20 July 2006

Politicians' Blogs


I recently mentioned that Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono had started his own blog. The Jakarta Post tells us that observers are saying that "by engaging his detractors on the Internet, the Indonesian minister is presenting himself as an open person, willing to discuss issues he cares about."

Someone then pointed that at least one PAP MP (Teo Ho Pin) has a blog too. So I decided to visit both Juwono's and Ho Ping's blog, take a look and do a compare-&-contrast.

Here's a sample from Juwono's blog - part of his response to human rights groups' criticisms of the Indonesian military:
From the outset the Indonesian Defense Force has never had a decent budget to provide a security and defence service as part of the provision of a public good to enable an environment wherein development, stability and civil liberties can flourish. Since the mid-1950s, no Indonesian government has been able to provide the police and the defence force with an adequate budget to provide that public service.

The HRW June 2006 report is understandably unsympathetic to such realities, given that its framework and paradigm rests on the assumption of standards of “professionalism and transparency” taken for granted in developed countries. HRW Asia was also mindful that in the wake of the TNI’s exemplary role in the rescue and rehabilitation efforts of the post Tsunami in Aceh in 2004-2005 and the recent earthquake in Central Java, the TNI’s image at home and abroad had soared. The lifting of the US restriction of spare parts to the TNI also took the wind of the anti-Indonesian lobby in the US and Western Europe.

All in all, the content and tenor of the HRW 2006 report is both predictable and disappointing. When I served in London as ambassador, I had many meetings with NGOs and human rights activists (including HRW Asia) about the TNI, its role in the reform of political life in Indonesia. Including the divestment of the TNI’s businesses. The language and lexicon of most of the groups I met came right through a time warp of 1990-1998. They simply could not and would not accept the notion that the TNI was the pioneer of political reform, and none more so when under Lieut.General S.B. Yudhoyono during his tenure as TNI chief of territorial affairs in 1997-1998. Human rights groups also would not acknowledge the UN Human Rights Summit formulation in June 1993 that human rights constituted “civil, political, economic, social cultural rights in an integrated, inseparable and balanced manner”.

But then HRW thrives on focusing civil and political rights infringements because their bread and butter heavily relies on emphasising those infringements that are much more appealing, dramatic and headline grabbing. Besides, who would want to read about the TNI’s successes in separating sectarian groups from killing one another in Sulawesi or Ambon. What Congressman in the US or parliamentarian in Europe would care about a TNI soldiers toils in helping villagers build irrigation, shelters and wooden bridges in the boondocks of Borneo. No editor in the newsrooms of satellite TV or print media in the liberal press would dream of providing a favourable paragraph or two about the TNI. The TNI will remain whipping boy for many NGOs and western media for a long time to come.
Now, let's take a look at Ho Pin's blog. Three sample posts:
"Thank you. I am indeed very proud of the achievements of Zhenghua Primary School. The Principal, teachers, staff, and pupils have worked hard to provide a good learning environment for their students. The parents of their students have also played an active and important role in working closely with the school to help students achieve more in their learning. Zhenghua Primary is indeed a very good neighbourhood school. My best wishes to all!? Be the best, Beat the rest!"
-- Dr. Teo
The tender for Lift Upgrading Programme at your precinct has been closed and in the process of tender evaluation by HDB. The contract is expected to commence in the 3th quarter ( Jul-Sep) of this year and complete 24 months later.

Should you need any further clarifications please contact Lawrence Toh (Property Manager, Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council) at 64167953.

Dear resident

Thank you for your feedback on bus services 960,961 and 190. We would appreciate much if you could provide us with more details (during which hours of the day) so that we can further request TIBS to improve their services. Pls contact my Transport Committee Chairman, Mr Louis Tay at 96608266.

We will continue to improve the bus services in Bukit Panjang.

Dr Teo Ho Pin

To be fair to Ho Pin, he may have only been blogging with very municipal concerns in mind (and we DO need people to take care of our municipal concerns). But you can probably see why many thinking Singaporeans would be disappointed with the contents of Ho Pin's blog.

If you had hoped to read Ho Pin's views on the PAP's political vision for Singapore post-GE 2006 ... or to find out what policy issues Ho Pin intends to raise and debate in Parliament ... or read Ho Pin's analysis on the recently-released statistics about Singaporeans' household income ... or learn what he thinks are the key challenges for Singapore's fledging biomedical industry ... or get an inside look at how Parliament functions etc ....

well, you would be disappointed.

