“But come Polling Day, I will probably vote for the political party, rather than base my choice on individual candidates” (Too Little Time To Know New Candidates, Mr. Chong Zi Liang).
The observations made by Mr. Chong Zi Liang, in the commentary “Too Little Time To Know New Candidates” (April 9, 2011), are spot-on: given the sheer number of new candidates introduced and the limited time for introductory sessions and campaigning, it is near-impossible for voters to comprehend and assess these individuals independently. The situation is compounded by the fact that a majority of constituents will only know which party or politician is contesting in their constituencies on Nomination Day. Therefore, it is difficult to be well acquainted with their representatives, in terms of weighing their credentials, understanding their policy positions et cetera.
Does it then come as a surprise that Singaporeans are flocking to the Internet to find proactively find out more about the backgrounds and biographies of the introduced political candidates? Being informed about these information and propositions is of paramount importance for engaged Singaporeans. Voting along party lines may not be absolutely detrimental; but it does compromise the individuality of the election hopefuls, and might grant a free pass to weaker candidates who might be comparatively weaker in quality or administrative efficiency.
There are a number of ways new candidates can – and should – proactively reach out to their voters. First, even though the upcoming General Elections have been dubbed the “Social Media Elections”, the online methods of engagement by the newcomers have been pedantic, conservative and banal. Voters are not interested in superficial updates such as “having my cup of coffee” or “at Block 123 now”; instead, Singaporeans are intrigued to find out about their opinions on socio-economic concerns, as well as possible policy recommendations to improve the status quo. Correspondingly, through online commentaries or spontaneous letters to the newspapers and local media, they can expound upon their perspectives on national concerns. These hands-on modes of communication would cement their abilities as future parliamentarians, and convince educated voters of their on-the-ground sensitivities and engagement.
Third, vis-à-vis walkabouts should be endeavoured way before the candidates have been officially announced; and the latter should simultaneously be given the opportunity to work in grassroots activities. This would greatly complement the rhetorical undertakings as aforementioned, and allow the individual to be more cognisant of bread-and-butter concerns in the neighbourhoods. Under such circumstances – regardless of when the politicians are formally introduced, or when Election dates are announced – voters would be familiar with the faces which have been present in their communities consistently.
New political candidates cannot expect media and public attention to be served to them on a silver platter; if they choose to be silent candidates or meek “yes-men”, then they might have to pay the price come Polling Day.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.