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Stir the pot and set tongues wagging, Singapore-style




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By Augustine Low

In the United States, Donald Trump is known as the Twitter President, his provocative tweets often setting off a media frenzy. In Singapore, it’s Facebook postings which periodically set tongues wagging and attract the media buzz.

Among the clutch of politicians and notable personalities active on Facebook are PM Lee Hsien Loong, Goh Chok Tong, K Shanmugam, Vivian Balakrishnan, Tan Chuan-Jin, Tommy Koh, Lee Hsien Yang, Lee Wei Ling and Li Shengwu.

Many of the Facebook postings which drive controversy, speculation, rumour, gossip and media interest concern the Prime Minister in one way or another. Here’s a look at the uniquely Singaporean style of stirring the pot.

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Let me test the waters with a message to the PM. This is what Goh Chok Tong did on New Year’s Eve with his post about the urgency of succession planning, even going as far as saying a PM-designate should be made known within the first six to nine months of the year. Soon enough, the response came from PM Lee: Goh was only “speaking with the privilege of watching things rather than being responsible to make it happen.” Ouch! Now, Singaporeans know that despite the former PM holding the title of Emeritus Senior Minister, Goh is sidelined as a spectator and is no more a player in the scheme of things. It looks like he doesn’t even have a direct line to PM Lee. Just goes to show that you can set tongues wagging but you risk getting a tongue lashing in return.

We’re not on speaking terms with our brother the Prime Minister, so Facebook is the way to go. This was the motivation behind the Lee Hsien Yang-Lee Wei Ling joint statement via Facebook last June alleging they felt threatened by their brother’s pursuit of a personal agenda over 38 Oxley Road. This set off a firestorm of Facebook postings that will go down as a case study of how a family feud erupted over Facebook and was fought for weeks over Facebook, drawing in other participants and becoming a public spectacle.

Gotta go, someone’s on our backs. How did Singaporeans know that Hsien Yang and his wife were planning to relocate to another country and that Li Shengwu had already packed his bags and left the country, seemingly for good? Courtesy of Facebook, this time through Li Shengwu. The message came across loud and clear: the threat is real, so time is of the essence, no time to say goodbye, and a Facebook post will do the job of making the announcement.

He’s the one, he’s PM material. Most recently, Prof Tommy Koh set tongues wagging with his Facebook post of a photo of himself with Ong Ye Kung and the ominous words “He has both high IQ and EQ. He is charismatic and an eloquent speaker. He has good leadership qualities and is very likeable. He is a man of integrity.” How to read this other than Ong Ye Kung for Prime Minister? Will others follow the lead by the good Professor and take to Facebook to throw their weight behind Chan Chun Sing and Heng Swee Keat?

It looks like in Singapore, Facebook is not to be trifled with as a means to stir the pot of controversy and conjecture. You can use it to test the waters, start a family fight, make an announcement or make a declaration of support.

Facebook is indeed changing the face of communication in Singapore for those right at the top. And it is a particularly handy tool because Singaporeans are one of the world’s most prolific users of Facebook – it is estimated that the number of users will reach a whopping 3.16 million in 2018, up from 2.51 million in 2016.

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