I'm kinda reminded of PAP MP Penny Low's blog (I think it has been deleted - I can't find it anymore - but there's a reference to it here). No insights into national matters, no discussion with the readers on the issues of the day, no analysis of any concerns of the Singaporean people.

I remember how Penny Low basically just blogged and blogged and blogged about her backpacking holidays in Europe about one decade ago. Might as well read Xiaxue - whose news about her own personal life is, at the very least, not coming one decade late.

Juwono's blog serves as a convenient contrast. Whatever your views may be about Indonesian and its military, Juwono is at least providing his personal insights and analysis on some important national (and international) issues - and the insights and analysis are based on his special position as Defence Minister and senior statesman. His blog indeed has a sense of engagement with its readers. No wonder Juwono gets accolades for his blog - and Ho Pin and Penny don't.

Technorati: ; ; .


Anonymous said...

Perhaps Teo and Low's blogs are to counter the impression that PAP MPs/members are mere policy wonks who lack sensitivity to the human factor in MP-constituent relationships. After all, they are usually accused of being disconnected to the everyman, and thus blog entries that address directly the day-to-day issues are more suitable.

Which is not to say I disagree with your assessment of course. I've always felt that there is a severe lack of proper policy analysis here, any analysis we have is post-hoc, after decisions are made, and pretty piss-poor takes as well, generally aligned with the party line. Any dissent appears mere window dressing.

I would love to hear what our immensely talented MPs think, their thoughts on PAP policies and their personal opinions and stands towards issues affecting Singaporeans and Singapore. But I don't think they'd ever be allowed to voice these publicly.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Let me put it this way -

even if they wanted to address "day-to-day" issues in their blog, they could do it much better.

For example, on grassroots matters, I'd like to hear for instance some real, solid, insightful, detailed thoughts about the problems that residents in their constituency face.

In the newspapers, we come across stories about people who are living without electricity & water in their HDB flats; kids who go to school hungry because their parents are unemployed and broke;
there surely must be battered women, victims of domestic violence, who go to their MPs for help; in areas like Geylang and Joo Chiat, how does the MP address residents' concerns about the ongoing vice trade; I'd like to know more about how town council funds are managed, so that we can all be assured that the conservancy fees we pay are being put to good use; I'd like to read blog posts about how exactly MPs are helping unemployed, retrenched residents to find jobs; I'd like to see lively MP blogs where residents actively come back and give their comments (positive AND negative); when a matter like this happens, I'd like to know what the MP for the area has to say about it; etc etc.

Anonymous said...

Wishful thinking Mr Wang. Intelligent discourse and engagement is done behind closed doors, not privy to peasants and serfs. And not just anybody for that matter. You got to be selected and pre-approved to get invited too.

wert said...

The blog entries (Teo) look more like monthly reports. They are without much human touch and emotion, and looks like those PR letters by government departments. A blog without any personal opinion and insight is not terribly interesting to read and lack the ability to bond with the readers. It don't tell you anything about the person behind the blog wriiten in such an impersonal and remote manner.

Therefore, it's hard for me not to question if the author has any personal belief or passion for his work.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the cynic in me agrees with anonymous. It just ain't gonna happen. There's more than can be done, but it's not necessary so it won't be. After all, if plebians are so keen on shaping public policy then they are more than welcome to join parliament. This is not a party known for encouraging participatory citizenry after all. Your knowing more is a hinderence to the party doing what they want. Please step back from the light.

PC said...

*scratch head*

Reading Teo's blog, it appears to be ghost written :o). Much of the reference is in the 3rd party.. and "Dr Teo" describes himself as "Dr Teo"... where one would normally use "I"... or "we"...

Get the feeling too?

Anonymous said...

I think it is a bit too much to expect the PAP to use the net as either a political platform or as an effective feedback/debate mechanism for public policies.

They are, after all, the same people who gave use the "Bhavani's Commandments".

I note that the 2 PAP MPs cited as examples are the younger MPs who may be more receptive to the use of blogs as a political media.

But let us not forget that there is a party whip.

A lot of the young, eager, "independently" minded new PAP members seem to have turned into some sort of Borg collective the minute they wear white. I don't think they are given as much freedom as they would like. They certainly do not have the freedom to give independent political thoughts.

When was the last time you heard an original or thought provoking idea from the 20 new PAP MPs? Why should their blogs be different? This is not "In Bed with Madonna".

Lastly, the PAP often has a top-down approach to politcal issues. So........ if the top did not give their go-ahead, don't expect anything to happen.......

