Channel NewsAsia: Political parties go online to extend their reach

By Valarie Tan

Workers’ Party supporters celebrate after the announcement of the 2006 general election in Singapore.

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s political parties are devoting more resources to the Internet to extend their reach.

The youth wing of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) says it has doubled its manpower and funds in online efforts to increase membership.

The opposition Workers’ Party (WP) meanwhile says the recruitment of more younger members in recent years has contributed to the party’s growth in online activity.

Social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter are the latest ways Singapore political parties are reaching out to people online.

The WP says these are useful tools for people to get to know the party on a more personal level.

It has some 350 supporters on Facebook and its official website gets about 1,000 visitors a month, but the party says such engagement does not necessarily translate into actual membership.

The Workers’ Party’s webmaster, Koh Choong Yong, says: “We can’t really tell for sure, whether this person joined WP because of our online measures. Even from my personal experience, my decision to join WP was a process of understanding (it) online and offline.

“I read about it on the websites and I went to the rallies. So I think for any individual, for them to join the party, online (information) will play some part but it’s not everything.”

Still, analysts say political parties should not discount the power of the Internet to mobilise the numbers. That is why the Young PAP has lined up grand plans in cyberspace, including an inaugural online recruitment video to attract more members.

It has over 1,300 fans on Facebook and recruited some 500 new members, half its target for this year.

Young PAP’s chairman, Teo Ser Luck, says: “Social media platforms will play quite an integral part in the campaigning in the future, and in everybody’s election strategy. So we have to take it seriously, especially to engage the younger generation.”

But one observer says political parties need to do more than just park their presence online.

Former Nominated MP, Siew Kum Hong, says: “The Internet is a kind of a ‘pull’ thing, where people will actually go and seek out content and issues that they’re interested in.

“(For) Twitter and maybe even Facebook, there’s a little bit of what I called the ‘echo chamber effect’. I think these are much more personalised communities where like-minded people get together and then you get the same opinion going around.

“That could possibly artificially amplify the true breath of that view.”

Analysts say it may take up to another 10 years before the Internet community in Singapore becomes politically mature.

But in the meantime, the Internet will continue to grow and increasingly become important way for political parties to gather alternative views and stay connected. – CNA/ir

Posted in 2009 07. Comments Off on Channel NewsAsia: Political parties go online to extend their reach