Saturday, July 26, 2014

Leadership of Relevance in Internet Era

In ancient times, an Emperor could rule for decades without much disruptions in China and he could still be regarded as the best Emperor in history. But can you imagine if Mr. Lee Kuan Yew continues to rule Singapore by these days? Using his old "knuckle duster" political style to rule in this era which is filled with rapid opening up of information flow and quick public opinion sharing instances due to the advancement of internet and social media?

His son, the current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has tried to emulate his style of "knuckle duster" politics by suing a blogger Roy for defamation. For the record, this is the FIRST time a politician in Singapore has sued a blogger and "layman" on the street for defamation. I cannot recall any other instances that other politicians in Singapore, including Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, had sued a non-politician for defamation. In the end, PM Lee gets all the flak and suffered a spectacular backlash when Roy was able to do successful crowd funding through internet to raise more than enough funds for his legal battle. All these cannot be achieved without the social media which is lacking during LKY's time.

Politicians of this era, especially in Singapore, should realize that the revolutionary impact brought upon us by this internet social media advancement is 1000 times much greater than the birth of radio and television in the early 20th century. In the last century, government like ours could well exert full control on these two public communication instruments and deny or restrict local citizens from access to foreign news channel and such, but in this century, PAP could no longer put a restrain on Singaporeans' access to internet and social media without great social, economic and political repercussions. It is the "MONSTER" that will destroy dictatorship.

We have seen great political leaders in last century who had successfully used the relatively new public communication instruments like radio and television to fight war as well as elections. Sir Winston Churchill has successfully used radio broadcast to crystallized the determination of the British people in fighting the World War II against Nazi Hilter. Without such "political talk" via radio, Britain would have fallen as a result of declining morale and determination to hold out as the last outpost in Europe against Nazi domination.

The Americans have been utilizing Television images extensively in their political hustling. The first most successful politician who used Television to win his Presidential Elections is John Kennedy. Reagan has also used TV very successfully in sustaining his reasoning in public discourse of his various warring hard stance as well as Reaganomics.

These are the reasons why PAP is so afraid that opposition politicians may gain access to these public communication channels that it has exerted an iron fist full control over all media, including newspapers, radio and television. Such total control over the media had allowed PAP to do whatever it likes without suffering any serious political backlash. This is the fundamental reasons why "knuckle duster politics" can exert such a blanket FEAR over Singaporeans as well as opposition politicians and activists.

In response, opposition political parties and politicians would naturally become more conservative in their political approach, else they risk become the victims of PAP's unchecked wrath, just like JB Jeyaratnam and Dr Chee Soon Chuan. The FEAR factor was pretty much alive.

The more successful leadership during that period is a leadership of self-preservation. Rightfully so, Mr. Low Thia Khiang and Mr. Chiam See Tong were able to sail through such turbulent era relatively unscarred.

Workers Party in particular, has excelled under the leadership of LTK during the past 14 years. It is just a clear indication and testimony that his style of leadership WAS relevant for the past decade which brings upon success without getting his "ship" sunk by PAP.

However, we must understand that LTK's continued conservatism in his management of Workers Party may not be desirable for WP to carry out the next leap towards "World Class Political Party". 

In this era of Internet New Social Media, any politician or political party that shut itself out of this tidal wave of new public communication channel is just like Winston Churchill turning away from radio broadcasting and John Kennedy discarding TV media altogether.

It seems that for whatever reasons, WP under LTK is more afraid of Internet social media than anyone else. None of its politicians have effectively discussed of any current issues or affairs of the day or week, other than publishing their (approved) parliamentary speeches on their blogs, website or Facebook. Social media like Facebook allows politicians to have instant direct access to engagement with citizens with minimum cost. Politics should be played out with constant engagement with constituents and thus, created the ability to CONNECT to the ground so that the politicians could reflect their views and voices in parliament.