There will come a day when the PAP will engage the net/blogs. When it happens, you will see a concerted, coordinated and consistent message being given. At the moment, blogs are still a fringe media that attracts limited readership. The PAP already have the mainstream media under their control that reaches to the whole country. So why bother?

It is really a simple question of efficiency.

Anonymous said...

Mr Teo's blog (which I seriously doubt it's his own effort) is indeed bad quality to be expected from a Member of Parliament...

I remembered some years ago, some MPs complained that they were approached by residents to remove bird poo and look for lost pets, or something similar. They seem to think they can offer more value-add.

Well, his blog contents confirm their biggest contribution to our lives so far. Fix the toilet and fix the bus routes, MP.

I would even dare to conclude that they are too highly paid for doing what they do now!

hugewhaleshark said...


You mean like the posts congratulating himself on winning the election in his constituency and explaining how he "got this far"?

Ummm. Yah. Gives me the creeps.

hugewhaleshark said...

Oh and Mr Wang is too kind not to highlight these two posts in contrast too Juwono's.

Anonymous said...

I think we can describe Dr Teo's Bloggy as a fan site.

le radical galoisien said...

Clearly the non-PAP ministers will have a leg up in this respect.

Look at the graduating batches of students - many of them, whether from Raffles Institution or ITE - have their own blogs, many of them with passionate personal views. In most likely cases, the emerging youth electorate will be won over by the opposition.

Perhaps we only have to wait (and continue to reach out).

Anonymous said...

We have non-PAP ministers?

Maybe you are referring to the non-PAP MPs? Er.... do they have blogs?

The post election forum from the Institute of Policy Studies did mention that the effect of the internet is negligible.

The only meaningful contribution was Yawning Bread's pictures of the election rallies and Mr Brown's Bak Chor Mee podcast.

Which translated to ...... how many votes for the opposition?

The PAP knows that. The net is negligible and considered "fringe" at the moment, especially since they control the mainstream media.

But there will come a day.......

le radical galoisien said...

Yes, there will be a day...

Probably most of our parents don't blog nor participate in online communities other than email. But for us students, many peers do.

I meant Members of Parliament, sorry. I tend to conflate "Ministers" with "MP" unconsciously because they both start with M.

Anyway, a few things of note from his blog you should mention -

on his profile he states his interests are:

" * Helping the needy and elderly
* Housing matters
* Town Council Management
* Environment sustainaibility
* Construction Industry
* Sports and healthy lifestyle"

These are some diverse fields. But he doesn't blog about them. For one I'm really curious about "environment sustainability" in Singapore. It perplexes me: surely it can't be against the Party Whip to state your views on it, and it will bring people a lot closer to supporting said Minister by seeing him write about it.

It almost reads like the PAP magazines they used to send to us overseas a decade back.

Ho Pin helps the elderly! Never mind there are already two other pairs of hands on the same box!

I'm almost wondering at the lack of sarcastic commments on the blog. Maybe he censors them all.

le radical galoisien said...

Fine. The elderly person is holding the box, and there's one other hand.

Just how assistive is this?

Anonymous said...

Isn't good news that our MPs have nothing in depth to discuss?

This shows that Singapore is "political- problems free".

There are NO important issues worth discussing or addressing because this country is so well managed that every one is very happy and never has anything to complain about.

Neither are there any events worth discussing like Indonesia.

Only trivial things to attend to to make the trivial Singaporeans happy - like riping the floor tiles in the HDB every year, and replacing them with similar floor tiles which only covers part of the paths but not the entire paths.
The rest of the paths are still left as cement floors!

AND Only trivial things to resolve which may make Singaporeans unhappy like - telling the Banglas to stop spraying water at the residents' shoes "or else the Lightning AhSoh".

So Singapore is actually a perfect place ... why try to find little imperfections (or worst, Misconceived imperfections) in this perfect little island?

TO: Non-Singaporeans

FYI pls, here is only perfect for Singaporeans ok!

If you come here, it will not be perfect for you because here is too perfect for you to accept -

we do NOT need to vote

just like babies who do not need to feed themselves!!


?? ...

denzuko1 said...

while reading through Dr Teo's blog, I can't help but to think that this is merely used as a communication tools to up-date his voters on RC news. The few articles that I have read really lacks personal touch. Like many comments before me, I find that he is total writing this as a third person...or is he the writer? "Thank you Dr Teo Ho Pin..." seems more like pasting other people's words to his blog.

