Created on Monday, 25 April 2011 00:00
Written by Diane Leow
Singapore’s 11th general election – announced to be on the 7th of May – looks to be the most exciting one yet.
Much of the discussions dominating the cyberspace revolves around Tin Pei Ling, the newest PAP candidate who was Mayor Matthias Yao’s understudy. Upon announcing his retirement, Mr Yao believes Ms Tin, at the age of 27, will be a good candidate for Marine Parade.
Many, it seems, are of the opinion that Ms Tin’s age and, less so, gender, are concerns as to if she is an appropriate candidate – especially one that is highly likely to succeed.
Personally, I see how this might be an issue. As Marine Parade has a slightly older demographic, many think that the young candidate will be challenged in bringing the people’s concerns to Parliament. On the other hand, one must also remember: Marine Parade is not going to be a Single Member Constituency (SMC) and there will be also be other MPs at hand to assist her in decision-making, among other important issues.
The question of importance, however, is if age or gender really the issue? In Tin Pei Ling’s case, and other related PAP candidates, I would say it is more so of how they appear in the media.
In her introduction video, Ms Tin looks extremely uncomfortable and impersonal. Clad in her PAP uniform, she already appears segregated from the general population. In addition, the phrasing of the script is clunky and Ms Tin is enunciating her words extremely carefully, almost worried that she might trip on a certain word or sentence. The language used in the video is unnecessarily formal too. For instance, at 0:29, she says, “Indeed, our lives have improved from the last generation to the next”. Not only does she sound extremely careful when she makes the statement, she also does not sound convicted. In comparison to the following video, she looks stiff and slightly bewildered in front of the camera.
In another video that has gone viral, Ms Tin expresses her biggest regret to be not being able to take her parents to Universal Studios Singapore. When I first watched the video, I thought she responded in this way as she did not know how to field the many questions from the media that might be intrusive to her private life. However, some are of the opinion that her response might have been a bid to show her filial piety – one attempt that has not gone down well with many.
Both videos have made their way around the internet, with many netizens commenting on her lack of skills. Some even going so far as to say she should step down from being a candidate.
To me, these comments are extreme. As a newcomer to politics, Ms Tin has done relatively well so far. In the same video where she expresses her biggest regret, she stated that she feels strongly about showing fellow Singaporeans that they can look beyond consumerism and school grades, which I personally believe is important as well. Her ideals are endearing and she seemed genuinely sincere.
In this election, the use of social media platforms is especially highlighted. While most voters may not be familiar with Facebook, YouTube, Twitter or Tumblr, the election sees a new generation voting for their very first time. This is an educated generation that engages these extremely viral platforms frequently.
Members of Parliament are recognizing the power of social media. Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr George Yeo and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong have active Facebook accounts that communicate with the wider audience. In fact, one of SM Goh’s Facebook statuses created a small controversy in the media.
Ms Tin, in particular, is supposed to reach out to us. She is in charge of social media in the Young PAP, but she has not used these as effectively as she should have.
Some still think she is unapproachable. Though she comes from a humble background where she helped her parents run a neighbourhood coffeeshop, she does not seem to bring her messages across to the same highly cynical, easily swayed generation she comes from.
Instead, her personal and public life has received much negative scrutiny. From her background where she grew up in a HDB flat and helped out at her parents’ coffeeshop to whom she is married to, many have read about her life, commented on it, and even resorted to calling her Singapore’s own Sarah Palin.
Some of my friends who are in the midst of their university exams express outrage when she played up her humble background. They say that if Ms Tin is considered humble by merit of her parents working hard and living in a flat, then at least 85% of Singaporeans are humble – which is, of course, a vague generalization.
Nonetheless, from her videos and ideals, I would like to give the younger candidate the benefit of the doubt. Abilities aside, the 27-year-old genuinely wants to reach out to the university students, fresh graduates, and to convince older voters that her age and gender should not deter the people of Singapore from voting for her.
In fact, her age could be an advantage, as she has allowed herself to dream big. She has portrayed herself as someone genuinely concerned and ready to learn to lead, and to serve. Her previous involvement with YPAP speaks volumes of her willingness to sacrifice personal time and effort.
What she needs to improve – besides policy-making – is how she projects herself to the public and, of course, the media. On-camera, she comes across as a vivacious young lady who has much to say about the current system, but has not thought about what she can do as part of the system. As a working adult, she has not convinced our generation of her capabilities despite her seemingly impressive resume. Candidates simply cannot and should not count on the general public having this writer's willingness to give others the benefit of doubt.
Hence, in my opinion, as she continues to pose for photos in her walkabouts in Marine Parade, she could perhaps use the media platforms available to her to be more approachable. Instead of simply updating her Facebook statuses with photos in her PAP uniform, she could take the initiative to let us into her private life. Not too much, just enough for us to catch a glimpse of Tin Pei Ling the Daughter, or Tin Pei Ling the Singaporean, not just Tin Pei Ling the candidate for Marine Parade. Show us, instead of telling us.
The coming days will be very telling in this election. New candidates in the political arena are attracting the people’s attention. This includes Ms Tin, Mr Chen Show Mao from the Worker’s Party, and many others, especially Ms Tin's new adversary, Ms Nicole Seah. Will the new voters remain apathetic? Are we contented to engage in politics behind the scenes and behind our computer screens as in the past? Or should we dare take the stage like Ms Tin did – dream big to serve the nation despite the lack of paper credentials and a misadventure with the media?
Only time will tell. And I, for one, can’t wait to find out.