“The programme was not meant to be a comprehensive report card detailing the reaction of every single political party in Singapore. At the latest count, there are at least 11 active political parties” (CNA: ‘No Attempt To Discriminate Against SDP’, Miss Han Chuan Quee, CNA VP Of Corporate Services).
The reply by Miss Han Chuan Quee, Channel NewsAsia’s vice-president of corporate service, to the Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) lament of the channel’s purported discrimination against the political party – in the news report “CNA: ‘No Attempt To Discriminate Against SDP’” (March 3, 2011) – provides a considerably unconvincing explanation for the SDP’s exclusion from the particular television programme. Although it is valid to contend that it is quantitatively impossible for the channel to invite all active political parties for a televised discussion on the electorate boundaries, the SDP has been comparatively well-established, and would certainly add merit to points substantively.
SDP’s frustrations – voiced passionately by its Secretary-General Dr. Chee Soon Juan – are understandable, given the fact that the assortment of Opposition parties are constantly seeking to find avenues to increase their exposure, and simultaneously expound upon their manifestoes or corresponding policy recommendations. Given the aforementioned stalemate, as well as significant interest on-the-ground with regard to the imminent General Elections and related issues or concerns, it would be constructive and favourable for the organisation of a comprehensive, public election debate. Cognisant of the vast number of political parties and the sheer diversity of socio-political or economic themes involved, the debate can be carried out across a running series.
The benefits of such debates are aplenty. First, the electorate and the general voter would be more informed of the questions at stake, and logically determine – based on the responses offered by the politicians – which party or individual offers the most productive solutions or courses of action. Second, in line with the incumbent administration’s desire to get young or first-time voters more engaged as Singaporean stakeholders, the steady exchange or perspectives – which require invited political guests to think on their feet and react positively – would definitely get them more excited. With the accessibility of the Internet and proliferation of websites and blogs, the entire General Election period would be made more colourful, as viewers actively pen their perspectives and thoughts, contributing to this synergised pool of opinions and views.
Since communication and rhetorical abilities are important traits for any politician, his or her spontaneous responses would reveal substantially the extent in which the politician has been engaged with the grassroots. Accordingly, the debate would in the long run act as another form of check-and-balance; to ensure that the existing administration or the Opposition parties are not oblivious to various dissatisfactions or relevant sentiments.
To conveniently reject these debates on the basis that they are more style than substance is ludicrous. If organised and taken seriously, these contemporary forms of political exchanges would add life to the oft-pedantic approaches of the parties and individuals, and subtly imbue Singaporeans with a much-needed sense of ownership.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.