It is very surprising that WP isn't doing all that. WP CEC members and MPs,  under LTK's leadership, have been banned from active internet engagement unless sanctioned and they are also banned from participation from social-political activism like protests at Hong Lim Park, be it against 6.9m Population White Paper or CPF. This is why you don't see them around these protests. These "physical protests" on the ground have amplified impact when the social media is used to put up the speeches and messages derived from such activities. It sometimes make one wonder whether WP is conscious or even care about these issues or not due to its inaction.

The fearful complacency that WP has demonstrated under LTK's leadership may make it irrelevant to the time of internet evolution and revolution. In countries all around the world, in particularly our neighbours like Malaysia and Indonesia, political awakening and change have been accelerated by the wide use of internet social media. Singapore profess to have one of the highest internet usage by its citizens but it seems that opposition parties like WP isn't making use of these channels effectively to create the desirable change we are looking for. The only consolation is that there are other non-partisan activists who have taken up the role in creating waves of public opinion and providing strong public discourse against PAP's flawed policies.

But I feel that in order for the leading opposition party like WP, it will need to reinvent itself so that it could capitalize on the tidal waves that internet social media is creating.  Perhaps there could be a change of leadership in WP during tomorrow's WP Ordinary Party Congress. WP cadres may need to seriously think about what kinds of leadership they need in order for them to ride on the waves of Internet Social Media effectively.

As for the other opposition parties, it seems that only SDP has a relatively more effective presence in internet. Reform Party's Kenneth Jeyaratnam has been very active as well, both in online and offline activism. NSP will have to seriously revamp itself in terms of active internet engagement. Depending on Nicole Seah alone isn't going to be effective.

In contrast, PAP has been actively trying to figure out what is the best way to utilize this new internet social media to their advantages. Even their ministers and MPs are trying hard to use these social media to enhance their communication capabilities, amidst some clumsiness at first sight. I believe with accumulated experiences, they might be able to utilize these internet social media tools in an extremely effective manner. But I guess they will need to remove their leaders who are really out of tune and out of sync of this new internet era, particularly their Secretary General who has created a big backlash by suing a layman.

The Internet Era has proven to be a game changer in political contests. It has more or less leveled the fighting field, rendering the traditional control of mass media channels of those incumbents irrelevant. Although internet has provided a CHEAP way for political players to access to a potent channel of mass communication, but it also demanded a more interactive means of engagement instead of the traditional Top-Down information feeding approach.

All the advantages of such cheap mass communication channel have been explored by many people all over the world but it is quite disheartening to see that the leadership of the major opposition party isn't catching up with time. Such inert and conservative management mindset may eventually result in the missing the greatest opportunity in our time to effect the great changes we yearn for.

Democracy is based on a few things and principles, of which free flow of ideas and information are the important features that would result in an open, transparent and intellectual discussion of ideas and policies. We just need the right leadership in this internet era who are open to more active engagement and utilization of the mass media communication opportunities provided by internet social media.

Goh Meng Seng


Anonymous said...

The Internet Era did not make the Sinkie opposition more united, or the strongest party, the WP, ready to be govt.

So I think Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong can very well afford to continue with old "knuckle duster" political style to rule in this era.

And indeed he did! And even against a non politician, as Goh Meng Seng aka Madcow shrewdly observed.

Xianlong said...

I find that Yahoo News has toned down a lot in covering sg news after the regime's attempt to regulate the internet last year.

Before that Yahoo SG has awaken the masses with news like most unhappiest people, high turnover of teachers etc.

Such an easily accessible mass communication tools are indeed a waste if alt. parties don't use it more. They no longer have to play by the regime's mass comm grip.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps there could be a change of leadership in WP during tomorrow's WP Ordinary Party Congress."
Goh Meng Seng

GMS, I think u are disappointed, if that is what u wish.

Anonymous said...

Mr. GMS when one day you were voted into parliament than you are qualified to give such opinions. Talking outside the ring is easy, I can also mann!