When Tin Pei Ling was introduced to the world for the first time, she made a point to emphasise how she planned to use social media to reach out to the youth of Singapore. She was supposed to be the ruling People's Action Party's (PAP) tool to reach young Singaporeans who had become dissatisfied with the soft-authoritarian state they were born into. One narrow election victory later, and Tin Pei Ling may be an MP elect, but the backlash of her disastrous campaign performance has compelled the PAP to go into damage-control mode.
The Temasek Review, an online portal of alternative news in Singapore, wrote a scathing report about how the PAP wasted no time in trying to repair Tin Pei Ling's negative image:
The PAP-controlled media has launched a massive propaganda drive to salvage the battered image of PAP MP-elect for Marine Parade GRC Tin Pei Ling whose victory in the election held last Saturday sparked a public backlash.
Immediately after Ms TIn’s election, the PAP mouthpiece The New PAPer (TNP) published a two-page interview with Ms Tin to promote her, followed by another article in TODAY and Channel News Asia on her first day of work.
Both Channels 8 and U devoted almost 5 minutes of precious air-time on Tin Pei Ling’s first Meet-the-People session which lasted till 1am in the morning to show how ‘caring’ and ‘committed’ she is to MacPherson residents.
Tin Pei Ling and the PAP won a narrow victory (56.5%) in the Marine Parade GRC and the campaign was riddled with problems, not the least of which included Tin’s alleged breach of election laws for campaigning on the so-called "cooling-off" day, the day before polling. This appears to have been quietly swept under the carpet.
Meanwhile, a number of online petitions have been signed by tens of thousands of Singaporeans calling for Tin Pei Ling's removal from parliament. Tin Pei Ling's own Facebook page has a mere 7,721 "likes", while arch rival Nicole Seah (National Solidarity Party) now has more than 100,000 fans. Lest we forget though that the PAP won the Marine Parade GRC. More than half the 150,000 voters wanted the PAP in. However, the GRC system, which was supposed to be failsafe and which actually backfired for the PAP Aljunied team, almost cost the regime the Marine Parade GRC — almost.
One point I would stress here is that while Singaporeans may have become bolder in their online criticisms of the PAP, this hasn't necessarily translated into a shift in how they voice their displeasure away from the Internet. People are still afraid to speak out and there is a big difference between people posting anonymously and people confronting their government in the streets.
Tin Pei Ling has taken her criticism rather predictably, refusing to address people's grievances and instead retorting with vague murmurings about wanting to do some good for the people:
"It's definitely not something that anyone would want. But it has already happened. The more important thing now, looking forward as an elected MP, is what can I do? I think I can put in a lot of hard work, persevere, and persist in serving the residents at MacPherson. That would be my priority now.
"I think we're all aware that no one's perfect. It's not possible to convince or please everyone in that sense. But what I will do is really to try my best, work very hard, and prove that I'm sincere, that I can and I will serve the people of Singapore. I have learnt a lot. I have become more mature, in terms of how I manage things and myself. I think that it's a good thing. I will continue to strive to improve myself and become a better person."
Apparently she has become "more mature" in just a few short weeks. I'm still unconvinced. I also don't think that being an MP involves merely being "sincere". Tin Pei Ling can continue becoming a "better person" for the rest of her life, but that does not necessarily translate into sound policies and work.
It's going to be a long five years for Tin Pei Ling.