Election fever is heating up in the island-state and the politicking has gone into full swing, showcasing the good, the bad and the ugly.
This little red dot I call home is expected to hold its General Elections anytime over the next two months, and one that is described as Singapore's first election since the uprising of social networking sites.
Much like a debutante ball, both the incumbent and opposition political parties are now scurrying to introduce fresh faces they'll be fielding in the 2011 election, and the youngest among them comes in the form of 27-year-old Tin Pei Ling, a consultant with Ernst & Young.
Tin, along with other young candidates, are expected to bring in "first-hand perspectives from that generation", according to the incumbent ruling party PAP, and Tin has said she intends to use social media to reach out to the younger generation in the lead-up to the election. "By building a friendship online, we can then take them into the real world where we sit down, face to face, to interact with each other," she said, during her debut with local media.
I think that is a proposition she might now be reconsidering.
Since her introduction to the public, the 27-year-old executive has been torn apart on social networks and blog sites over her inexperience and unsuitability as a political candidate. Critics are abound where the harshest point to her husband's position as principal private secretary to Singapore's prime minister--thus, paving her easy entry into politics--and personal pictures of her posing with a branded shopping bag, presumably containing a branded handbag.
The hullabaloo has divided the online community into two camps: one crying foul over the personal attacks against Tin, while the other argues that the criticism is merely a fair exchange of how the incumbent has always treated the country's opposition party reps.
But, more importantly, it has demonstrated how ill-prepared local politicians as well as some members in the public are in preparing for the country's first social election.
A Gen Y herself, Tin should have known better than to leave intimate details including photos and tweets of her personal life unchecked, and unsecured, on social networks before making her public debut. It was only after that she protected her Twitter account, no doubt using the time to clean up her tweets before opening it up to the public again.
Her political seniors, government officials with years of experience and scholarly backgrounds, should also spend some time finding out more about how they can better serve an Internet-savvy voting population heavily connected to social networks.
To her credit, Tin has remained seemingly calm, telling a local media outlet: "Some of the [online criticism] can be rather personal. It wouldn't be the best use of my energy and attention to keep thinking about why they say this about me."
Others in the blogosphere, however, have come out to in her defense. Former Nominated MP, Siew Kum Hong, noted in his blog how the turn of events on the Internet are "nothing short of disgusting" and not what he wants Singapore politics to be.
"I would not like politics in Singapore to become an exercise in gutter journalism. The consequence of all this, is that people will be deterred from joining politics, even more so than before," Siew added. "I for one will openly admit that I have thought about it and decided against taking the plunge, in part, because of these things. I have been a victim of these whispers. It is not fun. It is not right."
Some readers of his blog pointed out that the public has the right to know the life and character of government officials they're going to vote in. Others say politics is "dirty" and Tin's own political party has in the past called opposition candidates worse names.
Yes, two wrongs don't make a right, but who's to say what's wrong or right in the World Wide Web, and in a fully-functional democracy?
We can't ask to live in a democratic society and then demand those who are nasty to play nice. Life just doesn't work that way, especially in an online world. Everyone should be allowed to show their colors--whether ugly or nice. It's surprising that people I'd assume would be familiar with how the blogosphere spins and savvy with the mechanics of social networks, should still be shocked over how nasty comments can get in the online world.
The first S'pore Internet election is obviously exposing a lot more skin, some rather raw, and politicians who can't bear the light should withdraw from it because it won't get easier. The online world just isn't going to get "kind".
The moral of the lesson here? If you're planning to run for office some time down the future, never pose for a picture with a branded shopping bag, much less with your fingers showing a V sign, propped next to your face.
...Unless you do so on a day like today and can claim it's a prank.