It will be better if Dr Teo put in some if not all of his personal opinion about society and PAP's policies if he really want to reach out.

Anonymous said...

"Wah lau"

... got one blog, only say 'thanku' to u, u and u, oledi so many comments ...

Now, still want Dr Teo to tell his personal opinions - sure kanna stabbed right left centre by Singaporeans like u guys. S-pear-surely by our Mr Wang Say So!

"gia se lang man!"

safer to shut down the blog like Auntie Penny Low!!

le radical galoisien said...

Some other minor details:

According to the About, he says the blog looks best "in Mozilla Firefox" (although it should look fine in any browser).

This should imply he uses Firefox.

Using open source software rather than the packaged MS Internet Explorer is a sign of being tech-savvy.

I don't know whether it actually matters, but it's one of the subtle signs of being genuine as opposed to blogging just because it's the in thing.

Firefox users *tend* to be a supporter of open source software, and they *tend* to thus support electronic freedom. This is of course all generalisations and leaps in assumptions.

Anonymous said...

I think Dr Tan and other PAP talents should consider engaging in political exchanges or offering advise on political strategies to Juwono.

Then we can reserve all our rice, canned food and clothes collected by Charitable organisations for the poor Singaporeans here because the Indonesians can now help themselves with the survival tips ... haha ... exchange notes mah!

Cannot understand why no country is making donations to us when we have no land to farm and not even our own water supply - but instead have to drink recycled water!!

Yet we (the little islanders representing a sheer dote on the map) are making donations to a country with much more land and water then us!


Anonymous said...

A blog is supposed to be an online diary, if I am not mistaken. It is a place in cyberspace to share your thoughts and views about things dear to you.

The stuff that THP 'writes' in his blog look out of place. They belong on a notice board at the void deck of an HDB block or some newsletter to the residents.

But surely we/Mr Wang can proactively do something to change it - like asking him through his blog site about precisely those issues we would want to hear his views and thoughts on. His response will serve to confirm what the game is all about for a PAP MP who blogs.

Give him the space, the opportunity aka give him the rope to hang himself with if his intention of a blog is only skin deep!

le radical galoisien said...

Let's all comment then.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for pointing out these blogs, esp the Indon Defense Minister's blog. Anwar Ibrahim also has a website, albeit not a blog per se. He does however publish his well-written articles to the international media.

Perhaps one day our leaders will also take to blogosphere like these two.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mr Wang, for your information.

4 days ago I have posted a comment on 'Dr Teo's blog. I wrote,

"Hi, I think it seems weird that the blog is ritten in the 3rd person narrative. It is strange for 'Dr Teo' to address himself as 'Dr Teo' in the blog entries. And also, why is 'Dr Teo' congratulating and praising himself on his own blog?

Blogs are meant for personal communication. Is the real Dr Teo typing and reading his blog entries/replies, or is it done by some grassroots leader of personal assistant?

I hope this mystery will be answered with sincerity."

And today, the comment was CENSORED!!! I discovered that it was deleted today!

I have taken a screenshot of my comment which was published in his blog (as evidence), so I am not making this up. This shows how 'sincere' 'Dr Teo' really is in blogging.

Rani said...

Another Indonesian parlemanterian / former minister started to blog. And he does respond to comment! I can't believe it. And just like a trend, typically those politicians ask young people to help them set the blog. In the case of Juwono, it was his son. In the case of Sarwono, it was a young person hired to set up a blog.

wert said...

I just discovered that Malaysia Opposition Leader Mr Lim Kit Siang have an active blog.

And so do Mr JB Jeyaretnam.

Monkey said...

Apparently our foreign minister BG Yeo has also started blogging:

I must say that I find his post similar to Teo Ho Pin. I am still very impressed by Juwono's writings. VERY impressed

Anonymous said...

I think the blogs reflect the very reality of what it means to be a minister in Indonesia and what it means to be a PAP politician. A minister in Indonesia may express his views; a PAP politician, albeit a mayor is allowed to express his party's official views. And where the party has not expressed a view, why venture to express one in case the PAP later decides to espouse one and gasp it's different from the one expressed by the PAP politician. Wouldn't that be career suicide? And we all know why people become PAP politicians, don't we? It's a just a (million dollar) like any other Singapore government job. Just keep your head down, stick to the job scope and above always parrot the safe mantras, eg Singapore has limited land, we must learn to be more competitive (unless of course we are PAp), etc.