Buzz in Cyberspace (Other People's Essay)

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A Buzz in Cyberspace, But No Net-Revolution The Role of the Internet in Singapore’s 2011 Elections By Kai Portmann 2011

© 2011 Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Published by fesmedia Asia Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Hiroshimastrasse 28 10874 Berlin, Germany Tel: +49-30-26935-7403 Email: rolf.paasch@fes.de All rights reserved. The findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed in this volume do not necessarily reflect the views of the Friedrich-EbertStiftung or fesmedia Asia. fesmedia Asia does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this work. ISBN: 978-99916-864-9-3

fesmedia Asia fesmedia Asia is the media project of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Asia. We are working towards a political, legal and regulatory framework for the media which follows international Human Rights law and other international or regional standards as regards to Freedom of Expression and Media Freedom. FES in Asia The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung has been working in Asia for more than 40 years. With offices in 13 Asian countries, FES is supporting the process of self-determination democratisation and social development in cooperation with local partners in politics and society. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung is a non-governmental and non-profit making Political Foundation based in almost 90 countries throughout the world. Established in 1925, it carries the name of Germany’s first democratically elected president, Friedrich Ebert, and, continuing his legacy, promotes freedom, solidarity and social democracy.

A Buzz in Cyberspace, But No Net-Revolution The Role of the Internet in Singapore’s 2011 Elections By Kai Portmann 2011

Content

ABSTRACT 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. RETROSPECT: The Origins of the PAP’s authoritarian style LIMITED SPACE: A stunted civil society in a de-facto one-party state THE PAP AND THE MEDIA: Forceful legislation ensures compliance THE PAP AND THE INTERNET: Auto-regulation permits a “light-touch approach” THE INTERNET IN THE 1997, 2001 AND 2006 ELECTIONS: Changing the game, but not the results THE INTERNET IN THE 2011 GENERAL ELECTION: Amplifying unhappiness on the ground PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION 2011: An echo of the May polls CONCLUSION AND OUTLOOK: Tough times ahead for Singapore’s Internet activists?

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REFERENCES ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Abstract
The May 2011 general election has been the most contested and most discussed in Singapore’s history. Prior to the polls, the government relaxed the rules on election campaigning in the Internet. For the first time in the highly wired city-state with its tech-savvy population of 5 million people, opposition parties had the chance to mobilize supporters via social-networking media like Facebook and Twitter. Bloggers used cyberspace extensively for political debate and comment. While the ever-ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) posted its worst result in decades, the opposition gained historical victories, at least by Singapore standards. Observers were quick to label the polls as an “Internet election” , implying that media activism in the city-state’s cyberspace had a decisive impact on the ballot. A more measured reading of the election outcome, however, suggests that the polls were not decided in Singapore’s web. The voters’ choice was largely influenced by bread-and-butter issues as well as a call for divergent voices in politics and more control of the government. Although online political expression since the mid-1990s has challenged the PAP’s authoritarian rule and has changed Singapore’s political culture, its impact in electoral terms has so far been limited. The PAP still keeps the city-state tightly under control, online and offline, and is likely to continue its dominance in the foreseeable future. It remains to be seen if Internet media activism can push the city-state towards an open democracy.

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Retrospect: The Origins of the PAP’s authoritarian style
The PAP’s brand of...
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