“The study also found that 30 per cent of Singaporeans are political cynics, defined by their distrust of politicians” (Survey: 1 In 3 Is A Political Cynic, Miss Gwendolyn Ng).
Given the background of problems and challenges – highlighted in the news report “Survey: 1 In 3 Is A Political Cynic” (September 15, 2011) by Miss Gwendolyn Ng – it seems imperative for the administration and its elected Members of Parliament (MP) to intensify their engagement efforts, especially at the ground level. There is a multitude of benefits associated with heightening meaningful vis-à-vis interactions with Singapore’s politicians: these proactive measures can increase mutual communication between them and citizens, thereby promoting active citizenry; get interest groups – particularly youths – to emerge from apathy and lethargy; and render the electorate more well-informed.
What Is Wrong With The Status Quo?
The opinion that parliamentary representatives only come around for walkabouts and on-the-ground interactions only when there is an impending General Election (GE) – besides traditional block visits, gracing constituency events or Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS) – has been widely proliferated. Alternative online media and their corresponding sources – many of whom might be considered to be “political cynics” given their distrust of politicians – have been quick to pounce upon these shortcomings, denouncing their elected parliamentarians as individuals relishing in the comforts of their ivory towers. Interpersonal exchanges are sorely lacking in this department
To be fair, in recent years the general populace have had the opportunity to pose questions to their MPs with the organisation of more dialogue sessions, which includes town-hall meetings, seminars and question-and-answer segments. Unfortunately, these channels and platforms are held considerably irregularly, contain too much formality or fanfare, and are often too large-scale to facilitate any form of productive discourse. Unless steps are taken to make these programmes more conducive, they will only continue to draw blanks, with their repetitive and mundane nature, in years to come.
What Politicians Should Do
For a start, organisations or politicians preparing should be cognisant that these sessions must be catered for the right target audience, with the appropriate political or socio-economic topics for extensive discussions. This will help to focus responses garnered, and therefore generate more useful perspectives. For instance, youths would be more interested in giving their reflections about the education system, community service et cetera; while elderly residents would be concerned about various financial assistance schemes, details of the Central Provident Fund (CPF), and the accessibility of public transportation and other amenities. Psychologically, the moderators would be able to connect more effectively with their constituents, and generate better results.
Social media and Internet can go in some to reduce barriers to entry; nonetheless, it cannot replace the value of having tangible, face-to-face dialogues on country-level concerns or even recommendations within the local community or neighbourhood. In the long-term, exchanges between citizens and politicians should produce results to show for – in terms of the development of focus group discussions for more in-depth sharing, implementing or managing recommendations – that would reflect the value of these vis-à-vis interactions. Singaporeans want to, and should be, adequately engaged.