Saturday, November 3, 2012

The magic of 2016: Winning hearts and minds for General Election 2016

myPaper, 22 November 2011

If you have even one atom of awareness about Singapore's political landscape in your veins, the numbers two, zero, one and six - arranged in that order - should resonate with weighty significance as it casts the spotlight on the year by which the next General Elections (GE) should be held.

Whether by accident or design, the year 2016 pops up with intriguing regularity as the project completion end point for big ticket items paid for by tax payers.

For Singapore watchers, this means the lead up to and entry into Year 2016 will be peppered with media events such as opening ceremonies, ribbon-cuttings and speeches for high-profile projects to crown the project's completion.

These opportunities should be clear to anyone who tracks expected end dates for high-profile items, because the end points for more than a handful of projects converge in and around 2016.

Accuracy and validity
True, one would need a lot more than accurate observations to validate the hypothesis that there is something sinister an invisible hand that is seeding the path towards Year 2016 with media moments.

But even if these projects are part and parcel of nation building and the Year 2016 is mere coincidence, one should take note that these projects represent a public relations (PR) bonanza for politicians eager to polish their image in the eyes of voters.

When one project after another makes newspaper headlines as we approach 2016 and as new services earn smiles from heartlanders who use such infrastructure, that feel-good sentiment, those positive vibes will do wonders for any re-election campaign.

The Straits Times, 1 November 2012

Hearts and minds 101
A successful track record is the bedrock for a hearts and minds campaign that wants to anchor itself on something more substantial than platitudes, forced smiles and hot air (which political speech writers are not short of). By having something to show and by giving heartlanders something they value (like brand new commuter trains), an opening ceremony/ribbon-cutting gives the astute politican a platform to bask in reflected glory.

Such events serve as a report card for progress. They are deliverables that innoculate politicians against accusations of making empty promises; a tangible example of foresight and planning which distinguishes a leader from his followers.

And opportunities abound as every sunset brings us inexorably closer to the year by which the next GE must be called.

By Year 2014, Singapore should have a new Sports Hub comprising a 55,000-seat capacity stadium. Never mind that the much-delayed project will give our city state a stadium with the same seating capacity as the 1970s era National Stadium that was torn down to make way for the new one.

Sports Hub ribbon-cutting will be followed by regional games in the said arena. With thousands of students and Singaporeans roped in to help with the event, this sense of common purpose should generate oodles of goodwill - if the project is executed properly (PR gaffes like complains over sub standard duty meals for the Youth Olympic Games and expired tickets to thank YOG volunteers spring to mind).

In Year 2015,  we can expect National Day celebrations the likes of which we've never seen before as Singapore marks 50 years of independence.

Coupled with initiatives by government-linked companies to introduce new services, Singaporeans certainly have much to look forward to in hardware and heartware improvements in coming years.

Cuts both ways
To be sure, shrewd campaign managers of all - repeat all - political leanings can capitalise on such opportunities to maximise PR mileage. By scanning the horizon, campaign managers can engineer occasions for their master to talk about the need to improve (pick your favourite bugbear) before the official announcement makes it a media event.

In doing so, even an underdog can make it seem like a new service was delivered in response to constant and unflagging calls for better services or infrastructure. It would steal the thunder from the official show and underscore that the underdog is on top of the situation, not as clueless or uncoordinated as their ballot box opponents make them out to be.

One warning about engineering publicity: Politicking is high risk, high reward.

If done ineptly, a blinkered PR strategy could backfire spectacularly because you can't fool all the people, all the time.


Anonymous said...

There's many a slip twixt cup and lip: A sudden lack of sand. A once in 50 years storm. The collapse of underground tunnels or overhead bridges. All these spring to mind.

One also wonders how many people all this infrastructure is geared to: 5 million or the "6 million or so" we are expected to have then.

The said...

Say, you add capacity to move an additional 200,000 pax by 2016. By 2016, another 500,000 residents are added to Singapore's population. Is this going to be a smoother ride?

Anonymous said...

The jobless rate for local is still pretty high and productivity and wages will remain status quo. This is enough to kill PAP votes. Who care about the number of trains, we want true numbers of foreigners in our shore and that should be forced out during 2016 for an eye-opener.

Anonymous said...

By 2016, many car owners will be rendered car-less because of the unaffordable COEs, many thanks to PAP's liberal immigrant policy. Just facing the wrath of these vehicle owners & their families being deprived of their affordable COEs alone will give LHL a headache!

Do you think they will continue to appreciate PAP?