taking on new online platforms and technologies.

Yet, given the current media environment, Mr Siew described Facebook as an “equaliser of sorts as it neutralises the advantages a party like the PAP has over its competition”.

According to Mr Yaw, the WP Facebook site will enable the party “to get a pulse of how people feel about the issues that affect them”.

But online mastery does not always lead to results for political parties, for whom the most important result is at the ballot box.

The Singapore Democratic Party has the most visited political party website, and its chief, Dr Chee Soon Juan, was the first politician here to utilise podcasts to reach netizens.

Yet, its performance at the polls lagged behind the other Opposition parties. The likes of the Singapore Democratic Alliance and the Reform Party, meanwhile, have no online sites, although their respective secretary-generals, Mr Chiam See Tong and Mr J B Jeyaratnam, do have pages on Facebook, supposedly started by supporters.

Mr Gerald Giam, deputy editor of website The Online Citizen, thinks it commendable that political parties are using new platforms to engage Singaporeans. But it is “too early to tell if this will garner a following” or “just fizzle out in the end”.

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