Do S'pore bloggers have same dream?

By Liew Hanqing (Electric New Paper, Singapore)
March 13, 2008
THEY were netizens who emerged from the online wilderness to make a political impact in the real world.
Malaysian bloggers Jeff Ooi, 52, and Tony Pua, 34, both won seats in Sunday’s elections with sizeable victory margins against candidates from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
Can Singapore bloggers be as impactful? Does Mr Ooi and Mr Pua’s success signal the beginning of blogger-power in the region?
Their success in the elections seems to suggest they have. And they have garnered a sizeable following – who whether rational or blindly rebellious – lent a certain credibility to their blogs.
Both Mr Ooi and Mr Pua’s blogs began as a mix of personal entries and commentaries on political developments. By last year, both were household names in the Malaysian blogosphere.
Do Singapore bloggers harbour political ambitions? The short answer, going by interviews with local socio-political bloggers is: No. Many prefer to keep a lower profile.
Political observer and former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin feels it is unlikely Singapore bloggers would take their cue from their Malaysian counterparts, given the difference in the two countries’ political climates. Credibility of bloggers, he said, was a key issue.
‘In Malaysia, many have started to believe that blogs are more credible than the mainstream media,’ he said. ‘We have a credible Government and media, and though blogs give a flavour of what is happening on the ground, they often fail to give the big picture.’
Blogger Leong Sze Hian, 54, who writes for The Online Citizen, gave a different reason.
He said: ‘The strength of the local blogging community is that they are non-political. Once you have bloggers entering politics, it undermines the purity of blogging, because bloggers are supposed to be neutral.’
Blogging is more useful for commenting on social issues, rather than actual politics, he added.
But, Mr Gerald Giam, 30, who writes on his blog Singapore Patriot, predicts otherwise.
‘If you survey the socio-political blogs in Singapore, you will find many bloggers who love Singapore and want to change it for the better,’ he said.
‘I’m sure at least a few of them will be willing to take the next step to enter politics.’
That is Mr Ooi’s stand. He wrote in his blog: ‘Everyone of us has a stake in the country’s future, but talk is cheap. We now need to walk the walk.’
Mr Ooi and Mr Pua’s rise has been meteoric. News website even dubbed MrOoi’s site ‘Malaysia’s most influential blog’.
Singapore bloggers have yet to gain such a standing. But this may change in the future.
Local bloggers noted that, like Malaysians, Singaporeans are increasingly turning to blogs as an alternative to the mainstream media.
Mr Leong said those who frequent blogs do so because they believe they can get more ‘hard-hitting and controversial’ views online than in the mainstream press.
Mr Giam said the increasing popularity of socio-political blogs is also among older Singaporeans as well.
Bloggers like Mr Ooi and Mr Pua were able to campaign and even raise funds through their blogs. In contrast, the Singapore Government banned political blogs and podcasts during the 2006 General Elections.
So how involved can, and will, our bloggers be? Are they merely armchair critics who don’t actively contribute to social improvement?
Mr Leong was quick to disagree.
‘The future of Singapore does not depend only on politicians. Activists and civil society bloggers have a different role to play,’ he said.
‘If (bloggers) joined politics, they would be fighting the same battle as politicians, and there would be no diversity of views.’