SDP calls on the PAP to identify itself on the Internet and challenges it to an online debate

February 6, 2007
Singapore Democrats

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Mr Ng Eng Hen
Minister for Manpower and
Chairman, PAP New Media Committee

Dear Sir,

It is with much pleasure that the Singapore Democrats learn of the PAP’s admission that its members have been actively rebutting its critics, albeit anonymously, on the Internet.

We are disturbed, however, that you choose to do so using pseudonyms thus avoiding identifying yourselves as members of the ruling party.

This is odd given the Government’s claims that its policies and the way it runs the country is well-supported by the people of Singapore. One would think that under such circumstances, you would want to proclaim your views like a shining beacon upon a (cyber) mountaintop.

Instead you choose to engage netizens under a cloak of anonymity which is, frankly, unbefitting of a ruling party that has been in power for close to half a century.

It also seems a trifle hypocritical given the fact that years ago, the Government insisted that writers to forum pages in the newspapers not conceal their identities and use their real names but now choose to hide behind nicknames when the shoe is on the other foot.

Worse, didn’t Mrs K Bhavani from the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, challenge Mr Lee Kin Mun over the Mr Brown affair last year to “come out from behind his pseudonym to defend his views openly”? You see, Mr Ng, here at the SDP we would like to think that what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Perhaps, the PAP is afraid of being criticized by Singaporeans if it identifies itself to Internet users. In which case, we say: “Welcome to the democratic world of free speech!” This is where the ruled are not, and cannot be, bullied into silence and, worse, their silence is not distorted into support for the PAP and its policies.

Since you have been hanging around on the Internet, you must know that the Singapore Democrats have participated in online forums, in particular the Sammyboy Coffeeshop. A few of my colleagues and I have posted our views, answered questions, and, yes, responded to criticisms from our fellow Singaporeans in our real names and affiliations.

We did this because we believe that political parties aspiring to governing this country must subject themselves to questions and criticisms from the people. Debates must be conducted freely and openly, and the people given the means to question and challenge policies that affect them and their loved ones.

It is the only means where the rulers are held accountable and compelled to govern in the interest of the masses, not just the rich and powerful. It is the surest way that a thinking and mature society can be developed, one that will make our society more competitive and stable. It is, in short, the best thing that can happen for Singapore and its future.

In this regard, we, the Singapore Democrats, would like to engage you and your colleagues in the Government to a debate on the Internet. Since you are already in cyberspace, it wouldn’t take too much to organise yourselves for an online debate.

The only reason that you would turn down this invitation, or simply ignore it, is that the Internet, which you don’t control, is a medium that allows for genuine exchange of views while the mass media, which you do, censor your opponent’s views.

But if the inability to suppress your opponent’s right to speak and counter-argue is what prevents the PAP from debating the SDP online, then I must say that your effort to persuade netizens of your views, even if carried out anonymously, is doomed.

The SDP is happy to discuss the format and procedures by which such a debate takes place. In fact, we would propose an online, realtime video-conference debate where representatives of the PAP and the SDP engage each other, and invite Singaporeans to participate and judge the exchange.

We hope you will welcome this initiative and make your presence on the Internet less surreptitious. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Chee Soon Juan
Secretary-General
Singapore Democratic Party