Reaching out to residents has always been a political necessity, but Singapore’s members of parliament (MP) have – anecdotally – increased these efforts, and also sought to have conversations under different themes. TODAY (“MPs Try Out New Ways to Engage Residents in Changing Landscape” (October 5, 2013), by Mr. Siau Ming En) reported that even Cabinet ministers have gone “the extra mile to reach out to their constituents”. The advent of the Internet has also facilitated these outreach activities: most politicians use different web-portals to achieve greater publicity, while the more tech-savvy representatives have also organised question-and-answer sessions through social media outlets.
MPs from the People’s Action Party (PAP) were keen to emphasise that such engagement endeavours had been in place before the watershed General Elections. “PAP stalwarts said their approach to engagement has not changed over the years”. MP Inderjit Singh explained that “he has been organising monthly dialogue sessions with residents for the past 12 years”, and has only introduced tweaks to the format recently. On the other hand, the analysts interviewed raised the factors of greater political competition, and how MPs from both parties have had to connect more effectively with a demanding electorate.
Understandably so. After all, highlighting a possible link between keener political competition and heightened grassroots engagement will do the ruling PAP little favours.
What is next though, one wonders? Surely the novelty (or longevity, as asserted) of these events will eventually wear off. How can the MPs maintain their interactions across demographics, while retaining the face-to-face element? The sustainable planning and management of such discourses are not complex, but participants are – in the long haul – unlikely to be placated by motherhood statements, or general recommendations that remain unsubstantiated. In other words, will attendees be perpetually convinced of the value of their participation, and what are the other tools available in the engagement toolbox?
TODAY did speak to a number of them, who articulated generally positively perspectives. Such opinions should not be discounted, but it would be meaningful to consider feedback over a period of time. Do constituents return regularly, and what do they look out for?
MPs from both sides of the aisle have benefited from the Our Singapore Conversation in the past year, for it allowed many of them to craft supplementary sessions based on this central framework. In its absence, how will they support other ground-up initiatives, and will they reach out to those who might be sceptical or apathetic of these overtures? It seems evident future differentiation cannot be limited to changes in format – over teh tarik, mock parliament, or void deck talks – per se, but purposeful adjustments must accommodate increasingly varied needs. The seemingly comfortable status quo will not last very long.